Manaakitanga values – hospitality, generosity, care for others and making people feel welcome – is important to Ahuwhenua Trophy Young Maori Farmer finalist Cheyenne Wilson. Anne Lee reports.

People are the all-important kingpin in the success of any dairy farming business and creating a warm, welcoming team environment which fully embraces manaakitanga values is fundamental to having happy people, Cheyenne Wilson says.

She’s a finalist in this year’s Ahuwhenua Trophy Young Maori Farmer of the Year competition and has just taken on a farm manager’s role for Emlyn and Hilary Francis on their 600-cow Culverden conversion.

It’s the step-up she was looking for having been assistant manager for Nathan and Erin Christian for the 2017-18 season on an 1100-cow property owned by Southern Pastures at Ashburton Forks, near Methven, before Nathan and Erin moved on to 50-50 sharemilking this season.  Cheyenne says that despite the challenging 2017-18 season climatically it’s been one of the most enjoyable she’s had.

“It was probably the wettest spring I’ve ever had but it was also the easiest – which I think comes down to the great systems Nathan and Erin have in place along with the real team spirit we had right from the start.

“Communication here is a big priority. Nathan and Erin are very good at making sure everyone knows exactly what’s going on and they’re so keen to teach people along the way.

“There’s no ‘need to know’ basis, everyone’s included. We all know the KPIs, what we’re aiming for and how we should be getting there.

“There’s no feeling you’re not worthy of certain information.”

The team has included multiple nationalities with staff from New Zealand, Ireland, India, England and Scotland. The importance of manaakitanga values – hospitality, generosity, care for others and making people feel welcome – is magnified when people are so far from home, she says.

They’re also values shared by other cultures.

You wouldn’t get away without being fed and watered when visiting people’s homes in Ireland for instance. And so it is for Cheyenne.

“Food’s huge – I love being able to share good food –  and sit around the table.”

The Sunday night roast became a thing at her place through the season with the whole team invited over to simply have a hearty meal, catch up and “talk about life not work”.

“We had Christmas here too – it was open to all the ‘orphans’ away from home.”

The energetic, positive 25-year-old had an opportunistic entry into the dairy industry, after a nannying job on a dairy farm extended into calf rearing.

“I was working four jobs – calf rearing, doing some work as a cook on Mt Linton Station, working as a barmaid at night and doing some painting work for a family friend.”

Dairy farmer Kevin Dixon had noticed just how hard she was working juggling the various positions and offered her a full job on the new, 1200-cow conversion he and his wife Wendy had just completed at Wairio in Southland.

Cheyenne’s parents had worked on Mt Linton and on other farms in the Southland district and she’d also worked on farms as well so she was no stranger to the farming lifestyle and hard work.

“But I’d never really found my calling until I went to work for Kevin and Wendy.”

Kevin had been a fantastic teacher and within three years she was assistant manager on the large-scale operation.

While school hadn’t been her thing, she jumped into learning through Primary ITO and had completed Dairy Farming Level Four by the time she left her position with the Dixons, heading to Canterbury in search of progression opportunities. She spent a season with 50-50 sharemilkers Hamish and Kala McCulloch at Hinds as assistant manager on their 780-cow job and got her first exposure to irrigation.

“I learnt a lot there too, they were great to work for. Irrigation was completely new to me so that was a big learning curve.”

The shift to Canterbury also meant a move from the usual support networks of friends and family but Cheyenne took a proactive stance and within the first couple of days went along to a Young Farmers Club meeting at Hinds.

“I felt at home right away.”

One of the members, Cameron Black – now this year’s Aorangi representative at the 50th FMG Young Farmer of the Year Competition – was also from Southland.

“It was an awesome way to meet people and start that network. When you’re new to an area and you don’t know anyone you just have to dive in and put yourself out there.”

Within a few more days she was in the local netball team and after heading along to the club’s AGM was elected secretary.

Cheyenne’s now the chair of the Hinds Young Farmers Club and will remain so till later in the month.

One of the first things she’ll do with her move to Culverden is to get involved in the Amuri Basin club which is part of the Tasman region. She’s already been invited to a national committee meeting and is eager to make the most of opportunities to learn leadership, governance and strategic planning skills through the organisation.

She’s also excited to be involved with the Dairy Women’s Network (DWN). Cheyenne’s been the regional leader for Mid-Canterbury and will get involved in the North Canterbury group too.

“The mentoring and support in DWN is amazing. There are so many resources available and the women you get to meet and work with are inspirational people.”

While there’s no doubting Cheyenne’s drive and ambitious nature she’s also humble in her successes and eager to already give back.

“Being named a finalist in the Ahuwhenua Young Farmer of the year is huge and a real honour. But I see it essentially as an acknowledgment to everyone who’s helped me along my journey.

“I’m just the face of it but all those people who’ve helped me – they’re the backbone of the achievement.”

She was runner up in the NZ Dairy Industry Awards Canterbury dairy trainee of the year in 2017 and says her first entry into dairying competitions was about analysing herself.

“Now it’s more about benchmarking myself against others.”

The exposure gained through competitions too has enabled her to expand her networks even further, to learn and to allow her to mix with other like-minded, progression focused people.  Cheyenne’s whakapapa through her mum Polly Paul, originally from Bay of Plenty, extends back to activist and prophet Rua Kenana of Ngai Tuhoe. She also has links with Ngati Awa, Ngati Tuwharetoa, Te Arawa.

“I’d love to build up a skill set and be able to help in some way so that our rangitahi (youth) see farming as a viable option.”

She believes part of making farming a more attractive proposition, particularly dairying, is in ensuring those manaakitanga values are at the fore within teams.

“It’s pretty daunting leaving home or leaving your support network, your family and the kind of culture you might have been used to and go and work on a dairy farm – and live alone. You could be a bit isolated but it doesn’t have to be like that.”