2024 Manawatū Dairy Industry Awards winners focused on the future

The 2024 Manawatū Dairy Industry Awards Share Farmer of the Year winners are a future-focused couple who are proud to be building a business that showcases high-quality milk and be rewarded for it

Dairy Trainee of the Year Isabella Panettiere, Share Farmers of the Year Kali Rangiawha and Will Hinton, and Dairy Manager of the Year Luke Ackerman

Will Hinton and Kali Rangiawha won the 2024 Manawatū Dairy Industry Awards Share Farmers of the Year category at the region’s annual awards in Palmerston North. The other major winners were Luke Ackerman, the 2024 Manawatū Dairy Manager of the Year, and Isabella Panettiere, the 2024 Manawatū Dairy Trainee of the Year.

Will and Kali were presented the coveted trophy by Nikki Watson from Trelleborg and won $11,000 in prizes and four merit awards. They are contract milkers for Tim and Victoria Gorton on their 350-cow, 113-hectare Halcombe farm.

Born in the UK, Will holds a BSc in Agricultural Business Management from Reading University and a National Diploma in Agriculture from Lackham College. He built a farming partnership with his dad comprising 500 sheep and 30 cows. 

After travelling the world as a shearer, he landed in New Zealand, where he worked as a farm consultant and data analyst for two and a half years.

He met Kali who had realised dairy farming was her future while relief milking to fund her university degree. 

“I’ve farmed in three countries with herds ranging from 160 to 1000 cows and am proud I’ve worked my way through the industry from farm assistant to contract milker,” she says.

The future of the dairy industry looks bright to the couple who believe the progression ladder in the dairy industry is clear and attracts farmers from around the world.

“We are excited to be climbing towards the top of the progression ladder.”

The couple enjoys the lifestyle farming brings them and their three children, including working outside year-round. Achieving a work/life balance has proved challenging with sourcing reliable staff, however, the couple are now accredited employers and are looking forward to employing someone full-time. They say, “The accreditation attracts some of the best workers from all over the world.”

Achieving record productions in their first year on every farm they have worked on is something Will and Kali are proud of and on track to do again.

A strong work ethic and Will’s financial background have stood the couple in good stead and allowed them to understand the importance of cashflows, budgets, and re-forecasting. Will has built his own budgeting tool when reviewing opportunities, which enables them to see if the opportunities are profitable and where the gaps for success lie.

Future farming goals are specific for the first-time entrants — herd ownership and then farm ownership, providing a sustainable business for future generations.

The New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards are supported by national sponsors CowManager, DeLaval, Ecolab, Federated Farmers, Fonterra, Honda, LIC, Meridian, Ravensdown, and Trelleborg, along with industry partners DairyNZ, MediaWorks, and Rural Training Solutions NZ.

Kate Dawson was named runner-up in the Manawatū Share Farmer category. She’s contract milking for Karen and Mark Dawson on their 114-hectare, 300-cow Marton property. She won $2875 in prizes and two merit awards.

Thanks to benchmarking, which takes place when a category has less than five finalists, Samantha and Thomas Lumsden were awarded third place in the Share Farmer category. The couple contract milk for Brian Hill on his 80 hectares, 170-cow Rongotea property. They won $1250 in prizes and two merit awards.

2024 Manawatū Dairy Manager of the Year

The 2024 Manawatū Dairy Manager of the Year is Luke Ackerman who won $5450 in prizes and three merit awards.

The first-time entrant is herd manager on James Stewart’s 180-hectare, 383-cow property in Ashhurst and saw the Awards programme as a great opportunity to network with like-minded people and grow his support network.

A qualified mechanic, Luke worked in the automotive industry for 15 years and began working in the dairy industry three years ago. 

“I wanted our family to grow up on a farm and have the lifestyle I did as a farm kid.”

Luke identifies his marriage as a strength of the business: “My wife Sarah and I work so well together, and I believe together we can do anything we set our minds to,” he says.

“It’s also helpful having a mechanic background and understanding of machinery. It means I can fix everything and not pay another bloke.”

Luke has achieved the Primary ITO NZ Certificate in Agriculture and Dairy Farming Level 4 and has been able to apply all the information in day-to-day farming practices.

The 37-year-old is excited about the new technology and innovations being introduced in the dairy industry.

“I love learning all the new ways we can benefit our farming future.”

Luke would like to see a change to carbon credits and a structure that benefits farmers and planting.

“It would help to be recognised for the nutrient interceptor beds around perennial plantings for mitigating leaching nitrates.”

Future farming goals for Luke and his wife Sarah include farm ownership. 

“The plan for the future is to become 50/50 sharemilkers and to provide a stable environment for our children’s education, then progress to farm ownership.”

Longburn assistant farm manager Benjamin Hayes placed second in the Dairy Manager category, winning $1450 in prizes and two merit awards.

He works on Fonterra Co-operative Group Ltd’s 255-hectare, 600-cow property. Third placegetter in the 2024 Manawatū Dairy Manager category is Rob Kopic, who won $1275 in prizes.

2024 Manawatū Dairy Trainee of the Year

The 2024 Manawatū Dairy Trainee of the Year is Isabella Panettiere, who’s herd manager on Fonterra’s 255-hectare, 630-cow Longburn farm.

She won $7350 in prizes and two merit awards.

The first-time entrant considered the Awards programme an excellent way to benchmark her current skills and where she sits within the industry. 

“I want to progress my skills and network so I can continue to move forward in my career, and it’s an amazing opportunity to do so.”

Isabella holds a Bachelor of Science majoring in Animal Science from Massey University and has completed the LIC Artificial Insemination course. She’s currently studying towards PrimaryITO Level 3 Livestock Feeding.

The 24-year-old is excited about the new progressions and science behind improvements within the industry. 

“I’m excited to see how we will achieve a 30% reduction in nitrogen by 2030.

“I love the progression of the industry the most,” says Isabella. “I love being part of improving the farm I’m on to not just meet industry standards but to exceed them and set the new standards.”

Isabella would like to see an improvement in the public’s opinion of the dairy industry, particularly the aspects where it’s not seen in the best light.

“I’m proud of how quickly I’ve progressed from a junior farm assistant with no experience to herd manager in two years.

“I’ve proven to myself that I can succeed in this industry and if I can do it, then so many other young ladies can too.”

Isabella is treasurer for Fitzherbert Young Farmers and is involved with Surfing for Farmers during the warmer months. She also enjoys being creative as a nail technician.

Future farming goals include progression into farm management.

“I think that eventually I will end up in a more technical role or potentially a more scientific side of the industry.”

Herd manager Holly Powell placed second in the Dairy Trainee category and won $1550 in prizes and one merit award. Holly works on Brad and Kelly Powell’s 141-hectare, 450-cow property in Palmerston North.

Reef Western was third in the Dairy Trainee category. He’s farm manager on Peter Hills’ 225-hectare, 600-cow property in Bunnythorpe and won $1350 in prizes.

For more information on regional dairy industry awards, visit

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