Leo and Kathryn van den Beuken

July 2005
Leo and Kathryn have won the prestigious Sharemilker of the Year title, on their fifth entry to the national competition. The first four times they entered in Taranaki, before moving to Canterbury three years ago. This years win was against strong competition from 137 entrants nationwide, from which 10 regional winners were selected. At the national awards night in Hamilton on May 7, Leo and Kathryn also won the Bank of New Zealand Financial Management award and the Federated Farmers Leadership award. They won a prize package valued at $37,000, including a Honda TRX 4x4 ATV.

In 1990 Leo and Kathryn began lower order sharemilking on Leos family farm of 44ha in Taranaki, moving to a nearby 50:50 position near Stratford with 210 cows four years later. They moved again to a 400-cow position in the late 1990s, and leased back the 110-cow family farm. During this time they entered the competition and were third regionally on two occasions. In June 2002 they moved to the South Island to work for Max Duncan. Leo had previously never lived more than 8kms from where he was born. Max Duncan is a leader and entrepreneur in the South Island dairy industry, with previous involvement in Tasman Agriculture with the late Howard Paterson. The Duncans have five dairy farms running 3500 cows and their sharemilkers have in the past won the regional title twice and been runner-up three times. For the van den Beukens the move to a Duncan-owned property was an opportunity not to be missed. They retained the Taranaki family farm, by that time purchased by Leo and Kathryn from his parents. This year they have sold the family farm and purchased a 250-cow property across the road, which will have farm managers. Down in Rakaia they have sharemilked 620 cows on 185ha for three seasons. Kathryn is a mid-Canterbury training adviser for Agriculture ITO. They plan a further three seasons as sharemilkers before trying to buy a 400-500 cow farm, probably in Canterbury.

The Rakaia farm is a border-dyke irrigated property of 185ha and production is 1368kg milk solids/ha (250,000 kg MS total) from the herd of 620 Holstein Friesian cows. This production is 30-40% more than good production from border-dyked land. Cows receive about 400kg of dry matter per cow each year from grass silage as supplement, made on the property. The record production is achieved on superb grazing management. Cows go into a targeted cover of 2900 kg dry matter/ha and the residual covers are 1400kg DM/ha. Strategic use of nitrogen up to 200kg N/ha/yr combines with reliable irrigation on a return time of 14 days.