Couple up for top employer award

by Mike Isle

A Dunsandel farming couple is in the running to win the nation’s first Primary Industries Good Employer Award.

Sharemilkers Michael and Susie Woodward are nominated for the Minister’s Award, one of five award categories, which the Ministry of Primary Industries said recognised and celebrated exceptional primary industry employers.

Michael and Susie milk 1,000 cows on their Dunsandel farm and have started an angora goat venture.

They employ six full-time staff.

Susie Woodward said the first they heard of the award was when they were asked if they would accept a nomination.

“My first reaction was of disbelief. I didn’t think we were big enough to be even in the running for such an award. I thought that they were reserved for the big corporates.”

“Later we were advised by email that we were nominated for the Minister’s Award. Just out of the blue. It came as a nice surprise,” Michael recalls.

Their nominator was Dairy NZ consultant, Natalia Benquet.

It is not the first time the couple has been nominated for a major award.

In 2016, they won the Canterbury/North Otago’s Sharemilker of the Year award at NZ Dairy Industry Awards, and then, were runners-up in the national finals.

Significantly, they also got merit awards in the human resources section which is another accolade pointing to their employment relation skills despite neither having formal training in that area.

Nor, apparently, do they need it.

Michael said that they had been managing large-scale farms in Canterbury for 11 years, with up to 19 staff.

“We’ve had quite a few years to make sure we get it right. It’s been important to get feedback from those staff about what works and what doesn’t. We just make sure we listen, and that is the way we learn.”

“We have also learned a lot from our employers, Theland Farm Group, who have been very supportive, and always there for us. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude,” added Susie.

The couple is also keen on community involvement. Michael is the North Canterbury Dairy chairman, and Susie is on the local PTA. Their Dunsandel farm regularly throws its gates open to school groups. Something they both have a passion for.

“It gives us the opportunity to give something back to the community and the industry that have given us so much,“ Michael said.

The winners will be announced at an awards dinner at parliament on November 27.

Theland Farm Group has another finalist in the awards — Justine Kidd, who is up for the Employee Development Award.