Back in 2012, Chloe and Matt were running start-up companies in Wellington and considering a move to Matt’s parents’ dairy farm near Taupo. However, after getting married in February 2013 and a change in the dynamics of their respective start-ups, they decided to take the plunge earlier than planned.
The Walkers left their city jobs and started afresh on the 133ha farm four seasons ago, with Matt taking up a role as farm manager. They had little on-farm experience but were quick to apply what they had learned in city jobs to their new careers.
“I was a little bit apprehensive at the time to move into a rural community and a provincial town but we’ve since embraced it and love every minute of it,” says Chloe, who was born in Auckland and grew up in Wellington.
Matt grew up on the family farm but left to study and work in the IT sector.
The couple were eager to set and achieve ambitious goals in farming. They sought out the experience of another farmer through DairyNZ’s Dairy Connect service, which facilitates shortterm partnerships between farmers.
“We come from start-up entrepreneurship backgrounds and we’ve always been in business incubators which have mentors and programmes that support progression,” says Chloe, who also now works as business development manager for Taupo District Council.
“We were really keen to work out how we could find a similar mechanism in the dairy industry, particularly in sourcing guidance and support around progression and business growth.”
The couple were paired with Matt Pepper, a former regional sharemilker of the year winner who owns a farm and has several sharemilking contracts.
The timing of the connection was ideal.
“We were looking at a sharemilking job at the time, so it was a good time to seek support in terms of the next steps in our career, how quickly we could grow and what the right channel would be,” says Chloe.
“It was fantastic to be able to link in with Matt. We had a couple of phone conversations and he came out to our farm where we spent a good couple of hours with him. We’re going to continue working with him in a support capacity as we grow.
"It was invaluable to talk with somebody who has been there and done it. It’s not the formula – it’s the experience, the battle wounds, the wisdom that they can pass on; the pitfalls, the things that work and the things that don’t.”
Following the conversations, the couple made a mutual decision with the farm owner that the sharemilking role wasn’t the right one for them. Instead, they took up a second contract milking position on a nearby farm.
“Matt is such a wealth of knowledge and is committed to supporting the next generation,” says Chloe. “It’s great to see there are people wanting to give back and volunteer their time. We hugely value it.”
Matt Pepper’s perspective
Matt says he was happy to share some of his 16 years’ experience as a dairy farmer to help the Walkers.
He owns a farm in Tokoroa, has sharemilking jobs in Rotorua and Te Puke and leases a farm in Reporoa, so was an ideal match for the Walkers, who were looking at different ways to progress in the dairy industry.
“It’s an easy way of giving and it doesn’t really feel like giving because it is something I’m passionate about,” says Matt.
“It’s a natural thing to do in dairy farming - to share - and that is how I learned. I used to go to discussion groups and I would sponge lots of information off my brothers and off other farmers and they were all keen to share it.”
Matt says the Dairy Connect process was easy.
“From the start, the process was really good. It’s pretty low key and low stress and everything is sorted for you through the Dairy Connect team, in terms of teaming you up with a farmer.”
The benefits of the connection were felt both ways.
“I learned stuff from them as well. It's a two-way thing really,” he says. “Meeting with the couple is neat. I come away inspired because they are so keen. They just want to progress and do the right thing and really do things to a high standard, and they just try and suck up as much information and go forward.
“This couple [the Walkers] are smart. They are going to do well and I am happy to share what I can.”
Seeking information about a specific dairying topic? Sign up with Dairy Connect and receive advice from one of our support farmers. Contact Dairy Connect manager Kate Haultain (027 807 0601 or Kate.Haultain@dairynz.co.nz) or register at dairynz.co.nz/dairyconnect