via Zimbabwean heads Dairy New Zealand 12/11/ by Fairfax NZ News
ZIMBABWEAN James Muwunganirwa has been on the job for just over a month as DairyNZ ‘s regional leader for the lower North Island and is enjoying it.
It is a far cry from working as an extension leader in his homeland in the early 2000s where farm invasions left him and other Ministry of Agriculture extension officers in vulnerable positions.
“The extension managers felt very powerless at the time because we were tasked with taking advice to the government in terms of coming up with a national plan of re-settlement, which was not being adhered to,” he said.
It was then that Muwunganirwa looked at coming to New Zealand.
He had joined the Ministry of Agriculture in Zimbabwe after leaving university, and worked in the extension services department in various capacities but left his home country in 2005 when the economy started going pear-shaped and the land invasions peaked.
“I had started a small family with my wife, Gladys, and I sort of cast my eyes on the horizon. I was looking at the future – what it had in terms of my young kids and my wife – and it was looking bleak.
“It so happened that a mate I had worked with had come out in 2002 and he had worked on a couple of dairy farms in the South Island before he left to join the Ashburton District Council.”
Muwunganirwa’s friend encouraged him to look for job opportunities and he received a job offer while still at home.
“So that’s when I took the leap of faith. So I packed my bags and hopped on to the plane, leaving my wife and two kids behind,” he recalled.
“My plan coming here was that I wanted to initially get a very good handle on New Zealand pasture-based farm systems and on the back of that to go into what I always wanted to do, which is extension work.
“I am working with farmers to improve profitability and sustainability of their dairy farm businesses.”
He started off milking cows in the South Island for a 50-50 sharemilker south of Timaru. At that job he milked 650 cows in a grass-only system as an assistant herd manager.
After doing that job for 18 months, he decided it was time for more responsibility so he moved to North Canterbury to a similar-sized herd but also looked after one-half of the farm and half of the herd.
“At that point my wife joined me, because I had left them for a while.”
Muwunganirwa had the role for 3 years before he felt he was “ripe enough in terms of getting back into extension work”.
He got a job with DairyNZ as a consulting officer based in Whangarei, before coming to his present role in the lower North Island. His region includes 1,100 dairy farms in the Horizons, Greater Wellington and Hawke’s Bay regions.
“My job entails driving on-farm change and ensuring it results in the securing of profitability, the sustainability and the competitiveness of dairy farms in the lower North Island,” he said.
He has a team of three consulting officers working on improving herd reproductive performance and helping farms to comply with new regulations around the nutrient management programmes of Horizon’s One Plan.
“Our role is to make sure we assist farmers in terms of coming up with nutrient management plans that will see them getting the consents they require for those farms that are in the priority catchments.”
He also runs a couple of dairy discussion groups, one in Shannon and one in Otaki.
The main topics of discussion in the groups are managing surplus, maintaining pasture quality and capturing the cash.
“This spring has been uncharacteristically good to the extent that most people have found themselves with huge surpluses that they have had to deal with and that obviously presents challenges in managing pasture quality.
“We are trying to ensure that farmers are as profitable as they can be in a high pay-out year.”
He said trends showed that in such years expenses tended to rise as everyone wanted to produce more milk so they could chase the dollar.