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Migrants Crucial to NZ Rural Industry and Communities

03-Dec-2021 11:00:00

A migrant from the Philippines who won the national Farm Manager of the Year title for 2021 nearly chucked it all in before landing his dream role. But Christopher Vila is a believer in destiny.

HAR_1rgvxzc_Lifestyle&Rural_BlogImage_Nov2021_1200x630px_v12-1Christopher Vila and wife Jonah with their young daughter

The Ohaupo man came extremely close to quitting the industry after being repeatedly rejected for manager jobs when he was looking to step up into that role in 2013. With six years’ experience, he knew he was lucky to find the job at JA BE Turnward Trust under sharemilker Mark Turnwald.

It was Christopher’s wife Jonah who convinced him to apply one last time and it was then that he was successful. “I got this job and it was just destiny that I found it. I’ve never looked back and we’re really happy,” he says.

Entering the Dairy Industry Awards was a lastminute decision and he submitted his name in the Farm Manager of the Year contest on the last day, just a few short hours before the deadline expired.

“It made me realise as a migrant, I don’t see a lot of Filipino people doing it. The reputation for most Filipinos is they are good workers, they are capable, they are loyal and the dairy industry awards are a good place to widen your network and progress.” Christopher moved to New Zealand 13 years ago and became a citizen three years ago.

Winning the national title made him a role model among other migrant dairy workers and he received lots of messages of support from that community over the course of the awards process. It’s also given him a huge boost to his confidence and self-belief.

“Hopefully in the future, if I need to reapply for a job or look for an opportunity, they will recognise me,” he says.

A licenced veterinarian in his homeland, Christopher was attracted to the dairy industry because it was animal-related and suited his vet background.

Starting a dairy career from scratch had its challenges and successfully making that transition meant learning ‘the Kiwi way’ of dairy farming, gaining basic experience and skills of dairy farming here. It also took Christopher time to adjust to New Zealand’s culture. Filipinos are naturally not very vocal or direct when it comes to expressing themselves, particularly in front of a manager.

He is now in his eighth season in the role managing the farm for Turnwald. The 104ha farm milks 343 cows at peak and operates as a closed herd. It has a 30ha runoff block close by and a neighbouring 9ha block, which is used to winter the younger stock.

As well as learning on the job and getting valuable experience, Christopher has completed several Primary ITO courses on farm and effluent management to upskill himself. He also finished level 4 and is currently completing level 5 in human resource management.

Farm ownership is the ultimate dream for Christopher and his wife, and he has recently taken another step towards that after the Turnwalds invited him to have a closer role in the sharemilking business. This will help in getting a foothold in building up his equity and maybe sharemilking after five years.

Red meat and dairy sectors have responded quickly and positively to the Government’s announcement to free up visa arrangements for up to 9000 migrant workers in the primary sector.

“Halal processing is a core part of the New Zealand meat processing industry with approximately 43% of New Zealand total red meat exports halal certified for Muslim consumers in both Muslim and non-Muslim countries. Without halal butchers, there is a real potential that plants would be forced to reduce value-add processing or decide to not save certain products."
Meat Industry Association chief executive Sirma Karapeeva

“It's pleasing to see Government acknowledging the pressure farmers are under, due to being short-staffed, and recognise the critical role international workers play on NZ farms. While this decision is positive, it doesn't fully address the scale of the staff shortages on farm - dairy farmers are still short of an estimated 2000 to 4000 workers.”
DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle

These articles were featured in Lifestyle & Rural Property Focus , Issue 4 2021

Topics: Rural & Lifestyle Properties, rural