Winner of Fonterra Dairy Woman of the Year award for 2023, Donna Cram is doing all the right things while making the numbers add up.
She became an accountant because she likes numbers, but she grew up on a farm and says even during her training years she never gave up on the dream. “I love being outside, being down on the farm, and having the time to be with animals.”
She and her husband Philip have farmed in Awatuna, South Taranaki for nearly 23 years, since they bought the original block and later purchased half of Donna’s parents’ farm. They have 270 cows but have just leased some extra land so expect the herd to increase to 290 in 2024. They’re committed to improving the environment and were recognised for this in 2016, winning the Fonterra Environmental Leadership in Dairy Farming award for the Taranaki region. They were also one of three finalists for the 2021 Fonterra Responsible Dairy Award.
Maintaining a viable farm business means looking at every aspect of it, Donna says. “We’re doing quite a lot of different things. We’re looking at greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction measures through efficiencies all the time. We’ve reduced ours by about two tonnes per hectare. But it’s not just about the environment and we can’t look at just GHGs on their own.
“We’ve got to look at everything, including environment, biosecurity and animal shade and shelter. We need to be economically sustainable if you’re going to carry out environmental work. That’s all about people, profit and planning. I’m really passionate about financial literacy.”
Donna and Philip have worked with DairyNZ, the National Institute of Water and Atmosphere (NIWA) and Taranaki Regional Council (TRC) over the past couple of years to construct a wetland on their Awatuna farm. Wetlands can significantly reduce nutrient and sediment losses on farms and improve water quality. They also boost biodiversity and can provide habitat for birds and fish.
This project was a labour of love for Donna, who has other roles off the farm. She’s a Taranaki regional councillor, a trustee for Dairy Trust Taranaki and a member of the Taranaki Federated Farmers Dairy committee. She’s also a Dairy Environment Leader (DEL), helping drive positive change and leading by example in reducing environmental footprint, and she chairs Taranaki Catchment Communities.
The latter seeks to lead, engage, and mobilise the region’s rural sector to ensure a more environmental, economic and socially sustainable future. “This is a whole new part of farming, the environmental side, and thinking at a catchment level rather than just our own farms,” Donna says. “This catchment approach will be essential as the new freshwater regulations come to life.”
Donna and Philip feel as though they have a good handle on the legislative changes ahead, but she says many farmers in Taranaki don’t feel the same. “That’s why the catchment group was set up, to try and help people through,” she says.
Women leading women
Donna and Philip have one full-time team member – their assistant manager, Jacinta Kete. She’s 23 and in her third full-time season of milking. Jacinta is Taranaki-Manawatū’s FMG Young Farmer of the Year for 2023, and the Taranaki Dairy Industry Awards trainee of the year. Donna and Philip are very proud of her achievements.
“I’m passionate about helping people through the industry,” Donna says. “We’re trying to make a lifestyle for her as well, and we want her to love what she does. Farming is such an exciting industry to be part of.”
Donna knows first-hand the value of training. She’s just done an intermediate farm environment planning course at Massey and is hoping to do a GHG one next. She also graduated from the Agri-Women’s Development Trust (AWDT) Escalator programme. The programme is designed to give women the mindsets, skills and connections to create change in agriculture and rural communities.
“I believe in lifelong learning,” she says.
Being a Dairy Environment Leader has been part of Donna’s learning journey. She attends an annual DEL forum in Wellington, which enables the 300 DELs around New Zealand to connect, support each other and share successes and advice. This has been the highlight of Donna’s five years in this role.as a DEL.
“I really enjoy it. There are lots of like-minded people. You develop good contacts, and you need that support. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do any of what we’ve done (on-farm) if it wasn’t for DEL and AWDT. I also couldn’t do everything I do if Philip wasn’t so supportive.”
All the work Donna and Philip are doing on-farm means the business is constantly evolving. She says the hard work is worth it to ensure the farm is sustainable for future generations. “I’m 54 now and Philip is the same age, so we need to get this sorted and have our farm up to date if we want to have a retirement.
“We want to do everything we can to get things right. Having good advisors around us makes all the difference.”
All imagery from Stuart Mackay