Wairarapa sharemilkers Sumit Kamboj and Manoj Kumar have won the New Zealand Share Farmers of the Year award. PHOTO/FRANCES CHIN
Eketahuna sharemilkers Manoj Kumar and Sumit Kamboj were named New Zealand Share Farmers of the Year at the 2021 New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards. Reporter FRANCES CHIN sat down with the brothers and discussed their journey from India to Wairarapa.
Manoj Kumar and Sumit Kamboj used to park their car on the side of the road and watch farmers at work.
Compared with their small family farm in the village of Rudrapur in Uttarakhand, northern India, a New Zealand farm was a very different operation.
Manoj and Sumit’s family has lived and worked on the same land for three generations.
Parents Gyan and Kaushalya, and their brother Pramod and his wife Nisha and daughter Nimrat still live on the 8ha property, growing and harvesting crops.
So when Manoj and Sumit were looking for a place to study and work, New Zealand was the obvious choice.
For two men who wanted to work as farmers, New Zealand had agricultural opportunities like no other.
When the brothers first arrived more than 10 years ago, the two of them would pick fruit in Bay of Plenty while they attended university.
The orchards where Manoj and Sumit worked were surrounded by dairy farms and the brothers would watch the farmers work.
“This was how we learnt the New Zealand dairy farming system,” Manoj said.
“It is completely different back home,” Sumit said.
“Back there, there were five to 14 cows we milked with our hands, here people are milking a thousand cows.”
Post-graduation, Manoj applied for a farm-assistant role he saw on Trademe, at a farm owned by Andrew and Monika Arbuthnott.
Sumit soon followed, and after the farm manager left, the brothers took over, managing the farm for one year.
The Arbuthnotts then offered the brothers a contract to sharemilk a farm.
“Andrew and Monika, they were the great mentors,” Sumit said.
“We worked hard, we were honest to them, and they really supported us,” Manoj said.
“If it wasn’t the right employer we might not have become dairy farmers.”
Now, the brothers are sharemilkers for Andrew and Monika, Geoff Arends and Ester Romp’s 285ha property. They manage 460 cows together.
“Jeff and Easter Arbenes are really good to us,” Sumit said.
“We learn a lot from both of them, and we are still learning.”
Sumit and Manoj’s family come and visit once year, to help out during the calving season.
“They love it here,” Manoj said.
“They love to be around with us and spend more time with us. They’re very proud of us.”
Some of the milk from Manoj and Sumit’s cows has even made it back to India.
Their mother, Kaushalya, used milk in her baking, and then took it back to Rydrapur Uttara Khand for everyone to try.
Manoj and Sumit haven’t seen their family in two years, due to the covid-19 closure of the borders.
“As soon as the borders open, they will come and visit us,” Manoj says.
The brothers are worried about the migrant labour shortage in the dairy industry caused by the pandemic, saying people are even leaving the industry over it.
“They can’t find staff, and they have to work for 15-16 hours, and they’re going into mental stress and saying no.”
The brothers hope that the government will come up with a plan to help workers come back to their jobs.
“There’s no question that there is a shortage.”
Manoj and Sumit decided to apply to New Zealand Dairy Awards in an effort to make contact with other people in the industry.
“We are immigrants here. It’s the best way to build a network with farmers and industry people and with rural professionals,” Sumit said.
The brothers put together a two-hour presentation, explaining their journey.
This included drone footage of their family farm and nearby village.
“We showed them who we are.”
While Manoj and Sumit are incredibly proud of being awarded New Zealand Share Farmers of the year, they were very quick to share the credit with others.
“It’s not just us, it’s the hard work of our team,” Manoj said.
“The support of the farm owners and other people from local places. All the contractors, the hard work of all of them, not just us. All together we made it happen. We are proud of all
Manoj and Sumit have two sharemilking jobs planned for next year that will go to until the end of 2022.
They want to continue mentoring young professionals entering the diary industry, like they were mentored themselves.
“We were fortunate,” Sumit said.
“We have got now a responsibility to train other people in the industry.”
The brothers might even be looking for their own farm in two years’ time.
Whatever happens, they would love to stay in Eketahuna.
Manoj and Sumit have lived in Wairapapa for 10 years. They play cricket with their team ‘the Slack-caps,’ and Manoj’s daughter attends a local primary school.
Do the two of them ever get lonely, out in the middle of rural Eketahuna?
“It’s not just two of us. Our team is part of the family as well, we treat them as part of the family, and we have friends.”
“The community here has never let us feel lonely,” Manoj said.
“They always welcome us and are always there for help.”