5000 miles and a vast ocean separate South East Asia (SEA) and our farmers in New Zealand. But the offshore teams have found a way to bridge the distance and strengthen ties by connecting regularly for a good yarn with farms they’ve ‘adopted’ across the South Island.
It began 12 months ago when employees in Singapore, through Farm Source, teed up with farmers Rob and Raewn Van Vugt in Clydevale. The Van Vugts began share milking in 1991 and have grown their business to ten dairy farms and four support blocks across the Otago region.
The pilot engagement was so well received; the ‘Adopt a Farm’ series was born.
Virtual engagements have been held bi-monthly over the year and square off the biggest events on the farming calendar. From moving day and mating to calving and milking, the team in urban Singapore have been given ringside seats to the wonderful world of dairy, and the inner workings behind the farmgate, via video updates and live conversations.
“When you work on brands, it’s easy to lose sight of the where it all begins,” says Usman Masood, HR Manager, one of the leads on the initiative. The Singapore office, also the hub of the South East Asia business, comprises the consumer, food service and ingredients businesses. “It’s been an absolute privilege hearing their story - farm, family and the lengths they go to deliver the dairy goodness that our customers and consumers love.”
From farm economics to animal management, interactions are kept light and easy with plenty of room for questions on either end.
“Its one thing to know that our milk comes from happy grass-fed cows but its sessions like these, seeing that for ourselves, even if virtually, that the message really hits home.”
One of the highlights was getting a behind the-scenes look at calving.
“Milkers, colostrum cows, springers; we got to learn about them all,” says Karena Chia, Marketing and Insights Manager of NZMP. “It’s a special, almost sacred relationship between cow, calf, milk and farmer.”
“We also got a sense of the tough decisions our farmers have to make for the long term good of their farms, the land and most importantly, their herd.”
During calving, the Singapore team were introduced to their very own calf, Susu (milk in local Malay language) and have been trailing her journey since.
The engagements have also allowed for the diversity of our farmer shareholders to shine through.
Over in Indonesia, employees were treated to a virtual dairy farm tour by Indo-born farmer shareholders Reza and Silvia Abdul-Jabbar of Abdul Jabbar Farms in the very south of the South Island. The Jabbars own two dairy farms supplying milk with a herd of some 1050 cows.
The team was thrilled to learn that beyond farming, the Jabbars advocate for many causes in Southland and NZ, including environmental issues, sustainable framing practices, equality, inter-faith harmony and community outreach.
“We ended up swopping stories in Bahasa,” said Corporate Communications lead Nisa Rahmani who organized the session. “That was really special, very personal.”
Meanwhile, a recent session with the team in Manilla had employees’ kids getting in on the slice of the action too, posing some basic but brilliant questions to Pinoy farmer Marco de la Concepcion who runs a farm located 20 minutes from Invercargill.
“We’re going all out to celebrate the provenance of products in market, so what better way to understand the care and hard work that goes into sourcing our quality, sustainable milk from those directly responsible, says Robert Cook, General Manager, Fonterra Philippines.
Beyond the workings on farm, there is a great appetite to get a closer view of the grass to glass journey.
“Our people build our dairy education with an insider view of the realities of farm life – and the economics of it all. Our farmers get a closer view of our growth markets, our diverse cultures and what we’re doing with their precious milk.”
“It’s a win-win for all.”