I like to help people help cows and believe in thinking and acting beyond traditional concepts and limits.
As a ruminant nutritionist and thought leader, I enjoy empowering my farming clients through sharing technical and practical information about nutrition and the utilisation of nutrients by cows, with a view to achieving optimal production, successful reproduction, healthy cows, environmental sustainability and profitability for the farm business.
It is my belief that as the New Zealand dairy industry evolves, understanding the dynamics of sound nutrition will become even more pivotal to future success.
For as long as I can remember, I have had an interest in animal health and nutrition. My love of learning and curiosity about the world took a firm hold while I was studying Animal Science, Ruminant Nutrition and International Development at the University of Guelph in Canada. This study set the foundation for what has evolved to be a global career as a dairy nutritionist and capacity builder.
I came to New Zealand on holiday to visit my sister on a study exchange at Lincoln University. That introduction was profound, and 11 years ago I emigrated here. Upon arrival, it was difficult to secure employment as a ruminant nutritionist, so I decided to create my own niche and established Maple Grove Consulting Ltd.
The business drew on my experience working with the Canadian International Development Agency (China and Honduras) and the World Bank (China) to provide expertise in capacity building, rural extension and ruminant nutrition.
It was through working on capacity-building projects with AgResearch that I became involved with the 2007 Invercargill ‘Network for Women in Dairying’ Conference Organising Committee. It was then that I felt I had found ‘my place’ in New Zealand.
To this day, I credit the success of Maple Grove Consulting to the opportunities presented to me by Dairy Women’s Network.
In 2013, PGG Wrightson made an offer too good to refuse, so I shifted gears and moved into my ‘dream job’ working as part of the PGG Wrightson Tech Team. The scope of the role fits well with my passion for working with the rural community to educate and empower.
A believer in thinking globally and acting locally, and have found a tremendous sense of community in Alexandra as a volunteer with the La Leche League and The Terrace School doing weekly parent help sessions.
At a national level, my role with PGG Wrightson involves travelling this beautiful country providing technical support and training. I am very proud to be actively involved on the committee for the New Zealand Association of Ruminant Nutrition.
As a citizen of the global village, I am a certified cow signals trainer and continue to maintain my international contacts throughout the agriculture sectors.
I consider myself a ‘grass-roots’ dairy farmer. Growing up on a dairy farm in the Waikato, my husband and I progressed through the industry; from lower order sharemilking, to 50/50 sharemilking to farm ownership.
Prior to 1999 I also worked in the corporate environment as an administrative services manager. This is when I studied a Diploma in Business Studies endorsed in Employment Relations Management from Massey University.
In 2000 we moved from the Waikato to Southland giving us the opportunity to grow our sharemilking business to 780 cows. These growth opportunities also helped us purchase our first farm in 2002. In 2005 we purchased our first dairy farm which we continued to grow to 168h and 450 cows.
In 2006 we won the New Zealand Sharemilker of the Year title after winning the Southland regional title, and then in late 2008, my husband died unexpectedly. With some great employees we operated the sharemilking business to its conclusion.
In mid-2009 I returned to live in the Waikato with my three daughters, while still returning to Southland on a regular basis to visit the dairy farm which was being operated with a sharemilker.
From mid-2011 I decided I wanted to give back to an industry that had created the opportunities given to me and my family. I have huge commitment, drive and passion for the industry and believe in leaving a legacy for future generations, giving them the opportunities to succeed.
Since October 2011 I have been a director of the Southland Demonstration Farm. This farm aims to strengthen the southern dairy industry through leadership by creating a template for others to follow, innovation and creativity around problem solving, research applicable to local dairy farming situations, gathering of local climate, soil and pasture growth data and open sharing of all the information accumulated.
Since 2012 I have also been part of the working group for Southern Dairy Hub development; an innovation centre delivering research, demonstration and education for southern dairy farmers.
During these few years, I also delivered workshops for Dairy Women’s Network and AgITO.
In 2013 I was selected as the inaugural associate director to DairyNZ for six months and am now a strategic director for Young Farmers and also chair the governance committee for two DairyNZ led Ministry of Business Innovation & Employment research contracts.
It is extremely humbling to be nominated for Dairy Woman of the Year. I hope this nomination is an inspiration for my daughters. Every day I strive to teach them that they can achieve many things when they put their minds to it. I am very humbled to be considered a positive role model for the dairy industry and women.
Along with my partner Ian Whitmore, we own a farm at Rotomanu which is in the heart of the West Coast just east of Lake Brunner. Our daughter Andrea lives in Canterbury, and having finished her BSc studies at Lincoln University has begun work in Ashburton.
The farm at Rotomanu milks about 200 straight Jersey cows on a pasture-based system supplying Westland Milk Products. We also do some local contracting making baleage, pit silage, and effluent spreading via slurry tanker and muck spreader.
I am currently chair of the local TB-free Committee, and president of West Coast Federated Farmers, and have been elected onto the National Federated Farmers Board.
Previously I have worked at the local freezing works at Kokiri, where I did numerous jobs from carcass grading on the slaughter floor, food safety work in the laboratory, meat inspection on the chain, and eventually finished up documenting all procedures on plant as they applied for ISO 9002 accreditation, which was successful.
I have also had some experience in systems auditing and have worked for LIC in the past as a sales rep and MINDA records assistant.
I have helped local farmers set up numerous groups over the years; some involved with production, e.g. West Coast Focus Farm, but more recently around environmental issues.
These range from solutions for nutrient runoff from hump and hollowed land, farm plan projects for Lake Brunner catchment, and more recently, in conjunction with Landcare Trust the Lake Brunner Community Catchment Care Group.
My off-farm interests include tramping, diving, hunting, water sports on the lake, snow skiing, bird watching and aviation.
Wilma van Leeuwen
I was born to a Dutch Immigrant family who farmed in the Waikato where I grew up.
I am extremely motivated, have a positive attitude and always set goals. At a young age I set myself a goal to become a dairy farmer in the future. Another goal was to work hard, save money and travel back to Holland to find out more about my family and roots.
At 18 I travelled to Holland, worked there for 18 months in the horticulture industry, growing vegetables, various flower specimens and pot plants.
At 22, once back in New Zealand, I met my husband and was married the following year in 1985. We began our sharemilking career, milking 350 cows near Matamata. Nearly 30 years later, we have grown our business to milking over 12,000 cows on 12 dairy farms.
We moved to Waimate in the South Island in 1993 and established a contracting business in 1996. We have carefully structured our business to assist young men and women who show potential to work within our business and achieve their farming goals.
While working in our business, I had six children, four of whom now work within the business and two who are studying degrees in Agriculture at Lincoln.
I think outside the square and embrace new technology, and as such as we installed the first robotic milking system in a freestall barn system in New Zealand in 2008. Recently we have commissioned the largest robotic milking freestall barn in the world, milking 1500 cows with 24 milking robots.
I believe that educating people is extremely important. My farming business has been accredited by the Ministry of Education, and I help educate students by hosting secondary school geography field trips.
Our business has also been accredited by Dutch Agricultural Universities to train students. I also educate the general public by giving tours of alternative farming systems and methods.
Because of the scale of the business, I no longer milk cows and my role has evolved into financial management and planning. I am a director of the van Leeuwen Dairy Group and its associated companies, am a Trustee of the van Leeuwen Family Trust, and a director of two of my children’s companies.
I attended the Rabobank Primary Producers Executive Development Programme in Sydney in 2002 and graduated from the programme in 2003, and was also instrumental in setting up the Waitaki Milk Supply Group and later the Oceania Milk Supply Group where I coordinate and host meetings and carry out the role of secretary.
I was a founding shareholder in NZDL and Oceania Dairy Ltd and played an instrumental role in establishing these companies, and also a participant in the Oceania Dairy Ltd negotiating team that travelled to China when initial talks began with Yili (Chinese Dairy Company) to purchase the Oceania Greenfields site.