Fortuna Group like big family, says manager

Business Rural

Michael Pelesco, who comes from the Philippines, is in his eighth year of farming in New Zealand.

In that time he has progressed from being a farm-hand to a fully-fledged manager, something he says would not have been possible without the support of those he has worked alongside.

Iron Bridge Farm, near Wallacetown on the outskirts of lnvercargill, is the third property he has worked on and he is now in his fourth season there.

"Last season was tough, not only because of the pay-out but because the weather from last August through to November was rough and cold," he says.

The farm he manages, along with three other Filipinos, is owned by the Fortuna Group Ltd. For Michael, being part of a corporation with significant holdings has brought many benefits.

Iron Bridge itself has an effective milking platform of 285 hectares. It winters 850 cows and at its peak, milks around 820 cows through a 54-bail rotary, complete with automatic cup-removers and teat spraying.

Pelesco's farming diligence has been recognised by the Fortuna Group, and he has received the Cows Award, the Staff Excellence award and the Leadership Award. Iron Bridge farm was once again an entrant in the Otago-Southland region of the New Zealand Dairy Awards.

"Every two months we have a farm evaluation covering lots of criteria like cleanliness, farm presentation, weed control and cow condition to name a few. It is a very rigorous process." he says.

The farm is positioned close to a river and the soil near this can become water-logged easily if there is too much rain, as happened during last spring.

The frustration for Pelesco is that when pasture gets to this state. He can't access it to add fertiliser or to cut it. The answer, he says, lies in being highly selective and patient, mowing what can be mown and leaving the rest to dry out.

Outside managing the farm he is upskilling his qualifications and has just completed level 5 through Primary AglTO. His next goal is to start a Diploma in Business Agriculture.

He and his wife, Sue, have two children - Sophia, who is three years old, and six-month-old Shameka.

Being part of a well-established farming corporate brings not only the benefit of support through discussion groups and on-farm advisers but also creates opportunities, he says.

One of his key aspirations is to take up a farm supervisor position within the company.

"Fortuna is like a big family. They really try to help us get on, and one way they do this is to offer employees a business scheme, the opportunity to invest money in company."

Iron Bridge Farm is managed as two herds, each with a manager; there is also a full-time cowshed manager. It's a structure that works well, says Pelesco.

"With a herd of this size and the resources we have, it is the ideal way to operate the farm. It also means I can communicate directly with the person responsible."

The 2013-14 season's milksolids total of 388,000 kilograms was the highest the farm has posted. The 2014-15 target was somewhat more modest though close to his expectation of 343,000kg milksolids.

Supplements, in the form of palm kernel and a little molasses are the main additional feed, though lat this stage in the season, the cows are being entirely grass-fed.

"We've been using supplements wisely," he says.

What impresses him most about being part of Fortuna Group is the willingness of the hierarchy to share their knowledge for free - "teaching us the tricks" - as he puts it.

"Especially now with the season being so tight, their input is so important and valuable. They teach us how to be comfortable thinking 'This is my farm. I feel like it is my farm'."