Waikato rural professional honours family Fieldays legacy

Te Awamutu-born Louise Wallace has a life-long connection to the New Zealand Agricultural Fieldays.

“I’ve been going to Fieldays since I was a baby in the front pack,” says Louise, 28, a Te Awamutu farm investment support person.

“I always enjoy going to Fieldays; there is so much to see and do, and I always come away having learned something new about the agricultural industry.”

Together with her sisters Alana and Hannah, Louise grew up on a dairy farm at Pukeatua, south of Cambridge. The family’s agricultural heritage and passion for the land saw all three sisters find work in the agricultural industry as adults.

Louise says she didn’t plan a career in agriculture. “As a high school student, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” she admits. “As I got older, and saw the many opportunities there were in agribusiness, I thought maybe I did like this whole agriculture thing.”

She enrolled in a Bachelor of Agricultural Commerce at Massey University, majoring in agribusiness and rural valuation.

“My dream job was to be a rural banker,” says Ms Wallace. “However, I finished university and I saw the job with FarmRight advertised on the Massey web site and applied. I’ve been with the team in Te Awamutu now for over six years and love it.”

She works in farm investment support for FarmRight, which specialises in business and investment management for large scale dairy farms.

Together with husband Thomas Herbert, Louise also helps contract milk 480 cows on her parents’ dairy farm in Pukeatua.

“I suppose you could say I’m a weekend farmer,” says Louise. “Thomas and I were 50:50 share milking for four years before Mum and Dad bought the neighbouring dairy farm this season. They gave us the opportunity to go contract milking and now we’re in the process of succession planning and setting up an equity partnership with them.”

The couple met while studying at Massey and were married a year ago on the family farm.

The location where they got married was also where Louise and her sisters were filmed as part of a television campaign created to mark the 50th anniversary of Fieldays.

Eldest sister Alana is a crop monitoring coordinator for PGG Wrightson, while youngest sister Hannah is an agri-manager for Ravensdown.

“Our parents always took us to Fieldays, it was just something we did every year,” recalls Louise. “For us, going to Fieldays was an exciting family outing – made all the more fun because Grandad was there.”

Her grandfather, Des James, was the founder of James Engineering Limited based in Gore. Every year he travelled to Mystery Creek as an exhibitor, to showcase his company’s soil aerator equipment.

“Because he lived in Gore we didn’t get to see him and Nana often. We all knew where his site was at Mystery Creek and looked forward to big grandad hugs,” says Louise.

She has many fond childhood memories of the Fieldays. “As a kid I remember sitting on the step of Grandad’s Fieldays caravan eating mandarins. I always know it is mandarin season when it’s Fieldays.”

She recalls a native tree stand one year a couple of sites down from her Grandad’s stand. “My sister Alana went over to this stand and the man gave her a free tree because she was Des James’ granddaughter,” says Louise. “I wanted a free tree too, so I went and got my tree. Mum and Dad weren’t too happy about lugging two trees up the hill back to the car. Twenty years on, my tree is still alive in Mum and Dad’s garden on the farm.”

Boarding at Hamilton Girls’ High School didn’t stop Louise from making the annual pilgrimage to Mystery Creek.

“It was usually teacher-only day on the Friday so all the students would go to the Fieldays. It was fun seeing how many bags, pens and balloons we could collect – anything and everything we could get our hands on!”

Although her grandfather passed away three years ago, Louise still likes to attend Fieldays. “Mike Key took over Grandad’s business and has worked for him as long as I can remember,” says Ms Wallace. “It’s still nice we can visit Mike and the team at the Fieldays because, to me, they are part of our extended family.”

The Wallace Sisters’ story will debut as a 30-second television commercial during Country Calendar on TVNZ 1 this Sunday June 10 from 7pm. A longer version of Wallace Sisters’ story is available in the new documentary box set Fieldays Stories, available on TVNZ OnDemand (TVNZ.co.nz).

“It is an honour to represent women in agriculture and to tell our story,” says Louise. “It shows young women that, regardless of your background, you can have a rewarding career in the agricultural sector – and it’s not all about driving tractors and milking cows.”

Marketing manager for New Zealand Agricultural Fieldays, Taryn Storey, says agriculture has always been part of the Wallace sisters’ lives and they’ve channelled that into their careers.

“To me, they are the epitome of the event as we celebrate 50 years,” says Ms Storey. “It’s in their blood. They’ve gone with their mum and dad, and as adults they go back again. Fieldays is an event for the family and generation after generation attends Fieldays.”

Ms Storey says that those who are interested in a career in agriculture can learn a lot about the options by visiting the Fieldays Career and Education Hub, or just by wandering through the Fieldays site.

“If you are interested in getting into the agricultural sector then I would encourage you to get along to the Fieldays,” says Ms Storey. “It’s such a great day out, and it’s inspiring to see the diversity of people and businesses across the spectrum at Fieldays.”

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