Despite originally being a townie, Jessie Chan-Dorman has found her place in the dairy industry. This year has seen the tenacious go-getter awarded for her dedication and contribution by being named Fonterra Dairy Woman of the Year. And she still has a lot more to give to the industry she is passionate about.
Jessie has always been keen on biology and animals and had initially wanted to be a scientist. When she left school she went to work at the Dairy Research Institute and she ended up working three jobs to fund herself through university. It was while she was at university that she was introduced to milking cows - she was one of two students in her class that had never milked a cow.
Since graduating with first class honours in animal science majoring in ruminant nutrition in 2000, Jessie has had a wide range of rural professional roles across policy, research and development and sustainable farming. Her first role out of university was at MAF in their bio-security department in
Wellington. From there she went to work as the dairy policy advisor for Federated Farmers where she worked closely with volunteer dairy farmers and various farming systems.
In 2009 Jessie and husband Hayden took a variable order sharemilking job in Canterbury then changed to herd-owning sharemilkers and they now lease the farm. Milking 950 cows on the 420ha property, they employ a split calving system supplying winter milk to Fonterra. “We learnt everything along the way. We don’t always get it right but we learn from our mistakes.” They have recently changed to being self-sufficient with all wintering and young stock on farm, and most feed crops grown on farm.
“Together we make a pretty good team.” She credits her Hayden for teaching her what it means to be a dairy farmer. Although she doesn’t mind getting stuck in and getting her hands dirty she rarely milks. “We both agree my strengths are better put to work governing and running the business including strategy, risk, keeping herd records, HR, and accounts.”
As with other farmers, they have faced the same challenges with low milk prices but she sees this as a learning opportunity. “There are always ups and downs in the industry. “Any dairy farmer knows that every farm and situation is different and has different challenges. Farmers learn to farm through these and ultimately, they make us stronger.”
She relishes the opportunity to grow herself and contribute to the sector she is passionate about. As well as her role on Fonterra’s Shareholders Council, she is also a Director of the Ashburton Trading Society and RuralCo and a member of New Zealand Asian Leaders. She has completed the Fonterra Governance Development Programme and received the Canterbury Institute of Directors Aspiring Director Award in 2014.
Having done a lot of work, study and research domestically she now hopes to expand her expertise in a global context. “I am really excited about the future of the dairy industry in New Zealand and possibly progressing further into leadership roles that will allow me to make further contributions to the industry”.
Despite starting out as a townie, you have truly marked your spot as a AgWomen leading the way in the Dairy Industry. We are excited about what the future holds for you!