Southland AgWoman Bernadette Hunt wears many hats all relating to the rural community she live in. Whether it be on farm, the Gore Kids Hub or her role as the Southland Meat & Fibre Chair she puts 100% into everything. Together with her husband Alistair and their two kids aged 9 & 5 they farm a mixed farming operation consisting of sheep, beef, arable, dairy grazing and agricultural contracting in Otama near Gore.
They purchased the original property in 2007 and have since added on the neighbouring farm, taking on additional lease land and continue to grow their farming operation. They have gone from the initial 93 hectares to a total of approximately 400 hectares with the plan to step up to a total of 600 hectares on 1 June.
Born on a dairy farm Bernadette moved to a kiwifruit orchard at age 8, her father always ran a few stock, and she always loved the opportunity to visit her uncle's dairy farm and rear the occasional calf on the neighbour's dairy farm.
On leaving school she experienced city life thing for several years, living and working in Auckland, Sydney and London, working in IT and telecommunications. Eventually the country girl roots dragged her home, and she returned to NZ where she settled in Cambridge where she followed her rowing ambitions, before attending Teachers College while working part-time on a dairy farm.
It was during that time she met her now-husband Alistair who was working for a large agricultural contracting company. Bernadette has always held a love for farming and she always intended to live rurally once her teaching career was complete. Alistair and Bernadette quickly realised their shared love of farming and desire to go farming in their own right grew stronger. Fast forward to August 2006 when they visited Southland to check out farmland on the market, and ended up buying the farm they now reside at.
January 2007 saw the move to Southland and Bernadette started her first teaching job before they took over the farm in April 2007.Since then their two children have arrived into the family.
In the 12 years that the Hunts gave been in Southland Bernadette has held a variety of positions ranging from working full-time on farm, to having very little physical involvement, and everything in between. However she has consistently been very much a part of the decision making within the business and can turn her hand to most aspects of the operation when needed. Nowadays she works part-time off-farm, and also tends to be the back-up on farm when it all gets a bit stretched. She also spearheads the administrative side of the business and supports the team to enable them to be productive when things are busy.
While growing up, Bernadette's parents were both active leaders in Scouts and Girl Guides initially while her brothers and herself participated, but in the case of her Mum, that continued long after they grew out of it. So volunteerism has been a strong ethic Bernadette had grown up with.
Since the arrival of her first child she became heavily involved in her local Parents Centre. A small role helping out the committee grew into other roles, and eventually she become local president and then regional coordinator... which had given her the opportunity to access some great training and gain a lot personally from the experience while also contributing alot.
It has led her to playing a major part in a $1.7 million project to fundraise for and build the Gore Kids Hub and its adjacent public playground. This was a totally volunteer run project that had completely consumed Bernadettes life for a couple of years. As the project neared conclusion (so she thought) always one looking for a challenge began to think what her next “spare time” project would be.
As that project appeared to be nearing completion in 2015, the Southland Water and Land Environmental Plan was kicking off and Alistair and herself wanted to be well informed. So Bernadette made some enquiries about Federated Farmers, and was impressed with what she saw, and together they made the decision that it would be a good thing for her to commit some time to - both for their own business and her own personal growth and interest.
In May 2015 Bernadette was elected onto the Southland Federated Farmers Executive as an "at large" member. This enabled her to spend a couple of years watching and learning, and contributing at the Southland provincial level - particularly to the Water and Land Plan consultation process. However she had a real desire for more visibility and involvement in Feds at a national level, as well as the ability to really take some responsibility within the province. So in 2017 when then Southland Meat & Fibre Chair announced his intention to step down, She put my hand up and was elected to the role. She the first female sector chair for the Southland province.
She says she has loved the step up, which has given her the opportunity to attend the Feds national conference and the national Meat and Fibre (now meat and wool) council meeting. She has also been involved in the support response regarding the recent drought in Southland, the M.Bovis response, and the next phase of the Water and Land Plan process is just kicking off. This role has also made her more visible to Southland farmers and she often receive calls from people wanting to get support on an issues, organisations including media wanting a farmer's view, and has had the opportunity to feed the position of local farmers into the Feds team working at the national level.”
This outgoing agwoman is extremely passionate about the work of Federated Farmers. Now that she has seen the Federation in action, she knows how vital it is, and how much it achieves for all farmers (members or not).
She is also immensely impressed at the engagement of their board at the highest levels, and the influence they have as the "farmer in the room" in the conversations that shape the farming landscape. Bernadette comments "No other organisation represents farmers across all sectors, which forces them to find and compromise solutions that best meet the expectations of all sectors." She also says "this is hugely challenging at times, but we play a key role in uniting "Team Ag" and providing the unified voice of farmers to these conversations."
Who knows what the future with bring for for Bernadette and her family she is currently really interested in the current developments in the environmental space and how they intersect with farming - out of concern for the sustainability (both financial and environmental) of business and farming more broadly. She is passionate about ensuring that the voice of farmers is heard and understood, without creating a divide between those with environmental interests, "townies" and farmers.
“I think that farming in the future will probably look quite different to how it does now... but I firmly believe that there are big solutions which are yet to be discovered which will allow farming to continue to be the backbone of NZ as well as both financially and environmentally sustainable.”
Bernadette Hunt is one agwoman making waves across Southland and we believe everyone you associate with is lucky to be able to have your wisdom and passion in their side. Keep up the great work Bernadette you truly are one hard working inspiring woman.