Nicole Cousins is pretty emphatic about what she enjoys most about her job as a Technical Sales Rep in Eastern Southland.
“It’s the people. Definitely. Helping farmers find solutions and keep them on track to achieve their goals and targets.
And also being at the cutting edge of innovation and seeing the evolution of farming as a whole. There are so many exciting advances happening right now in the rural industry,” says Nicole, who this month celebrates her third year in the role.
With a passion for agronomy and “growing great pasture and great crops”, Nicole is based at the Invercargill Farm Source store and looks after around 130 farmers who are now coming towards the tail-end of the season.
“There are not too many autumn calvers in my patch. Most are on OAD, VIM or 16 hour milkings now and the focus is on keeping condition on the girls and getting milk into the vat. Those that are thinking of changing their feed in the shed have been putting a few tasters through now to get the cows accustomed to the new feed before next season, so touch wood it will be all plain sailing,” she reports.
And as the cooler months approach, making sure there’s enough winter feed is obviously a key focus.
“We’ve been doing Nitrate testing on new grass before grazing, weighing crops and sending samples off to Hills Laboratories to get Feed Quality Tests done. We’re looking at next year’s crops paddocks already as we need to get those soil sample results in and come up with any fertiliser plans that may need to be implemented now to make sure we have good crops for next winter,” she says.
“We’ve been blessed fairly well by the weather gods this season with most escaping the spring thunder storms and flooding the Winton area had and not drying out as bad as South Otago.”
The favourable weather conditions earlier in the season means crops are thriving and there’s lots of extra baleage available.
“Mother Nature has provided us with a bumper growth season and crops are looking fantastic and yielding well.”
However, Nicole says insect pressure is unfortunately becoming more of a challenge in the region.
“We have a pretty unique environment and weather patterns down here, with most agronomy trials not applying to local conditions at all. Although bug pressure has been on the increase in recent years and there was a movement towards different cultivar selection and IPM (integrated pest management) spray programmes. There was one case in March where a farmer had the holy trinity – grass grub, porina and clover root weevil in the same paddock,” she says.
Tapping into the expertise of vendor reps and other contractors in the community has proven a good tactic for coming up with tailored solutions for farmers.
“Often, they have been in the business in this area a lot longer than me, so it is always wise to listen to what they have to say. I also talk to my TSR counterparts in Central/Northern Southland, as our insect life cycles tend to be a couple weeks behind them so we can pre-empt insect pressures before they become critical,” she says.
Nicole’s approach with her farmers is to listen and she aims to be helpful with every interaction she has.
“I don’t have a cookie cutter approach. I listen to farmers first and try to understand their needs. I take a listen-to-learn versus a listen-to-respond approach.”
With the season almost wrapped up and winter approaching, Nicole says conversations have turned towards canvas, agronomy and nutrition plans for the upcoming season and trying to keep tabs on those staying and going.
“I’m going to miss a few of my farmers who are leaving the district, I wish them well on their new opportunities. But I’m excited to welcome the new faces into the fold. Eastern Southland is the best corner of the country and a wee sweet spot for dairying! But I might be a little biased,” she says.