In this part of the country, more than 200,000 cows are milked, fed and cared for each day by Kiwis, as well as by a growing group of skilled migrants.
Experienced farm hands are in high demand and, as Waikato farmers increasingly realise and appreciate, some of the best workers come from the Philippines.
Johnrey Emperado, second-in-charge at a 270-hectare farm near Tirau, is one of them.
Johnrey and his wife Iris moved to New Zealand in 2009. With their two children, daughter Skye (4) and baby Brian, who was born in January, they live on Moondance Farms, where Johnrey works.
The young family have been in Tirau for two years now, after some time in Taupo and Reporoa, and enjoy it.
“We came here for a better life, a safe country for our kids,” Johnrey says, and Iris adds that living on the farm is especially nice because they are so close to town, and to their friends.
“We have many friends in the area who also come from the Philippines, and not all of them work on farms. There are nurses, engineers, and people working in other professions as well,” Iris says.
They do miss their homeland at times, but thanks to Skype they are in touch with friends and family in the Philippines regularly.
“We have it good here, but there’s no place like home,” Iris says, and Johnrey jokes that he misses fresh mangoes the most.
Moondance Farms is owned by former South Waikato Councillor Norm Barker and his wife Eileen, together with their daughter and son-in-law, Helen and Aaron Jeffares. Helen and Aaron manage the day-to-day business.
The family are strong supporters of helping migrant workers to integrate, and this includes learning better English and about the Kiwi way of life.
Because of the large Filipino community in and around Tirau, English Language Partners Rotorua began offering evening classes to rural workers last year. The lessons are part of the English for Employees programme for permanent residents.
Moondance Farms provide the use of a building for the lessons free of charge – greatly appreciated by English Language Partners’ manager Anna Hayes and her team.
Iris says the lessons she and Johnrey have had are very useful. She explains that although they learned English in the Philippines, they don’t speak it at home and that made it difficult to start a conversation when they first came to New Zealand.
“We had a lovely teacher, and it was good to practise everyday conversation and learn about safe topics. The last thing I want to do is offend anyone.”
Lessons are given by Bridget Skinner, a dairy farm owner herself, who graduated with a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults from Waikato University last year.
“I was born here in the Waikato and started out in horticulture, then spent 20 years dairy farming with my husband. I enjoy being outside, I’m definitely not an office person, but I do have a passion for teaching.”
Bridget says studying English language teaching and then teaching English has been a bit of a learning curve, mainly because she has had to improve her own grammatical skills.
“However, I thoroughly enjoy it, especially what these learners are teaching me. Teaching English has opened my eyes to other cultures. It’s given me a different way of looking at the world.
“I’ve built a good rapport with the learners. We work in small groups with a focus on building confidence to use English in a day–to-day setting. We’re here to help and encourage each other.
“These people are so supportive, of me and each other and they’re keen to learn. Maybe it has something to do with the way they’ve been brought up, but they appreciate every opportunity they get in New Zealand and make the most of it.”
Aaron, who works closely with Johnrey and three other Filipino men on the farm, adds that he’s seen quick progress.
“Not only do they quickly gain a better understanding of the language, but also about how and why we do things the way we do them.
“These guys have a high level of skill and work ethics, and they are very positive which is refreshing. I would like to thank them for what they’ve brought to the farm. It’s all very much appreciated.”
Martine Rolls / Photos Michael Jeans