Brendan and Nicole Saunders, the dynamic dairy farming duo from Tinamba have been milking it ever since relocating from New Zealand to Australia in 2018.
Since moving, these enterprising Kiwis have been turning heads. In just six years, they’ve transitioned from share farming to being proud farm owners, won the 2022 Weekly Times Coles Farmers of the Year award, and added a sweet twist to their operation by launching their agritourism on-farm café, The Berry Dairy.
"We moved from New Zealand to Victoria for the farming opportunities," Nicole said. "There are more lease and share farm opportunities here, which was crucial for us to reach farm ownership. Gippsland, with its high reliability water, was our top choice,” she added.
The couple became proud farm owners in 2022. Located in the Macalister Irrigation District, the 150-hectare farm is home to 700 cows. They also lease an additional 500-cow dairy farm.
Their water comes from the Tinamba pipeline, which was part of the district’s modernisation upgrade works in 2019 and the Macalister River. The Saunders primarily focus on supplying whole milk but saw a gap in the market and diversified their business with a pick-your-own strawberry farm and café located on their farm.
The Berry Dairy has an acre of strawberries irrigated by drip tape that uses recycled water from the dairy farm. The on-site café provides a perfect place for visitors to enjoy fresh produce and try their famous home-made ice-cream.
"As a mum of two young kids I struggled to find places locally that provided fun and relaxing spaces for little ones and parents to enjoy,” Nicole said.
“We wanted to create a welcoming environment for families with food and activities to keep everyone happy,” she said.
The Berry Dairy also has a petting zoo with sheep, chickens, ducks, and goats, and the Saunders have plans for future farm tours to help teach children about where their food comes from.
Nicole said the foundation of their success is reliable water, fertile soils and a supportive community.
"Access to high reliability water allows us to accurately predict our pasture growth and structure our business accordingly," said Nicole.
The Saunders said Southern Rural Water has been a great partner to work with because of the support they offer.
“We bought our property after the Tinamba pipeline modernisation upgrade and wanted to add an additional outlet for our stock and domestic needs,” said Brendan
“Southern Rural Water helped us and we can now use the pipeline efficiently for domestic and stock purposes. It’s saving us a lot on pumping costs," Brendan said.
The Saunders say Southern Rural Water’s online water ordering system and the new water trading platform makes managing and accessing additional water easy.
“Being able to order water, schedule adjustments, check remaining allocations, and buy and sell water at the touch of button saves us time we can use to invest more in our business and family,” Nicole said.
Nicole and Brendan are optimistic about their future and believe Gippsland is a great spot to live and work long-term. With world class beaches and the high-country on the doorstep, Brendan says the region offers his family access to a great outdoor lifestyle.
“The community have welcomed us with open arms and its fantastic to see so many of them at The Berry Dairy. We couldn’t ask for more and we’re working hard to build a legacy our kids will want to follow,” Nicole said.