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‘Farm first’ approach wins plaudits for West Coaster

Meet West Coast dairy farmer Panda Mirfin.
Panda Mirfin can’t actually remember how he got the moniker — it dated back to primary school and stuck — but he definitely gets called Panda more than he is called Andrew.

Panda’s family have been on the coast since the 1860s.

He was born and bred there himself on what was originally a sheep and beef farm on the outskirts of Ikamatua, in the Grey Valley. It was converted to dairy in the mid-1990s.

Panda’s nominator, who has worked in the agricultural sector on and off for more than 25 years, was effusive in her praise of him, saying he "puts the farm first" and knew what was best for both animal and employee.

"Whether it be animal welfare and management, farm land/building/utilities upgrades/installation/maintenance or employee welfare — he takes excellent care of his staff through pay, days off, holidays, personal time off, benefits".

Panda employed about seven fulltime staff and several casual works and he had the philosophy "look after them, they’ll look after you" and, with that mantra, they tended to stay longer.

"I like seeing stock happy and people happy. I get a fair bit of satisfaction out of getting things in the right places, smiles on dials."

Panda, who was involved in a farmer-initiated West Coast Monitor Farm Project, created to develop a database of reliable pasture growth rates for four dairying regions on the coast, believed the area was under-rated.

Land values were "way lower" than they should be, it grew as much grass as anywhere in the country, he was surrounded by bush and, for him, it had "always been home and always will be".

When it came to the state of the dairy industry, Panda said the biggest concern at the moment was costs and there was a need for caution. But, at the same time, "it’s not our first rodeo".

Outside of farming, the laid-back Panda is a mad keen hunter and also loves sea fishing. He plays social cricket in a team called the Fire Balls — money was raised to build a concrete pitch.

Ask him how good the team is and he says they’re "exceptional" — then he adds that it doesn’t really matter about results, it is all about getting a few people together and it is very social.

A keen rugby player — he represented West Coast between 1998 and 2003 — Panda also plays some Golden Oldies rugby; again that is about the players and their partners getting together for a catch-up.

— Sally Rae

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