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Ash-Leigh Campbell is a woman of influence

Ash WOI awards
Ash-Leigh Campbell, Technical Farm Manager, Ngai Tahu Farming and Finalist in Rural category  Nikki Carroll

The chair of NZ Young farmers is one of 11 Canterbury finalists in the 2019 Women of Influence awards

Ash-Leigh Campbell, 28, is the second youngest and only female on the management team at Ngai Tahu Farming. She is also the first female chair of NZ Young Farmers.

Campbell has been nominated for both roles in the rural category of the 2019 Women of Influence awards.

She says growing up on the outskirts Lincoln, Canterbury, on a lifestyle property with pet lambs and horses probably influenced her move into dairy farming. 

Her first job in the industry was milking cows after school three days a week in Springston. Her then-boss Daryl Petheram was surprised a 16-year-old girl was interested in the tough and dirty job. 

That was in the mid 2000s, when women in the agricultural field was still an unusual thing. Petheram had never employed a female on his farm before. He and his wife, Sue, remain big supporters of Campbell, and have followed her journey through the agricultural sector with pride.

Once Campbell had graduated high school, she spent a year at university before travelling. She returned to agriculture, this time as a dairy assistant for a couple of years while she saved money to fund more travel.  During that time, Campbell studied at the Primary Industry Training Organisation, which gave her a chance to learn while she earned.

Eventually, Campbell got involved with the Young Farmers group in Dunsandel, and through that connection gained her first farm manager role at the age of 22 on a dry stock property near Sheffield. 

After a couple of years, she was at a crossroads, not wanting to just continue milking cows for the rest of her life. A neighbouring farmer advised her that she needed to get back to university, use her brain and progress herself through the agricultural industry.

In 2015, Campbell returned to Lincoln University to get a Diploma in Agriculture and another in Farm Management. She won a scholarship.

"The scholarship was Whenua Kura, which is a Maori-based opportunity around getting young Maori into the primary industries," Campbell said.

"One of the most important benefits of this scholarship was reconnecting with iwi, doing research and history on my whakapapa and heritage and all that."

Ash-Leigh WOI finalist
Ash-Leigh Campbell, Chair of NZ Young Farmers Ngai Tahu

Campbell's involvement with Young Farmers carried on through her study and beginning work at Ngai Tahu Farming, and in 2018 she gained a position on the organisation's board. Within a month she was appointed as Chair.

"I literally had a month behind the scenes to get my head around what was going to happen. And, it's been literally the most deepest dive into governance that anyone could have ever expected. I really had the motto over the last 12 months of sink or swim, and trust me I've been doggy paddling a lot."

A real driver for Campbell is getting the next generation coming through to be more connected as in the digital age there's a lot of disconnect. She wants Young Farmers to be a central point for young people. If people have their phones, and they want to connect, then hopefully Young Farmers can be that connecting point around where's your local club and what activities are coming up. 

Campbell is really excited to be going to the Women of Influence awards and says it's "so cool" that nine women are nominated in the rural category. Last year, just three finalists were women. The awards are being held in Auckland on Thursday, October 24.