Thursday, 10 August 2023 09:55

'Pink blood' through and through

Written by  Jessica Marshall
Karen Forlong, former chair of Dairy Women’s Network (DWN). Karen Forlong, former chair of Dairy Women’s Network (DWN).

It should come as no surprise that Karen Forlong, the former chair of Dairy Women’s Network (DWN) who departed the board this year, is one of the organisation’s biggest advocates.

Forlong, in the middle of her 27th season at the Atiamuri dairy farm she owns with her husband Maurice, is onto her 40th calving season.

She joined DWN back in the early 2000s after her neighbour suggested she come along for a meeting. She ended up holding numerous roles within the organisation.

From being part of the conference committee in 2005 and 2012, to a role as the North Island Convenor Coordinator in head office to chairing the network’s conference in 2014 and a subsequent board role, she’s done it all.

“I’m not an expert in anything,” she told Dairy News. “But I’m good at bringing people together.”

In 2019, Forlong became DWN chair, taking over from Cathy Brown who she describes as “an inspiration”, like so many of the women the Network has given her the opportunity to spend time with.

“To me, being a chair, has an element of being good at process and procedure and growing to understand governance, but it’s more about being the conductor of a talented orchestra,” says Forlong, who also chairs Vetora Bay of Plenty, an incorporated society vet club.

“That’s what I’ve had the privilege of doing at DWN and Vetora.”

Forlong is full of praise for the DWN she’s been involved with for almost half her life, labelling it “an amazing organisation for women”.

She says it’s something she is fortunate to be a part of over the years. She has made many close friends around the country.

Those years have seen a lot of changes for both the industry and for women.

“Much is still the same as far as who the women are, the traditional roles, but much is different too,” Forlong says.

“We still have some of the same historical challenges in terms of women not always being seen and recognised as 50% of a critical farming partnership,” she says. “I think there still exists an element of invisibility."

She says more women are farming in their own right, and many women coming into farming businesses who bring professional backgrounds with them.

She says that comes with its own challenges in terms of an adjustment period for those women.

“For them, the challenges can present around the adjustment of going from being urbanbased, having a really great career, to finding themselves falling in love with a guy with a ute and moving 45 minutes out of town where it’s more difficult to carry on that career.”

She says that on top of those challenges, the industry itself has evolved.

“Dairy is far from hands-on farming now,” Forlong says, adding the industry has changed to include elements of human resources, health and safety, environment, compliance, and more office-based work in general.

“The volatility of dairy requires you to really understand your business, to work on it while working in it. Hone your skills around what makes it tick, what makes it efficient, what makes it profitable… the whole nine yards.

“When I look at my time in the office, it’s gone from one or two days a month to at least two days a week.”

So, what role does an organisation like Dairy Women’s Network have to play in the lives of women on-farm?

First off, Forlong says it’s a huge provider of knowledge for many women in the industry.

“I will always be a huge advocate of Dairy Women’s Network.”

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