Dynamic ... Among those at the South Island Dairy Event in Oamaru this week were (clockwise from top left) guest speakers Justine and Geoff Ross, of Lake Hawea Station; Farm Fit's Kane Brisco (left), of Taranaki, and Carr Family Foundation members Stacey McKerchar and Craig Wiggins, of Ashburton; Waitaki Girls' High School pupils (from left) Abby Rowland, Summer Borrie, Georgia Hawkins (all 16), Poppy Wraight (15) and Lilian Tepper (17); and FIL and GEA team members (from left) Mike Robinson, Natasha Maguire, and Andrew Smith, of Canterbury. PHOTOS: KAYLA HODGE/SALLY RAE

Organisers were ‘‘absolutely thrilled’’ to be holding a booked-out South Island Dairy Event (SIDE) in Oamaru this week.

More than 420 farmers, rural professionals and sponsors signed up to SIDE 2022, which was held at the Oamaru Opera House and Brydone Hotel on Wednesday and Thursday.

SIDE is the South Island’s biggest dairy sector event, and aims to build the skills of farmers and discuss solutions to challenges the sector is facing.

Event committee member Rebecca Finlay said although initially the uptake was ‘‘pretty slow’’, she thought people had possibly been waiting to see how the Covid situation played out in their communities and farming businesses.

‘‘We think we’re bang on the money in terms of farmers really needing that connection with their peers, and we’re stoked to see farmers prioritising professional and personal development, and coming to Oamaru and seeing all the wonderful things we have to offer as a town and a region, if they’re from out of town,’’ Mrs Finlay said.

Registrations for SIDE, which this year had the theme of ‘‘dynamic’’, were held on Tuesday night. This maximised the benefit to the Waitaki town’s businesses and hospitality providers. Traditionally, they had been early on the Wednesday morning.

‘‘We want to encourage people to just have a proper break off-farm, and spend two nights, and it has the happy outcome that they’re in Oamaru for two nights,’’ she said.

The Full Steam Ahead dinner on Wednesday night, held at the Loan and Merc in Harbour St, was also fully-booked, with 230 attending. Oamaru restaurateur Sally-Ann Donnelly, who was catering the dinner, had been amazing, and ‘‘extremely generous’’, Mrs Finlay said.

Pre-dinner drinks were held at Steampunk HQ where manager Jan Kennedy had also been ‘‘fantastic’’ to work with.

Mrs Finlay hoped the evening, and the whole event, would generate some return tourism for the area.

‘‘We’re hoping people will come back and bring their kids. Or they may even be inspired to move to Oamaru, which will be fantastic for the region.

‘‘One of the focuses for SIDE is that they want to generate a conference that injects such focus, and people, and attention to wherever they hold it, that people are lobbying them to hold it in their town.’’

A diverse range of speakers and workshops were on offer at SIDE over the two days. Keynote speakers included Geoff and Justine Ross, who founded 42 Below vodka, and now ran carbon-neutral, ‘‘region-focused’’, Lake Hawea Station.

‘‘Geoff and Justine are really great examples of telling a positive story of New Zealand agriculture, which is something we as a dairy industry need to keep moving towards to get good labour, and make it an appealing career,’’ Mrs Finlay said.

There was also former RocketLab engineer Craig Piggott, who launched technology company Halter, which created software to help farmers move and manage their herds more easily.

‘‘Craig is from a farming family, and watched his parents on a dairy farm, and sort of saw, ‘hey we can make this less labour intensive’ — so we recognise as a sector we need to innovate, and up our game as employers.’’

Dr Tom Mulholland, who had 25 years experience in emergency medicine, was offering strategies for farmers to maintain physical and mental health in times of stress.

Alongside SIDE 2022, a separate BrightSIDE professional development event for young farmers and farm staff was also held.