Wednesday, 15 July 2020 09:49

A farmer perspective in the boardroom

Written by  Stuart Wright
Retiring Ravensdown director and Darfield farmer Stuart Wright. Retiring Ravensdown director and Darfield farmer Stuart Wright.

Deputy chair of Ravensdown, Stuart Wright on why farmers should throw their hat in the ring and join board rooms.

OPINION: The phrase ‘gumboot directors’ came about in the 1970s when co-operatives like Ravensdown were created. 

Originally intended as a jibe from the corporate business world, it became a badge of honour as farmer shareholders put their hand up to influence the businesses they own. 

These days, New Zealand’s agri co-operatives are multi-million-dollar operations, with complex business models and risk profiles. And the governance of such organisations has never been more important. 

Over the years, the professionalism and competency of independent, appointed directors has rubbed off on their farmer-elected counterparts. In the modern era, shrewd strategic decision-making, fresh thinking and networks of relationships have complemented the traditional director role of ensuring financial solvency. 

In that time, many agri-sector enterprises have also become more sophisticated and commercially driven. As a result of all this, the farming leaders of today are better equipped for the boardroom than the farmers from a bygone era. 

In addition to the many boards, trusts and committees arising out of the intensely community-minded rural sector, a large number of agri-businesses operate under a co-operative model (like Fonterra, FMG and Ravensdown). 

The performance of these co-operatives in a world recovering from Covid-19 is crucial to New Zealand. The creation of food for humans or livestock is a complicated business and critical if the country is going to earn the export dollars that pay for economic and social support throughout the recovery. 

A co-operative board’s role is to act as stewards for its members and shareholders. Ordinary shareholders vote for those who they think will represent their interests best. The elected directors, who often have a ‘stake in the game’, are more than likely to be members of the community they’re representing.

As a representative of the shareholders, there’s an advocacy role. It’s also important to lead and challenge rather than only follow the mood of farmers at any given time. To stop any individual director becoming too entrenched and thinking becoming too rigid, elections can be set every three years and maximum terms can be written into the constitution. 

Being on a board allows farmers to lead and guide transformation in areas where they have knowledge and passion. As an arable farmer myself, this is something I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have been a part of during my time as a director at Ravensdown.

A good board is one that has mixed representation. So, I urge farmers to throw their hat in the ring, be ready to ask the tough questions, and be at the forefront of a team safeguarding the future prosperity of New Zealand’s primary industries. 

Co-operatives can be more long-term and people centred in their thinking compared to listed outfits being buffeted by a volatile share market. It’s a business structure well suited to the challenges of our time such as sustainability in its broadest sense. 

But it’s people that take the co-operative idea and create something special and that includes the directors in the board room. 

• Stuart Wright is the current deputy chair of Ravensdown and farms 330ha west of Christchurch growing arable crops, seed potatoes and finishing lambs. He is standing down from the board because he has reached the maximum term of 12 years serving as director for central South Island. Nominations for his director position close on 31 July. 

More like this

Eyes open to different ways of farm ownership

Farmer Jane Smith was “blown away” by the group dynamic and drive when she and husband Blair hosted the North Otago-based Growth and Development in Farming Action Group at Newhaven Farms in Oamaru.

A rock to both the NZ and Moroccan economies

New Zealand farmers probably do not realise the contribution they are making to the economic and community life of people in Southern Morocco, says Hajbouha Zoubeir, president, Phosboucraa Foundation.

Getting smarter at growing grass

In his third season, sharemilker and Ravensdown shareholder James Barbour takes us through the farm’s approach to nutrient management.

Featured

 

Lely offerings for the future

Dutch robotic specialist Lely launched a new farm management application called Horizon at its recent Future Farm Days 2020.

Designed to connect data from a range of on-farm equipment and suppliers into one management system, it creates a real-time decision-support platform, to make the farmer’s life easier, the herd healthier and the farm more profitable, says Lely.

Developed over a 24-month period, with over 100 test farmers in seven countries, working with 75 engineers, designers, farm management advisors, veterinarians and AI specialists, the new application will eventually replace the current Lely T4C management system. It uses smart algorithms and the cloud to deliver data that is processed into actionable information that is always accessible on any device in a user-friendly way.

Lely claims the Horizon application unburdens farmers from routine decision making and helps them optimise their workloads, using integrated routines based on easily scheduled cow ‘touches’, create logical and more efficient workflows. It is also possible to assign a certain task to an employee and to schedule a time slot for the cow touch, rather than analysing different reports and filtering long lists.

Horizon is also able to connect and combine data from non-Lely sources into a complete solution for the farmer removing the need to enter the same data twice, while scrutinising individual data streams in different applications will no longer be necessary. Currently, connections with farming applications such as Dairy Comp, Uniform-Agri, CRV and Herde already enable farmers to synchronise information about calving and inseminations between applications. Lely’s ambition is to connect with more partners over time, to hand the farmer more smart data.

To ensure full support in the migration to Lely Horizon, existing Lely T4C customers will be personally informed by their Lely Center before the end of 2020.

The migration is planned in a phased approach, from country to country, over the year 2021.

Also launched at the event, Lely Exos is an autonomous concept for harvesting and feeding fresh grass to the herd.

The company suggests that feeding fresh grass makes better use of available roughage, suggesting “fresh” has between 10 and 20% more nutritional value than grass silage, as there are minimal losses typically seen during mowing, tedding, raking, harvesting and feeding.

Lely suggests that feeding fresh grass over an extended season reduces the amount of silage that has to be conserved, reduces the need for concentrates and bought-in feed and increase the margin made on each litre of milk produced.

Based around an all-electric vehicle that mows and feeds, Exos is light weight and uses soil friendly technology, that can be exploited throughout the growing season. Design to work 24/7 as feed requirements change, the system places no constraints on labour or time, while it is also designed to work in tandem with the Lely Vector automatic feeding systems.

In operation, Exos also collects field data as it goes about its job, giving framers live data on grass supply and lending itself to a further concept of delivering a targeted liquid fertiliser as it passes over a harvested area.

Goat farming on the rise

Dairy goat milk processors, looking to increase their supplier numbers, are helping to drive interest among farmers in New Zealand’s growing goat milk industry.

TB fight goes on

The total number of TB-infected herds in Hawke’s Bay has risen to 20, following the recent reclassification of a new herd in the Waitara Valley.

Milking cows behind the barbed wire

A recent field day at the Waikeria Prison Farm near Te Awamutu offered farmers the chance to see what goes on “behind the wire”, alongside introducing the idea of farmers employing offenders near the end or after the term of their sentences.

National

Dispelling wool's myths

Paul Alston believes that when comparing wool and synthetic carpets, wool wins every time.

Not all GHGs are the same

The New Zealand Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (NZRSB) is calling for a new, more accurate, method for calculating methane emissions.

Machinery & Products

Weeds in for a shock

WIith an increasing focus on reducing chemical herbicides, largely because of crop resistance and a potential build-up of residues, new…

V8 - a baler with a grunt

Following three years of testing with clients worldwide, Ireland-based manufacturer McHale has added a bigger model to its range of…

Virtual CV valuable tool

With a 12-year history of recruiting specialised operators from overseas to service the agricultural contracting industry, Hanzon Jobs typically brings…

» The RNG Weather Report

» Latest Print Issues Online

The Hound

Tough gig!

OPINION: This old mutt has a fair amount of sympathy for Ag Minister Damien O’Connor with the two associate ministers…

Cow killer

OPINION: The Hound was not surprised to hear well-known end-of-the-world doom-merchant ‘Dr’ Mike Joy is still as joyless as ever…

» Connect with Rural News

» eNewsletter

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter