Ben Todhunter: Observations from a high-country station.

Ben Todhunter is a 2006 Nuffield Scholar and High Country Farmer. He farms Cleardale Station with his family in the Rakaia Gorge, Canterbury.  

Below are the closing lines from Jim Morris’s poem ‘Rewards’. They capture the spirit of the high country farmer and as such are personal to Todd. Jim Morris was from neighbouring Manuka Point Station, and is now retired.

The ranges vast are here to stay 
And he’s content to spend his day, 
Working in their rugged grip 
His recompense – the love of it.

This is a compilation of some of Ben’s LinkedIn posts from 2021.

#1. Pressure and release

December 2021 

A young calf got caught away from the main mob. Rather than applying pressure to the calf, Ben backs off, mum doubles back to bring the calf back to the mob herself. 

Quoting Monty Roberts, Ben writes:

Pressure and release. It’s a fundamental tenet of moving livestock. It also applies to humans as well. As a leader, working with tension or pressure to grow someone is a balance. How do you learn to get the judgement right?

Lesley Prior, Tellenby Merino Stud, Commented:  
Great example of good stock handling. Quiet, patient and ‘going with the flow,’ but with gentle direction where necessary.  

#2. Pondering geology

October 2021 

Ben observes that the rocks and stones scattered on his farm have ancient stories to tell.

Ben writes:
A collection of photos of some terminal and lateral moraine boulders. The greywacke rocks have fallen onto glacial ice and were carried up to 70km before being deposited in-situ approximately 18,000 years ago. 

The greywacke was formed over a 200-million-year period as tens of thousands of metres of sediments built up off the edge of Gondwana. The sediments were eventually buried, deformed, hardened, and uplifted to become the rocks that formed the Southern Alps. 

Link to ‘Te Ara – building a continent.’ 

It’s useful therapy to ponder the stories of these rocks when considering your significance, or lack of, in the world. 

Victoria Harvey, Climate change PHD researcher, commented: 
A great reminder of our place and time in this world. Plus, very clean air judging by that lichen. 

#3. Embracing technology

November 2021 

To reduce the time intensive process of matching dam with lamb, and at the same time increasing the quality of pedigree data, Ben introduced smart collars to Cleardale.  

Ben writes:
Our current master shepherd (my father) is proving difficult to replicate and scale. These collars have Bluetooth technology and record proximity to other tags. If they are worn for 48 hours they provide an accurate record of the lambs and their mothers. 

This is the same technology that can be used for some of the proposed contact tracing systems for disease management.  

Helen Thoday, Solutions and Development at DairyNZ, commented: 
That’s so much better than binoculars and spray-painted numbers.

#4. Perspective

May 2021 

Ben observed an interesting play of light and perspective. 

Ben writes:
Fascinating light on a frosty evening. They say the best time to show off livestock is in the afternoon light, but this may be taking it to extremes. 

Gordon Ray, Lecturer at Grenoble Ecole de Management, commented: 
On first impression, almost looks like a bubbly lava flow; when I noticed it’s sheep moving. I’ve worked with a large herd of sheep (1600) and the movement is so fluid as to almost look like slow motion water. Very cool video – thanks for sharing! 

Ben comments:
Gordon Ray, large groups of animals can have real flow. 

#5. Pushing too hard

November 2021 

Curiosity or greed? A heifer gets caught in farm equipment looking for the lush grass beneath it. (the heifer was freed unharmed!)

Ben writes:
You know that time when you just go a little further than you should’ve? 

Peter Stannack commented: 
Boundaries are for testing. How else do you find out who you really are? 

#6. Filling your soul

January 2021 

Concepts of mindfulness, wellbeing, and connection to nature are explored in this post.  

Ben writes:
There’s something deeply therapeutic, listening to and watching water. 

This Awa or river, the Rakaia, is a big part of our lives and has many moods. Here it is flowing at 145 cumecs (cubic metres per second). The highest peak flow ever recorded was 5594 cumecs at midnight on January 9th, 1994.  

We are involved with two groups protecting the special landscapes, flora, and fauna of The Rakaia from the gorge to the main divide. I’d like to extend that to the Coast as well. In a recent assessment the Rakaia scored the highest of all the braided Canterbury rivers to be proposed for World Heritage status. 

The Whanganui River has been granted the status of a legal person. “I am the river; the river is me” affirms the deep connection of the Māori tribes of Whanganui to their ancestral river. 

My connection to the Rakaia is not in that form. It is in the form of wonder, and respect, and love, and a place I can go to fill my soul. Where do you go to fill your soul? 

Sam Martin, Exterior Architecture UK, commented:  
Anywhere I can walk under trees works for me. Which is lucky given the situation here in London and our living so close to many commons and parks. 

#7. A river runs through it

October 2021 

“You have my full attention.” Was Mac’s response to a text last year. 

This is a story about the power of story. The story of a table with a story that tells a story. 

We live beside the Rakaia River. Our Awa originates in the heart of the Southern Alps/Kā Tiritiri o te Moana from the Ramsey and Lyell Glaciers. It is a braided river coloured blue from the glacial flour at its origin. Occasionally Totara logs are carried down river from the mountains and are deposited in front of our farm. 

Now Mac who was a neighbour and a top ad man, has now retired and become an accomplished luthier. He’d made me a stunning guitar from a previous piece of Totara and had expressed interest in working again with the special wood. So, when I found a suitable log, I sent a photo and immediately received the above reply. 

Half an hour later he was on site thinking of possibilities. In his words “You are being trusted with an absolute gem of a tree, and you prepare it with the full respect and care that its mana demand. It was an absolute privilege to be asked to give this tree a new life.” 

We then carved out a small bit suitable for guitars and kept the remainder. Maybe to build a table… 

A few weeks later Mac asked if we’d like him to make a kitchen table for us. 

Yes! Yes, was the response.

Mac enlisted the help of another neighbour and master wood whisperer Rob, to craft something special. 

We had a few other pieces of wood from the replaced decking and guardrails of the historic Rakaia Gorge bridge and knowing the talents of these two we provided dimensions for our house and for my frame and left them to it. 

Now for those who know about farm tables, a lot of business gets done around them, people are hosted, discussions are held and family times are lived around these tables. Being a storyteller Mac knew this and wondered if the table could tell a story? “Could it become a centre-piece, not just physically, but also emotionally and attitudinally? Could it have personality?” 

The idea of a river table was born. A table with whakapapa. 
“The idea was to re-create the tree’s relationship with the Rakaia River, representing its journey to Cleardale and the farm’s relationship with the river.” 

And that is what we’ve got. Timber from the mountains, carried and battered by the river, inlaid with a representation of that braided river and held up by timbers from a bridge to the past, repurposed to create memories into the future for a family whose lives are intertwined with that Awa. 

A special Taonga, which has a story, tells a story and will be part of many more stories. Thanks so much gents. 

Partha Ghosal, Clean Energy, commented:  
“You had my full attention.” So much so I read it twice! Never knew of Totara, let alone that it could make a stunning guitar/table. Something to do with your storytelling flair and a Luthier giving full respect maybe? Just love what you, he, and your wood whisperer achieved in the end. Your special Taonga. 

Mel Poulton: Insights from a Special Agricultural Trade Envoy.

Mel Poulton

Mel Poulton: Insights from a Special Agricultural Trade Envoy.

2014 Nuffield Scholar Mel Poulton is someone with a unique perspective. Well, two really. As both a food producing farmer and New Zealand’s Special Agricultural Trade Envoy, we asked Mel to share her perspectives on trade, Nuffield, Brexit, and an industry grappling with significant global challenges.

Question: What do you do in your various roles?

Mel Poulton: In and on my farm business, I’m on both sides of the farm gate. I do anything from stockwork to bulldozing, to making all the decisions required to run a business. 

In the Special Agricultural Trade Envoy (SATE) role, following my appointment, border closures and a vastly different global operating context, have meant changing how the role is delivered. It’s a two-pronged approach with an international and a domestic focus, mixed with face to face and virtual engagement.  

I’ve been more purposeful working with the world here in NZ, by way of direct engagement with the International Diplomatic Corps here (they are the eyes, ears, and influencers of their nations in NZ). This engagement includes taking Ambassadors on x-sector farm tours, hosting Diplomatic Corps meetings, and meeting with them one-to-one, or with industry groups. I am also working internationally on virtual platforms, speaking on panels, webinars, or virtual meetings with farmers, and private and public sector organisations.  

Covid has provided opportunity for me to invest more time and effort with NZ sectors (all food and fibre – except Forestry and Fisheries). My background is the sheep and beef sector, but I put a high priority on building a greater understanding of the other sectors I represent as well. I use these insights when engaging with each of the sectors, government, and the world.  

Helping NZ food and fibre producers broaden their understanding of the global and domestic context is a priority too. Both behind and beyond our farm gates.  

Q: What changes have you seen since being in your SATE role?

MP: Quite a few things.

Trade negotiations. 
Trade negotiations, particularly the New Zealand-UK Free Trade Agreement (FTA), have been the fastest progressed trade negotiations in New Zealand history to get to Agreement in Principle – so I’ve been told. Much of this negotiation has been done virtually, also a first. This will change the way trade negotiations occur in the future. A lot less travel overall.

Farm subsidies. 
Direct and indirect farm subsidies in large economies, such as the USA, have increased exponentially. People may argue they have already exceeded agreed WTO thresholds.

Growing distrust. 
There’s a growing distrust of governments in the democratic world. Governments need to work on their social licence to operate. Social licence is not just a thing for food producers.

Supply chain vulnerability. 
Just In Time (JIT) delivery has been exposed for its supply chain vulnerability in this global pandemic. Economies and businesses will now be building more capacity in their value chain system. This will mean a more conservative approach to exports and imports, to withstand the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) in the world of trade, market access and freight.

Nevertheless, nothing beats high trust and long-term government to government, business to business, and people to people relationships across the world. New Zealand has optimised these relationships throughout the pandemic to utilise market diversity for navigating trade, market, and supply chain disruption.

For example, Covid19 related trade agreements to secure medical imports and food exports. As well as digital certification for export products, through to relationships that our major exporters have with freight companies, importers, and international customers. The last 18 months haven’t been easy, but these strong relationships, and diversity of markets, have shown their worth to New Zealand.

Food security. 
Economies are moving from thinking about food security, to actively putting mechanisms in place to secure their food supply in a pandemic disrupted system, e.g., green lanes in Europe. There’s also a slow nuanced shift from food security to nutritional security taking place.

Regulatory pressure. 
Farmers and food producers in New Zealand and around the world are wrestling with the multi-layered challenges of regulatory pressure (particularly on the environmental and climate change fronts), as well as market volatility, and Covid 19 induced uncertainty. This is increasing farm input costs and diminishing the tools available for farmers to use to produce food.

As an example, farmers in Europe have real fears about their ability to produce the volume of food required to stay viable and maintain food security. The new farm to fork strategy in the EU is deliberately shifting organic food production up to 25%, with rules to reduce synthetic fertiliser by 50%. Glyphosate use is under threat too. In some places farmers can’t use it (I note in New Zealand, the EPA is currently undertaking a review of Glyphosate use). There’s major transformational change happening in Europe.

The rush of multi-layered change gives a sense of exponential pressure. Farmers all over the world are feeling exasperated, frustrated, misunderstood and under siege. All the same, if there is anywhere in the world I would rather be farming right now, it is here in New Zealand.

We’ve navigated major challenges in the past, and when farmers look at the change they’ve implemented on their farms over the course of their careers, or in the intergenerational businesses they are running, we can take confidence in the fact we are already change agents.

A uniquely positioned New Zealand. 
From a New Zealand food producer’s perspective, farmers here are uniquely positioned. Without subsidies, we aren’t dancing to someone else’s tune in quite the same ways as farmers receiving subsidies elsewhere. There are two sides to this. On one hand we’re not being bailed out at the next threat, but we also get to take full responsibility to master the destiny of our businesses. So, we have an ability to create workable solutions in a way that keeps our businesses competitive globally.

With an innovative, integrated systems approach, we can create solutions to challenges like reducing our global warming impact, improving native biodiversity and water quality, while producing high quality, safe, nutritious food – delivered with integrity.

In New Zealand we have an industry ecosystem focussed on helping farmers create and implement solutions. Our research centres and academic institutions, both provide science and knowledge, and help support farmers crack real challenges. There are the easily accessible service providers, and the folk in Government ministries – who are in the teams working hard on trade negotiation to ensure the best possible outcomes for access to markets, and on removal of tariffs and non-tariff barriers to create a level playing field for New Zealand. Let’s keep it that way.

This ecosystem enabling success is our major competitive advantage in the world. We’ve really got to leverage this and remember we’re all on the same team.

We must not be paralysed by fear, but instead celebrate what we’ve already achieved throughout our farming careers and take confidence that we can use our whole systems thinking to improve what we do for our natural resources, our people, businesses, and our nation.

Q: What links between International Trade and International Policy have you seen, with direct and indirect implications behind your farm gate?

MP: Let’s summarise how it works first. There are recognised global challenges. Then international forums are established to address these challenges, leading to international commitments made by member states (different nations).  

Examples of this include United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the Paris Accord on Climate Change. Some international commitments are legally non-binding. But where it applies to the WTO (World Trade Organisation) they are often legally binding.  

Once those international commitments are made, each economy, member state, or nation must determine its own policy and regulation to deliver on its commitments. That gets shaped up (with some consultation in the process) and is rolled out by the government of the day, and folks like us everyday people have to make it work on the ground. The Government then reports back to those international forums, or institutions, on what our progress has been against the commitments the Government made. COP26 is an example of this. 

Given New Zealand’s economy is so internationally exposed and dependent, we need to be at the international table to maintain influence.  

But to have influence we need to have integrity and demonstrate action. So, these international commitments have been drivers for shaping NZ Government policy on Sustainability and Climate Change. Examples here are the New Zealand freshwater regulations and climate change targets. Both resulted in changes on my farm, and on farms all over New Zealand, which is increasing costs and could reduce revenue for some.  

If we do it right, there could also be opportunity to reduce costs and increase profitability. It will be different for every business. The bottom line is that financially there’ll be change, so we need to reconfigure the financials for a new shape to our businesses. Easier for some than others, and not all will be the same. 

The environmental, social, and economic outcomes are significant across NZ, and underestimated. In some cases, we might secure a market premium for this work, though there is no guarantee what we’re doing delivers a premium to food producers in New Zealand for all products in all markets. I have more confidence this work will enable us to obtain and maintain market access to customers.  

This is where the work of our trade negotiators, ensuring a level playing field in market, is so critical for ensuring the changes we’re making here in NZ don’t make us uncompetitive on the international market. I’ve seen their tireless, relentless work, day, and night, to get the best possible outcomes for New Zealand. Many of these negotiators are the hidden superstars of our food and fibre ecosystem.  

What is going on in New Zealand around environment and climate change is often a focus of interest from others in my international engagements. I talk about what these regulations and targets mean for me, and what I am investing in to address the challenges in my farm business, alongside promoting what other farmers from the different sectors are doing in New Zealand. I also give a clear message that much of this cannot be done quickly when taking a whole systems approach. Effective change takes time. Farmers the world over get this.

Q: How do you think Brexit will play out for New Zealand trade? The obvious and not so obvious.

MP: The choice of the UK people and UK parliament to pursue Brexit is forging transformational change for the UK food and fibre sector. The transition period will take 15 to 20, even 30 years to find a new equilibrium. Like the 30 years it took New Zealand to find equilibrium when agriculture subsidies were removed here.  
This change requires a culture shift in thinking about UK farm business structures, their subsidy system, domestic policies, and rebalancing their trade and export portfolio beyond the common market, to a global market. Add major geostrategic inflection points in trade and security, affecting us all, and you have a UK trying to position itself as a global strategic leader.

Its focus in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly regarding the FTA’s it is currently negotiating with Australia and New Zealand, along with its formal request to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), all highlight the trade and security opportunities and challenges it perceives.  
So, building more structure into the relationships of allies like New Zealand and Australia by way of FTA’s is an important part of their process to find their new place in the world. This is providing new trade opportunities for New Zealand, subject to the NZ-UK FTA and their accession to the CPTPP. 
In the future it may create more competition in our export markets too. It will also create opportunities for more collaboration on the global stage, especially where we align with the values and perspectives that matter to both economies.

Q: What does New Zealand need to do more, and less of, now and in the future?

MP: Because our food and fibre sector is orientated to international markets, we need to continue to pursue being the best we can be. This means achieving optimal standards, positioning ourselves to have the best integrity, facts, processes, and story for all the concerns that governments, markets, customers, and consumers may direct at us.  

Whether these be from the position of protectionism or not, we still have to give ourselves the best chance of capturing opportunity. So, concerns about animal welfare, food safety, or environmental stewardship, e.g., water, soil, biodiversity, chemical and fertiliser usage, climate change, labour, the list goes on. These are the things we need to keep improving to position ourselves to open as many doors as possible, and to keep flexibility, adaptability, agility, and economic viability open to us.  

We have already demonstrated plasticity through this pandemic, and we need to fully embrace a plasticity approach in our lives, our businesses, and how we engage with the world.  

We need to be able to maintain our essence and values, while changing and reshaping the way we live, do business, trade, and collaborate with others, as we all grapple with significant global challenges.     

Q: How has doing a Nuffield Scholarship helped you?

MP:   The Nuffield Scholarship has been an important part of my personal and professional development. It’s been a stepping-stone for doing what I do now, on and off farm. The international networks, the doors of opportunity opened, the domestic and international insights as well as the ‘aha’ moments. These all contribute to my thinking, conversations, and ideas on the farm and in the world of trade.  

That said, and without taking away from Nuffield, the older I get and the more I learn, it seems the more questions I have and the more I need to learn. 
I’d like to encourage all readers to keep that hunger to learn, take some confidence from the change we’ve already made on our farms, in our businesses and our whole industry with our systems thinking.  

Let’s keep doing what we do best – producing top quality food and fibre to the best of our abilities.  

Optimising all we do with high standards, care and integrity for our environment and natural resources, our people, communities, and for the economic viability of our businesses and nation. 

Balanced with humility, we need to be able to hold our heads high and have pride in who we are and what we do. Keep being the best you can be. 

Read Mel Poulton 2014 Nuffield report “Capturing value.”

2022 Nuffield New Zealand Farming Scholarships awarded.

2022 Nuffield Farming Scholars

2022 Nuffield New Zealand Farming Scholarships awarded.

Three emerging food and fibre sector leaders have been awarded 2022 Nuffield New Zealand Farming Scholarships. Each has received a personal letter of congratulations from Hon. Damien O’Connor, Minister of Agriculture, Minister for Trade and Export Growth, Biosecurity, Land Information, and Rural Communities.

The New Zealand Rural Leadership Trust (NZRLT) is proud to announce the 2022 Nuffield New Zealand Farming Scholarship recipients. The Scholars are:

Parmindar Singh, a Waikato based Dairy Farm Manager, Company Director, and a recent master’s graduate. 

Anthony Taueki, a horticulturalist from the Hawke’s Bay, leads horticulture courses at Fruition, New Zealand Apples and Pears, Tatau Tatau o te Wairoa, and many more.

Lucie Douma, leads a new team at the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) looking at disruptions to domestic food and fibre supply chains, and primary sector COVID recovery.

Chris Parsons, NZRLT CEO said, “This group comes from the most diverse range of backgrounds we have seen in recent times. Each Scholar brings talent, passion, perspective, and a track record of performance. Their job now is to find insights and foresight to benefit our sector.

“We wish to acknowledge all those who applied. It is safe to say, there is some real talent in our regions. Selecting three Scholars this year has given our Trustees and the Industry National Advisory Committee the opportunity to fund the start-up of an exciting new programme, the Value Chain Innovation Programme. The intention will be to return to selecting five Scholars again next year”, said Parsons.

Covid 19 restrictions mean this year’s scholarship recipients’ formal awards ceremony at Parliament, will be delayed until February 2022, when Minister O’Connor will award the scholarships in person.

2022 Scholars will follow last year’s travel approach, contingent on the local and global pandemic travel situation. This lets scholars defer the international travel component of the programme until border restrictions permit.

Kate Scott, NZRLT Chair, said, “As part of their Nuffield journey, the three 2022 Scholars will also join the Value Chain Innovation Programme to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities in front of our sector, before they venture abroad.

“The Scholarship will offer new opportunities and experiences through an immersive programme and will help to shape future world-class leaders for the New Zealand food and fibre sector” said Scott.

Their research topics are likely to cover a range of our biggest food and fibre challenges including, building resilience in our value chains, data interoperability, emerging market opportunities for trade in dairy, and finding sustainable pathways into the primary industries for rangatahi.

The three new Scholars will join more than 170 Nuffield Alumni awarded scholarships over the last 71 years.

Meet our 2022 Nuffield New Zealand Farming Scholars.

Lucie Douma 

Agri-professional, Livestock

Lucie is of Dutch descent and is based in Wellington. She currently leads a new team at the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) looking at disruptions to the domestic food and fibre supply chains, and primary sector COVID recovery.

Lucie has a Master of Science degree from Oxford University, where she studied human-wildlife conflict. Her initial research topics of interest are data interoperability or building resilience within the value chain.

Lisa Rogers, NZRLT Programme Manager, commented, “Lucie is a great example of the policy talent we have coming through in our sector. She is greatly invested in the future of agriculture in New Zealand.”

Parmindar Singh

Dairy farmer, Company Director

Parmindar is a fourth generation New Zealand dairy farmer of Indian descent. A company director and independent consultant, she is near completion of her master’s degree at Waikato University.

Parmindar’s research topic of interest is emerging market opportunities for trade in dairy. On her proposed research Parmindar says, “As a proud, intergenerational dairy farmer, my goal is to identify the shift that is occurring globally and identify future trade and market opportunities for New Zealand farmers.”

On Parmindar’s selection Lisa Rogers noted, “Parmindar is bright and fearless, with a lifetime of community involvement and entrepreneurship in the Agri-sector. Nuffield is lucky to have her as a Scholar.”

Anthony Taueki

Anthony Taueki

Horticulturalist, Kaiako,
Hawke’s Bay

A horticulturalist from the Hawke’s Bay, Anthony is of Ngati Kahungunu descent. He leads, organises, and conducts horticulture courses and training programmes with Fruition Horticulture, New Zealand Apples and Pears, Tatau Tatau o te Wairoa, Ministry of Social Development and Ngati Kahungunu Inc.

Passionate about helping rangatahi find sustainable pathways into primary industries, Anthony’s research topic of interest is growing opportunities from the roots up.

Of Anthony’s selection Lisa Rogers said, “Anthony is a natural leader who is highly collaborative. He has integrity, passion, and a strong desire to influence in New Zealand’s Agri-sector.”

“I look forward to working with all three of our Scholars over their scholarship journey”, Lisa Rogers said.

About Nuffield New Zealand Farming Scholarships.

Nuffield Farming Scholarships have been offered to farmers, growers, fishers, and foresters since 1950. The scholarships were established in the United Kingdom by Lord Nuffield for farmers to explore best agricultural practice and facilitate innovation through sharing knowledge and ideas in food and fibre globally.

The scholarships are among the most respected awards in the food and fibre sector. They offer a life-changing opportunity for travel, study of the latest developments and an introduction to leaders and decision-makers around the world, who would not normally be accessible.

With a network of more than 1,600 alumni internationally, the programme continues to build New Zealand’s rural leadership capability and the food and fibre sector’s profile internationally.

For more information about Nuffield go to https://ruralleaders.co.nz/nuffield

For more information, please contact:

Matt Hampton
Marketing and Communications Manager
Rural Leaders
Ph. 0274 171 065
E: matthampton@ruralleaders.co.nz

Craige Mackenzie: Right place, right time.

Rural Leaders talked to 2008 Nuffield Scholar Craige Mackenzie about change, technology and precision farming. His business, Vantage NZ, helps remove the complexity around technology-enabled change, while
the family farm demonstrates precision in practice.

But as Craige explains, what really matters is mindset.

The foundations of a mindset.

Growing up, we knew the value of a dollar. They were hard to come by. We did the best we could with what we had. I was keen to get out and earn, so I finished school and went farming with my family. I learned early on that I enjoy pushing myself.

At 18 I travelled to the United States, instead of going to university. I saw the world for the first time, and it felt like we were all only limited by our imaginations. Coming home was a jolt back to reality. It was the 80’s and a tough period for farmers. If you have a hard time at any point in your career, the start is the place to have it. You learn how to survive early.

We took over the farm in 1984, buying it from my parents. We put in irrigation, expanded, and eventually removed all the stock from the system. We went into intensive seed production.

In 2006 we ventured into the dairy industry too, building up to 1240 cows at the peak. Then along came M. bovis. But it’s interesting, from adversity came opportunity. By having to cut the stocking rate down, we found our milk production per cow went up. We were on the efficiency journey, simply by doing the best we could in a tough situation.

Production is vanity. Profit is sanity.

In 2008 I did a Nuffield Scholarship, something I felt fortunate to receive. It meant travelling around the world for six months. My study topic was very broad, ‘Understanding the Carbon Footprint in Farming Systems.’ At the heart of it, I thought, if we cut inputs by 30% and still maintain outputs, we’ve reduced our carbon footprint by 30%, which in turn increased profitability.

While travelling I saw some intensive operations in Europe, broad acre framing at scale in the USA and Canada, through to small holder farms in China. It’s interesting to see what drives different decision-making and farming practises. Often these are influenced by subsidies and support mechanisms rather than efficiency, although I also saw some good examples of Precision Ag too.

Sometime after, I recall talking with Raj Khosla, the head of the International Precision Agriculture Association. He asked me to present at a conference, and I said “Ah Raj, we don’t really do precision.” He said, “…well you know exactly how many kilograms of fertiliser it takes to grow a tonne of wheat don’t you? You know what your inputs are. My friend, you are doing precision agriculture.”

Technology is a decision support tool, not a decision tool.

From then on, I understood what we were doing. We started thinking, how do we go faster? How do we do better? All of a sudden, it became easy to decide to invest in more technology to enable these things. So, we looked at crop sensors, moisture probes, electromagnetic mapping of soils, all sorts of new technology. But again,

the biggest change wasn’t the technology, it was our mindset.

One of the most important things about investment in technology, is profitability. The more you can reduce inputs while maintaining outputs, the more you are free to invest in technology.

You circle back around to re-invest your profit into the technology that reduces inputs. Like machinery that places a bottlecap of fertiliser on every plant. Exactly the right amount at exactly the right time. That leads to better environmental outcomes as well.

After our daughter finished her degree at Lincoln, we asked her what she wanted to do. We saw there was an opportunity to help farmers work smarter, to make more informed decisions. That’s when Agri Optics NZ was born. We’re exclusive Trimble dealers for New Zealand now too, offering a range of products under the Vantage NZ brand.

At the heart of it all is GPS technology: GPS, flow control, steering, automation, and land levelling software. GPS is the enabler though. Without GPS you can’t really do any of the other clever things that result in precision outcomes.

Is it better to go rabbit shooting with a .22 or a shotgun?

I gave a presentation in Bonn at a climate change meeting. Somebody asked me, what’s the silver bullet that fixes things? And I said, it’s not a silver bullet, it’s a silver shotgun.

We need multiple tools in a biological food production system. We need lots of levers to pull. Yes, you’ve only got short range with your shotgun, but you’ve got a whole lot of cover.

There’s no one thing that does it all though. So you need to carefully integrate all your tools into the farming system, rather than the farmer into the tool system.

Is the regulatory environment moving more arable farmers into precision?

The higher the regulatory pressure, the more people will work to get ahead of the challenges those regulations create. We need to continue to have as many tools on the shelf as possible to meet them. As tough as it’s getting, we need to be out in front of it.

I’d rather be having conversations with government and regulators, trying to constructively slow things down to help make the best decision, and create the best outcome for everyone, including the environment. To build the time needed to think about a more considered approach. There’s no advantage in putting regulations in place that are unachievable. None.

We’ve had lots of regulators here over the years. It’s hard for them to push regulation when you’re already past where they think they want to go.

If we can show we’re not leaching anything through the profile in the growing season, like water from irrigation, then it’s very hard for them to say we’re putting nitrates into the groundwater. Especially when there’s nothing getting past the roots. Having the data to show this is powerful.

Unlike GMO, is CRISPR a tool you’ll get to use?

The first thing is, CRISPR is GMO. Rob Horsch was at the forefront of GMO technology. He worked for Monsanto for 20 years on Roundup Ready, which is where it all started.

I had an interesting conversation with Rob a couple of years ago at a crab restaurant somewhere on the East Coast of the US. He said what you’ve got to remember is CRISPR is only going to make small changes in GMO technology. For example, GMO changes a normal wheat plant into a glyphosate Roundup Ready plant. Or equally, it changes a plant to being insect resistant. These are large jumps. Whereas CRISPR only makes small tweaks.

CRISPR is a bit like a pair of molecular scissors. You make small edits by cutting strands of DNA. It has huge applications for treating and preventing disease, correcting genetic defects, and improving crops.

There are changes with CRISPR that will be useful to New Zealand agriculture. Like ryegrass that reduces methane emissions. CRISPR could be a way for GMO to come in to New Zealand, as incremental, more palatable changes for consumers.

Has precision has been a way to stay competitive without GMO?

There’s two things that drive that. One, we don’t live in a country complicated by subsidies. A lot of farming around the world is. We run a business. We’ve had to make sure we are profitable. Precision practices help make that happen.

Two, when you travel like I did with Nuffield, you see the challenges that face the farming system when you’re not careful. Herbicide-resistant weeds are one of the challenges countries with GMO have steaming down the track at them.

Precision agriculture still fits even if you do have GMO’s. Because it’s really about the right product, delivered the right way, at the right time. It doesn’t matter which area of the food production system you’re in either: horticultural, arable, sheep and beef, it can fit every sector.

Will the future of farming look like the start of Interstellar, with autonomous everything?

We used to be sheep, beef and cropping, now we’re 100% cropping. Some of the crops we grow today: spinach, pak-choy, carrots, radish, have mostly evolved in the last few years because food production systems have changed.

We’ve got dairy cows on the Canterbury Plains, driven by the fact that the Waikato was too expensive. With irrigation, Canterbury was seen to be the right place. We know that some of that will go back the other way. And yes, there’ll be more automation, because labour is likely to remain an issue for agriculture.

We’ve been developing bigger machines to maximise production. As autonomous technology advances, the machinery will get smaller, smarter, and run for longer. It will be about maximising profitability. A profitability mindset will be the only one worth having.

We’re all looking further ahead into the future now too. It’s like driving a car, you’ve got a large window to look out the front and a small rear vision mirror. Yes, we should know where we’ve been, but really, we’re more interested in seeing where we’re going and what challenges are coming at us.

Challenges like synthetic fertiliser and pesticide use. Like shifts in consumer food preferences. We’ve got climate change and some water challenges too. All those things are going to shape what we do. They will have a big impact on how we operate and what a farm of the future looks like.

That’s where technology and an understanding of how you use water for example, becomes increasingly important. Soil moisture probes helped cut our water use by over 35%. We wouldn’t have thought our current water footprint per kilogram produced was even possible ten years ago.

Learn from your successes and imagine the next ones.

In 2016 we were fortunate to receive the ‘International Precision Farmer of the Year’ award.

We worked hard for it, but some of our success came from the fact that we live in an environment where you can grow pretty much anything: high yield wheat, ryegrass, many crops.

We’ve got water. We’ve got access to fertiliser and technology. So compared to many places globally, we have a wealthy environment.

We have challenges, but we have many opportunities to be successful here too. I do believe we’re only limited by our imagination as to what we can do, and what we can achieve.

Follow the link to read Craige’s Nuffield report Understanding the carbon footprint in farming systems, released in 2008.

Connect with Craige on LinkedIn.

The Mackenzie Study – a view of leadership

The Mackenzie Study – a view of leadership

The Otago Business School and the Department of Economics recently conducted research on behalf of The Mackenzie Charitable Foundation and The New Zealand Rural Leadership Trust.

‘The Mackenzie Study’ revealed remarkable results on the personal gains in entrepreneurial skills attributable to participation in the Kellogg and Nuffield Programmes. It is Nuffield Scholars’ broad and consistent level of achievement over time, that resonates most.

Preliminary findings are a compelling case for anyone considering applying for a 2022 Nuffield Scholarship, or looking to develop their leadership ability through the Kellogg Rural Leadership Programme.

A comprehensive survey of Nuffield Scholarship Alumni was conducted in June this year, with invitations sent to all 135 living alumni.

The study had an unusually high participation rate of over 50%, especially given the flooding in Canterbury.

We’ll be presenting more results in due course, including comparisons between alumni and current cohorts. For now, here are just some of the findings demonstrating the professional accomplishments of Nuffield Scholarship Alumni.

Each result is a strong call to potential applicants for the 2022 Nuffield Scholarships, to apply before midnight this Sunday, August 15.

Nuffield five for five.

Image:Nuffield Scholars in study [supplied]

With five days to go until applications for the 2022 Nuffield Scholarship close, we thought we’d give five reasons as to why receiving a scholarship now, may represent a quantum gain in benefits over previous years. So calling all potential Nuffield Scholars, here’s some more food for thought.

  1. There have never been so many of New Zealand’s best business leaders and innovators in the country at the same time.
    There are a few silver linings to the global pandemic. One might be the number of influential people affiliated to innovation and the food and fibre sector, who have returned home. While their move may not be permanent, now is the time to meet and connect with them. Nuffield can help with that.

  2. With a programme that has adapted to the global pandemic, scholars currently have more flexibility, closer to home.
    We face many challenges right now. So, being away from family, farm and work could be tough on some. As a result of the global pandemic restrictions, the programme has adapted successfully by adding a deeper local layer, along with virtual and global input.

  3. No matter what happens with regard to global travel, Scholarship recipients still receive $40,000 to conduct research.
    Whether the borders open up or not in the short to medium term, the Scholarship funds are not adjusted. In a situation where the borders do open, your global travel component will continue, safely.

  4. Nuffield Scholars’ experiences and enhanced skillsets are increasingly in demand.
    As the rate of change in food and fibre and beyond increases exponentially, Nuffield Scholars’ exposure to research, innovation and leadership development, means their knowledge is always needed in governance and industry.

  5. Scholars will be part of the new Value Chain Innovation Programme (VIP).
    Two weeks’ immersion into more than ten of New Zealand’s established, novel and disruptive value chains.

    The Value Chain Innovation Programme introduces Scholars to value chains beyond their own. It represents an opportunity to meet, draw ideas from and connect with people across many industries.

    Thinking of launching a product, or adding another to a range? This is just one way the VIP can help.

Want to be part of this? Apply now.

Back to the August 2021 issue of The Rural Leader.

The nowhere-near complete guide to writing your Nuffield Scholarship application.

So, you’re looking to craft a cut-through Nuffield Scholarship application. If you’re like most people, the real struggle is getting started. There is something you can do while you stare blankly at the blinking cursor – ask yourself why?

Why are you applying for a Nuffield Scholarship? Your motivation is important. It will help you form a plan. A plan almost always leads to a better crafted anything really.  

Let a strong, singular motivation shine through, in not only the way your writing sounds, but how it feels too. For the reader, it’s the difference between wanting to read something compelling, and words on a page. 

Now, we can’t give you tips on what your motivation might be, but let’s just say anything along the lines of ‘I want to give back to the food and fibre sector’, is a good place to start. Remember you are submitting to a panel of smart, motivated people like yourself, who are determined to see New Zealand leading the future of food and fibre on the global stage.

Here are some tips from those who have read a few applications, to make the answering-questions-brilliantly-bit easier.  

1. Be clear and concise as to why you want a Nuffield Scholarship. 
Choose your words well and be economical. A good answer does not have to be a long-winded one. The more concise you are, the more the reader will gain a sense of your single-mindedness. That your motivation is clear.  
2. You’re likely to be clear about what a Nuffield Scholarship can do for you.
Make sure the reader is clear about what you will do for Nuffield. The reader, also known as ‘The Selection Panel ’, will want to know about your propensity for giving back. That’s a big part of Nuffield. Bringing back the thinking and ideas that might advance New Zealand’s food and fibre sector. 

A good application will show an understanding of how a Nuffield Scholarship will enable you to develop and implement strategic ideas and opportunities. Put simply, show you understand what a Nuffield Scholarship is.  

3. Sell yourself, but don’t overcook it. 
A critical piece of your sell is including examples of community leadership involvement, and ideally sector leadership experience as well. Recent is best. Play any ace cards up front, don’t bury them. 

Before you submit your application. 

Have you read it out loud? 
Does it sound the way you imagined it would when you wrote it? Try reading it out loud, it will help you find the things that aren’t quite working. 

Can you make it shorter? 
Less is more. There will always be a few words you don’t need. 

Have you asked someone else to read it? 
As great at writing as you may be, a second pair of eyes helps proof and sense check. When you’re the one writing, you’re often too close to see the obvious, like, glaring errors the spellcheck missed. 

Any big words you can replace with simpler ones? 
Enough said. 

Did you enjoy writing it? 
Are you pleased with what you’ve written? If so, chances are your reader will enjoy reading it too.