Wills signs off saying politics matters

July 5, 2014

Federated Farmers retiring president Bruce Wills used his final speech in the role to say politics matters: (The bold is mine)

I want to start this, my final address as National President of Federated Farmers, with a thank you.

Thank you for the privilege of being your President, thank you for your support, and thank you for all the work you continue to do for Federated Farmers and farming.

Three years has flown by.

I have enjoyed doing ‘my bit’ to help farming remain profitable and sustainable, and like our own aspirations with our farms, I feel I have left this organisation in better heart than I found it. I will return to the hills of Hawke’s Bay later today knowing there is a very capable and competent team to take it from here.

Before signing off I want to reflect on the two things that have absorbed much of my time in this role, the economy and the environment.

The economy
Farming confidence is high and some sectors are close to being as strong now as they have ever been.

Our dairy farmers have just received their highest pay-out in history and there is a quiet optimism in the dry-stock sector with the ‘China affect’ now benefitting red meat and wool.

Food and fibre represents an extraordinary 70 percent of this country’s merchandise exports and if done well is entirely renewable. We are well on the way to doubling the value of our agricultural exports to $64 billion by 2025, on the back of an exploding world population and rising standards of living.

 

I cannot stress enough the importance of free and open trade. In six short years, China has become our biggest export partner as well as our biggest import market.

When I joined the Board of Federated Farmers, in 2008, our two way trade with China was $8 billion. Last month we broke through $20 billion and we are on track to exceed $30 billion within the next six years.

Our 2013 trade deal with Taiwan is ramping up quickly and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) remains a prize we must pursue with all the vigour we can.

No question, we have some challenges.
In recent days the New Zealand Dollar has approached all time highs against both the US Dollar as well as the Trade Weighted Index. This will be a significant headwind and may well prompt a slowing in further interest rate rises.

I have continually cautioned about our very high debt levels.

I note a large monthly increase of $842 million to the end of May reaching a total of just under $53 billion now loaned to our farms alone. In light of global uncertainty across many areas I am not sure how sustainable this sort of debt level is.

A few years ago Australian farmers had $70 billion of rural debt and things looked okay. Then came a serious weather event and now $10 billion of this is ‘non performing’ with a good portion of it unlikely to ever be repaid. We run the same risk here.

I have learnt in this role that ‘politics matters.’

For the past six years we have had a Government that has been largely supportive of agriculture. Should we have a change of Government on September 20, this is unlikely to continue to be the case.

Putting these challenges aside, what I have also learnt from my three years with the World Farmers Organisation is that New Zealand farmers are the envy of the world. Everywhere I travel people are stunned how a small island nation, a long way away, can be such a powerhouse when it comes to producing food and selling it competitively to the rest of the world.

I have learnt that we are a grass fed economy and what happens on our farms absolutely matters on Lambton Quay and Queen Street and all the towns in-between.

We are some of the best farmers on the planet and Agricultural exports will continue to pay the lion’s share of this country’s bills for a long time to come.

The environment
This is the flip side of the economy’s coin, the natural resources, which allow us to keep our food and fibre businesses forever renewable.

Three years ago I called for a more open and honest discussion about farming’s impact on the environment.

We have come a long way. The Land & Water Forum got us talking with all the interested parties and we listened to the concerns of others and have pursued a more collaborative approach to resolving our differences.

Getting agreement is not easy but having the science and being well informed on the issues is the key to making sensible progress. We have engaged a lot with parties right across the economy/environment spectrum and this organisation has gained significant credibility from its more reasoned and reasonable approach.

Some believe it is about winners and losers, I don’t. Farmers understand the ‘black and green’ bit well, it is difficult to invest in environmental innovation without running profitable businesses, and we certainly can’t keep farming without resilient long lasting farming practices.

The big issue of my time in this role has been water. How do we maintain and improve its quality in the face of a growing population, and an expanding and changing farm business environment?

The main focus has been the nutrients we lose from our farms finding their way into our streams, rivers and lakes. We can sort phosphorus, which is largely about good management. It is the diffuse nitrogen leaching that remains our biggest challenge.

All farmers, that I know, strive hard to be profitable and most do a wonderful job looking after their land and their water. Being sustainable is good business, and wasting expensive nutrients just doesn’t make sense.

We have seen a rapid land use change to dairying in the last twenty years. This has pushed onto lighter soils and in some areas we are seeing too many nutrients being lost. The science is telling us this and farmers have been responding for some time by fencing water ways, riparian planting, preparing strict nutrient plans and adopting more efficient irrigation.

In some sensitive areas more needs to be done, and again farmers are responding by building feed pads, herd homes or other means of controlling effluent runoff. Less inputs and reducing cow numbers are further options, and more science is needed for some. I am very encouraged at how quickly farmers are responding to this challenge.

I had the privilege last week to be in Christchurch to judge NZ’s top 10 supreme environmental winners from all around the country. They are outstanding operators leading by example, running profitable businesses, but well and truly meeting their social and environmental responsibilities as well. I think it is telling that the national winner was a large scale intensive dairy farm, on some of Canterbury’s lighter soils. This is exactly the sort of farm at the sharp end of this economy/environment conundrum that we are trying to solve.

Mark & Devon Slee milk 2,580 cows producing 1,830 kgMS/ha, or 475kgMS/cow, but with precision farming, smart science and exceptional management, are leaching the same nitrogen they were leaching in the mid ‘90’s with 70% more cows. Their immediate focus is on reducing their nutrient losses even more.

This is a clear example that we can and must do both. Whilst running efficient profitable businesses, we must do this within sustainable environmental boundaries. All the other nine finalists had very similar stories to tell.

I need to congratulate the CEO of Fish & Game, who took up my challenge of coming to this awards evening to see for himself the great results that our leading farmers are achieving and to follow this up with a Fish & Game media release that quoted the following:

“Dairying has never won the top national award before,” says Fish & Game Chief Executive Bryce Johnson. “In winning the coveted Gordon Stevenson Trophy, Mark and Devon are demonstrating that environmentally sustainable and profitable dairy farming is not only possible, but up there alongside the other farming categories that have previously won the top national award.”

To ensure all New Zealanders prosper we must continue to grow our largest industry but we must also look after our environment.

This is our challenge; and as I pack my bags and hand over the reins I am more convinced than ever that this is entirely achievable and our farmers are well on the road to making this a reality.

Thank you.

Wills has left Feds, and New Zealand, better for his service.


Guard changes at Feds

July 5, 2014

Federated Farmers has a new president and CEO.

Dr William Rolleston, former vice-president was elected unopposed to lead the organisation and Graham Smith takes over as CEO.

As Vice-President since 2011, I am honoured to be entrusted with a leadership role following in the footsteps of some farming greats,” says Dr Rolleston, Federated Farmers new President.

“Federated Farmers is New Zealand’s foremost rural advocate with a proud past and strong future. 

“Our National Council knows that the President must represent the views of all members and Federated Farmers is a broad church. I endorse this principle.

“I believe we can learn from all form of farming systems, including  organic practices, so long as these are underpinned by robust science.

“Given the overwhelming scientific consensus is that human activity, including agriculture, plays a significant role in climate change, science and innovation are key to the future of farming. Science and innovation are also key to the water quality sphere.

“I am fortunate that our Grain & Seed Industry Group chairperson, Ian Mackenzie, is staying on the Board for another year.  His work in the Land & Water Forum was publicly acknowledged yesterday by our Minister for Primary Industries, the Hon Nathan Guy. 

“Ian is widely respected even among the environmental lobby.  His expertise and wise counsel will be welcome.

“As will be the support of my Vice-President, Wairarapa’s Anders Crofoot.  As our buildings spokesperson, I must acknowledge the success Federated Farmers has had in convincing Government to remove farm structures from its earthquake prone buildings Bill.

“A $170 million saving for farmers is an auspicious start for my tenure and a tangible example of the value Federated Farmers delivers for its members and farming in general.

“I will draw on the myriad of skills that the West Coast’s Katie Milne offers, especially on the high profile areas of rural security, employment and adverse events. 

“As a Board Member at large, she is joined in that capacity by Mid-Canterbury’s Chris Allen, who is fast developing expertise in water policy.

“I look forward to working with my newly elected Industry Group chairs, Rick Powdrell from Bay of Plenty for Meat and Fibre and Andrew Hoggard from Manawatu-Rangtikei for Dairy.

“Both are exceptionally talented farmers with an outstanding grasp of industry issues.

“Speaking of extremely talented people, Bruce Wills has been an inspiration to me.  His focus on environment collaboration and communication has done much to represent the modern face of farming.  These are themes I wish to continue with the new Board.

“As a Board it speaks volumes about Federated Farmers that someone of Graham Smith’s calibre came to us to be our new Chief Executive. 

“As Graham has started the handover process with Conor English I wish to thank Conor for his guidance over the period I was Vice-President and before that as a provincial president.

“I am excited by the future,” Dr Rolleston concluded.

Wills and English have overseen a change for the better in Federated Farmers for which all involved in farming and the wider rural community should be grateful.

They have provided a strong foundation on which the new leadership can build and carry on the much-needed work representing and advocating for farmers, farming and rural New Zealand.


Polson, Bilodeau Agri-people of Year

July 4, 2014

Ballance Agri-Nutrients Chief Executive, Larry Bilodeau, was last night named 2014 Vodafone/Federated Farmers Agri Businessperson of the Year while the late Alistair Polson was named 2014 Agri Personality for 2014.

“With Te Radar as the perfect Master of Ceremonies, Federated Farmers was honoured to not only recognise all major agricultural award winners, but the two people who have emerged first among equals,” says Bruce Wills, Federated Farmers President whose term comes to an end at the conclusion of the Federation’s 2014 conference.

“It was bittersweet that we honoured the memory and outstanding contribution made by the late great Alistair Polson in making him 2014 Agri Personality of the Year.

“What made the night poignant was that his wife Bo accepted the Award on his behalf. Alistair was not only a great President of the Federation but defined selfless public service.

“Our 2014 Vodafone/Federated Farmers Agri Businessperson is Ballance Agri-Nutrients Chief Executive Larry Bilodeau.

“While the judging is done separate of us, I wish to pay tribute to the outstanding calibre New Zealand has in our rich agribusiness and agriservices environment. They were Dr. Paul Livingstone QSO of TB Free/OspriNZ, Lindy Nelson of the Agri Woman Development Trust and Farmlands Co-operative Society Ltd Chief Executive, Brent Esler.

“All are outstanding leaders.

“Larry, as Chief Executive of New Zealand’s largest fertiliser supplier, has led the co-operative’s evolution from one focused on fertiliser to one meeting the complete farm nutrient needs of our primary industries.

“We have truly outstanding talent in farming and these awards recognise and celebrate them. Something Te Radar noted as the primary industries need to recognise success more,” Mr Wills concluded.

Giving the award to Alistair Polson posthumously is a reminder of the importance of honouring and showing our appreciation of  people when they’re alive.

I hope it gives some comfort to his family to know how much his contribution to agriculture, his community and New Zealand, are valued.

Larry Bilodeau might not be well known outside farming circles but his leadership in Ballance has been outstanding.

 


Rural round-up

June 24, 2014

Optimistic over farming sector’s future - Sally Rae:

Federated Farmers national president Bruce Wills stands down next month after three years in the role. He talks to agribusiness reporter Sally Rae about his tenure and his optimism for the agricultural industry’s future.

His desk might have been cleared in Wellington but New Zealand’s farming community can be assured they have not seen the last of Bruce Wills.

After three years at the governance helm of Federated Farmers and a prior three-year tenure as meat and fibre chairman, his involvement, following the organisation’s annual meeting on July 4, will only be as a ”very loyal” member. . .

Why a carbon tax is udderly useless to us – William Rolleston:

The overwhelming scientific consensus is that human activity, including agriculture, plays a significant role in climate change.

Yet the Green Party’s proposal to tax biological emissions is bad policy for climate change and the economy.

Along with every other New Zealander, farmers already pay for their carbon-dioxide emissions in the current Emissions Trading Scheme. The issue, the Greens argue, boils down to biological emissions in the form of methane and nitrous oxide.

Methane is a powerful but short-lived greenhouse gas generated by bacteria in the stomach of farm animals. It lasts around seven years before being converted back to carbon dioxide which is taken up by plants. The methane cycle is complete when animals eat those plants in turn. Methane is measured as kilograms of carbon dioxide based on a 100-year time frame.

This time frame has been chosen by international agreement but any period could have been chosen. . .

Harriet takes on shepherds challenge - Sally Rae:

Harriet Gardner admits she might not be the ”fastest in the world” at it – but she can shear a sheep.

That skill will be crucial when Miss Gardner (20) takes part in the preliminary round of competition at the World Young Shepherds Challenge at Lincoln from July 3-5.

The competition will be held alongside the ANZ Young Farmer Contest grand final events. It will consist of shearing, condition scoring, a quad bike obstacle course, identifying sheep breeds, feet trimming, drenching, counting sheep and demonstrating knowledge ofthe sheep industry. . .

$75m for NZ-Singapore ‘Foods for Health’ projects:

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce today announced that the Government will invest NZ$1.75 million to fund New Zealand-Singapore collaborative research projects on the development of food products with validated health benefits. 

New Zealand’s investment will be matched by Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), bringing the total investment amount to approximately NZ$3.5 million over two years.

“One of the goals of the Business Growth Agenda is to grow exports from 30 per cent to 40 per cent of GDP by 2025. Continuing to develop our innovation in the food science and technology industry will be a key contributor to achieving this,” Mr Joyce says. . . .

A champion for farming :

Fiona Hancox’s father was Colin Richardson, a man who started life as a townie, before eventually owning 12 West Otago farms as well as being extensively involved in farming politics.

Although the son of a tailor, he decided at an early age he wanted to be a farmer.

His first agricultural job was on a property at Crookston, before moving to Gimmerburn to work for the Paterson family and to be a fencing contractor.

Jim Paterson helped him into his first farm – Avalon – at Heriot, when he was 24. . .

Former chair appointed to deer board:

Clive Jermy OMNZ, a well-known red deer stud breeder, has been appointed to the board of Deer Industry New Zealand (DINZ) for a three-year term. He is one of four producer board members, replacing Tim Aitken, Hawkes Bay.

Mr Jermy is a former board chair, standing down in 2007. Before that he was chair of the New Zealand Deer Farmers’ Association.

NZDFA selection and appointments panel chair David Stevens said the panel had interviewed three skilled and talented candidates and the decision process was extremely challenging. The unsuccessful candidates were Tim Aitken, who stood for re-election and Otago-based businessman and deer farmer Grant Cochrane. . .

 


Rural round-up

June 23, 2014

Leave TPP slowcoaches behind, New Zealand farmers urge

With Prime Minister John Key and President Barack Obama showing strong support for a comprehensive Trans Pacific Partnership, New Zealand farmers will support leaving countries behind that are not prepared to eliminate agricultural tariffs.

“The Trans Pacific Partnership was established to eliminate all tariffs and bring a new level of discipline to the use of non-tariff barriers,” says Bruce Wills, the National President of Federated Farmers of New Zealand.

“If we have a country that is not prepared to accept this reality, then they should not be allowed to slow down progress for all. . .

US milk exports affecting NZ farms – Tim Cronshaw:

Fonterra’s milk suppliers are wary of the ability of United States feedlot farmers to step up or slow down milk production faster than they can.

When grain is cheap and commodity prices are high, as was the case in the soon-to-finish 2013-14 season, this can be to the advantage of operators keeping cows in confined feedlots. As they ramp up milking, this has a bearing on world supplies and the prices Kiwi farmers receive.

Logic would say they will ease off as global commodity prices falter, but narrowing down their next move is complicated. . . .

The noblest of farmersBruce Wills:

The word nobility, to me at least, describes people who give of themselves without thought of personal advancement or enrichment.

As this will be one of my final columns as the President of Federated Farmers, I am in awe of the people who work incredibly hard for this organisation and farmers in general. To be fair, having a good team makes leadership easy and in our provinces and branches we are blessed with great people.  People who meet councillors and officers on plan changes one day, maybe Worksafe NZ the next and then may help to resolve a dispute among neighbours.  Being available 24/7, they work with the Rural Support Trusts when either we don’t have the right kind of weather or too much of it. 

Throughout it all, they still have their farm to run and their family to care for.

Our people do this because they are not just passionate about farming but they care for its future. They believe, as I do, that farmers and farming are a force for good in our country. While farming defines part of our national identity we are not immune from the odd ratbag.  In saying that, farmers are overwhelmingly honest, decent and generous folk who genuinely care. . . .

Techno Expo gets off to a flyer:

AN INAUGURAL Technology Expo run as part of Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s Central Otago ‘Farming For Profit’ programme has been hailed a success by organisers.

The event, in Alexandra earlier this month, featured parallel presentations from a string of companies and organisations with products, services, and – in the case of Otago Regional Council – regulations, which are set to change the way we farm.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the turnout,” BLNZ central South Island extension manager Aaron Meikle told Rural News. “Both seminars have been busy all day. I’d suggest there’s been well over a 100 people come through during the day.” . . .

Couple getting in the olive groove – Gerard Hutching:

There are several ways to harvest olives: laboriously beating the trees with sticks, using a hand rake, or using a mechanical rake.

But Helen Meehan, owner of olive grove Olivo in Martinborough, in the Wairarapa, prefers the relatively new method of mechanically shaking the tree until the olives drop into nets.

It’s all about saving time, she explains, even though about 20 per cent of the crop stays on the tree. . . .


Rural round-up

June 14, 2014

Integrated agri-food value chains - Keith Woodford:

Many New Zealand agri-food companies are still struggling to understand the global shift to integrated agri-food value chains. This move has been playing out most spectacularly in the infant formula industry, where the small companies have been badly caught out, but the trend is much broader than that.

A key driver is the need to have food safety systems in place that span from consumers back to producers. It is not simply a case of the food having to be safe, it is also a case of there being a transparent evidential trail. Food testing is just a small part of this system.
A major focus has to be on overall business systems that react to first stage mistakes before they compound into major events. It was just such a failure to react to the warning signals that led Fonterra down a shambolic path with the botulism scare in 2013.

There is also a key idea relating to provenance. Consumers not only want to know that something is safe; they also want to know that they are buying is what they think they are buying, and that the brand is genuine. . .

Milk spill stopper wins innovation award – Jamie Small:

The dragons have chosen, and another farm invention is one step closer to commercial success.

For the second year running, Fieldays had its own Dragons Den-style competition for agricultural innovations.

The joint initiative, run by Fieldays and Hamilton business incubator Soda Inc, selected nine innovators from a pool of 20 to present their gadgets to a panel of experienced investors and business leaders.

The top prize, Most Viable Business, went to Pahiatua couple Graeme and Alison Franklin with the DTexH2o. . . .

Primary Industry’s outlook good:

Federated Farmers believes the ‘2014 Situation and Outlook for Primary Industries’, released by the Ministry for Primary Industries, shows a promising future for the New Zealand economy thanks to kiwi farmers.

“This report shows an increase of 16.3 percent in primary sector exports, to $37.7b on the previous year, which translates to increased farmgate incomes of 22 percent and an increase in off farm spending of 11 percent,” says Bruce Wills, Federated Farmers National President.

“These statistics remind us of the importance of exports to New Zealand, in particular the impact on farmgate incomes and spending on farm inputs, which has a direct influence on rural and provincial economies. . . .

Applauding the night away: superb exporters win top recognition:

Spectacular export growth of hundreds of chicken and turkey products has won Tegel Foods the Supreme Award in the 2014 Air New Zealand Cargo Export NZ Auckland export awards.

Prime Minister John Key presented the award last night at the Langham hotel in Auckland also attended by Auckland Mayor Len Brown and ‘Minister for Business’, Steven Joyce.

The judges said Tegel has been an iconic brand in New Zealand for more than 50 years and began developing export markets 11 years ago. . . .

Fonterra slapped with $150,000 fine over NZX disclosure – Suze Metherell:

(BusinessDesk) – The New Zealand Markets Disciplinary Tribunal has fined Fonterra Cooperative Group $150,000 for breaching continuous disclosure requirements to the NZX during the dairy manufacturer and exporter’s botulism false alarm last August.

Auckland-based Fonterra undertook a world wide recall after it quarantined several batches of whey protein concentrate last August on concern it was contaminated with a potentially dangerous strain of clostridium bacteria, capable of causing botulism. The strain was ultimately shown to be harmless. . . .

Boys from the farm turn on the charm - Libby Wilson:

Fieldays’ rural bachelor contestants have done the hard yards in the leadup to their event.

The eight eligible blokes chased sheep, shot clay targets, and went zorbing on their journey from Auckland to Mystery Creek.

And the action continued yesterday, with fencing, speed-dating and cooking.

Yesterday morning they faced questions from Waikato women.

It seems ladies into a romantic but rural first anniversary picnic would be a good match with Wanganui’s Fraser Laird, 26. “I’ve got some back paddocks at the back of the farm. It’s got a bloody good view. Serious,” he said. . . .

Farmers encouraged to embrace technology - Susie Nordqvis:

Accounting firm Xero is laying down a challenge to farmers this week’s Fieldays: start embracing technology and innovation to maximise profits and grow the economy.

The innovation hub at Fieldays is not quite Dragon’s Den, but it is a sure fire way of fast-tracking participants onto the national stage.

“We have developed an ice maker that makes a slurry and you can reduce milk from 32degC down to 5degC in three seconds,” says innovation den participant Richard Upperton.

Xero says if more people followed Mr Upperton’s lead then the economy would be in better shape. . .

New Zealanders and shearing - Ali Ikram:

Sheep outnumber New Zealanders seven to one. 

They’re crucial to our economy and they get a bad wrap when it comes to their intelligence.

But there was one question we desperately wanted answered – as New Zealanders, can we all shear a sheep?

Is it innate in us – a birth-right?

Or are there some born and bred in cities who simply can’t shear, no matter what? . . .


Wills Ag Communciator of the Year

June 14, 2014

Federated Farmers’ president Bruce Wills is the 2014 Landcorp Agricultural Communicator of the Year.

 . . .In the three years he has led Federated Farmers, Bruce has been an outstanding communicator, successfully representing the interests of farmers with his open, friendly and enthusiastic manner, helped by his willingness to listen to people.

Ahead of several other very worthy recipients, Bruce was selected by an independent panel of judges to receive this prestigious award, announced at an awards dinner in Hamilton last night.

Bruce farms with his brother at Te Pohue, on a sheep and beef operation carrying 7500 stock units. The farm is 1134 hectares, of which 800 hectares are farmed and the balance is in trees and 110 hectares which are protected through the QEII National Trust. He left a career in rural banking after 20 years to return to the family farm and has invested heavily in the long-term sustainability of the farm.

In its 28th year, the Landcorp Agricultural Communicator of the Year Award is administered by the New Zealand Guild of Agricultural Journalists and Communicators, and recognises excellence in communicating agricultural issues, events or information.

 Regarded as the premier award for agricultural communicators, it is also the most valuable prize on offer. Landcorp provides a prize of $2500, which is part of a funding package of $7500 in sponsorship for the Guild. The additional funding assists with administration costs, including the Awards dinner.

Bruce was also presented with a greenstone and timber trophy, which features a roll call of previous winners engraved on the back.

Guild President Graeme Peters said Bruce is a very worthy recipient of this year’s award.

“He is widely respected for his role in bridging the gap between rural and urban people, and has spent countless hours talking not only farmers to but also urban people, selling the importance of agriculture to New Zealand’s economy.

“His communication skills at all levels and covering all aspects of rural life are recognised by this award.”

Federated Farmers has had a much improved public profile under Wills’ leadership thanks in no part to his willingness and ability to communicate clearly and honestly.

He’s given praise when and where it’s due but has also been willing to accept criticism without being defensive.

He has been a strong advocate for farmers, farming and wider rural issues and has earned this recognition.

 

 

 


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