Alistair Polson dies aged 58

June 6, 2014

Agriculture envoy and former Federated Farmers president Alistair Polson has died.

“Alistair was a great farmer and a truly great New Zealander who has been taken from us way too soon,” says Bruce Wills, Federated Farmers President.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Bo and their family. 

“Bo and Alistair formed the most amazing and loving partnership and while Alistair was called overseas as Special Agricultural Trade Envoy, she kept the farm and family running.

“Where do you start with someone who gave so unstintingly of himself?  It is telling that despite Bo and Alistair’s home being inundated by the 2004 floods they put community before self.

“Alistair has been an office holder at most levels of Federated Farmers of New Zealand, serving as Wanganui provincial president and later National President between 1999 and 2002.

“Alistair has also served as a director of both the Waitotara Meat Company, PPCS (now Silver Fern Farms) and the Agriculture Industry Training Organisation. He has also served on the New Zealand Veterinary Council and the then National Animal Welfare Advisory Board.

“With a strong environmental ethos Alistair chaired the NZ Landcare Trust for seven years and in 2012, he became chairman of the New Zealand Farm Environment Awards Trust. 

“Chairing the New Zealand Farm Environment Awards Trust was something I know Alistair was deeply proud of.  It assured him the next generation of farmers cared for the land every bit as much as he did.

“Alistair himself won the Grasslands Memorial Trust Award for sustained improvement of pastures and sheep breeds in Wanganui hill country.  He was a past Nuffield Scholar and would later chair the New Zealand Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust too.

“In 2004 he was appointed New Zealand Special Agricultural Trade Envoy by the Hon Phil Goff and continued in that role to 2013 under the Hon Tim Groser.

“In Argentina, for the World Farmers Organisation earlier this year, South American delegates mentioned Alistair’s name with reverence.  He was a noble man of true mana who gave his all for New Zealand.

“Alistair was a giant and his loss touches us all greatly,” Mr Wills concluded.

The Farm Environment Trust also pays tribute:

The New Zealand Farm Environment Trust has lost a truly inspirational leader.

Alistair Polson died on Thursday, June 5, following a short illness.

The well-known Wanganui farmer was a highly respected member of the farming community. He had extensive experience in business management and farming politics, serving as national president of Federated Farmers from 1999 to 2002. In 2004 he was appointed Special Agricultural Trade Envoy for New Zealand, and in 2012 he was elected chairman of the New Zealand Farm Environment Trust (NZFE).

NZFE acting chairman Simon Saunders says Mr Polson will be greatly missed by the Trust and by the wider farming community and he extends his sincere sympathy to Bo Polson and their children, Nick, Guy and Sarah.

“They have shared Alistair with so many and the loss of such a wonderful husband and father will be devastating, their family plans and dreams for the future have been so sadly taken from them.”

“Alistair made a massive contribution to New Zealand agriculture and he was a passionate and inspirational advocate for New Zealand farming. The Trust and New Zealand agriculture in general have lost a valued leader and a great friend.”

Mr Polson took over the chairmanship of NZFE in October 2012.

Prior to joining the Trust he was a member of the judging panel for the National Winner award in the Ballance Farm Environment Awards. He was a key supporter of the concept that good environmental practice and profitable farming go hand in hand.

“Alistair jumped straight into the role of chairman and he led the organisation with considerable professionalism and a huge amount of enthusiasm,” Mr Saunders says.

“He quickly grasped what the Trust was all about and his proven leadership ability was a great asset for the Trust and the Ballance Farm Environment Awards.

Mr Saunders says Mr Polson had a huge amount of passion for agriculture and a warm and approachable personality.

“Alistair loved nothing more than to be able to discuss and promote all the great attributes of our agricultural industry”

Mr Polson’s achievements in agriculture were extensive. He was a former director or committee member of a number of rural-based organisations, including AgITO, the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, Veterinary Council of New Zealand and NZ Landcare Trust.

An agricultural science graduate from Massey University and a Nuffield Scholar, he also held company directorships with two major meat companies.

Mr Polson farmed in the Mangamahu Valley, near Wanganui.

“The wheel has turned completely since the days when the hero in the valley was the farmer who chopped down as much bush and scrub as possible. Now the heroes are the farmers who are retiring native bush, fencing waterways and planting trees for shade, shelter and erosion control.” – Alistair Polson.

Farming and New Zealand are the richer from his contributions and the poorer for his too-early death.


Rural round-up

July 9, 2013

Call to take multi-party approach – Sally Rae:

The state of the red-meat industry was, not surprisingly, a major topic of conversation at Federated Farmers national conference in Ashburton last week.

A session entitled ”Culture Change: The New Beginning In The Meat Industry” was a focus of the meat and fibre meeting, as agribusiness reporter Sally Rae reports.

Former PPCS chairman Reese Hart believes a merger between the co-operative (now Silver Fern Farms) and Alliance Group is not a priority.

”I simply think there are more important things to be done. I think the merger will happen some day but probably not for the reasons we wanted it to happen five years ago,” Mr Hart told Federated Farmers meat and fibre meeting in Ashburton last week. . .

Beef prices expected to firm

New Zealand beef prices are expected to firm over the next quarter, partly in response to tighter supplies resulting from the drought, but also to forecasts of a wet winter encouraging producers to retain stock, Rabobank said.

The specialised agribusiness lender said seasonal pressures still exist, but have since improved from the poor conditions in the first quarter.

Most regions received some good rainfall, with temperatures still warmer than average, which has enabled some good pasture growth, the bank said. . .

Debacle carries big implications for farmers – James Houghton:

While Christchurch was taking in the revelations about its council’s chief executive, former Hamilton City Council CEO Tony Marryatt, farmers were discussing the big issues facing agriculture at Federated Farmers’ national conference in Ashburton.

Fittingly, these discussions included a plenary session featuring Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend, Selwyn District Mayor Kelvin Coe and Ashburton District Mayor Angus McKay, looking at local government and its implications for some of its biggest contributors, the rural sector.

Christchurch City Council has hit some serious credibility issues, with International Accreditation New Zealand withdrawing its ability to issue building consents. It is clear council staff were not meeting the required building code standards. It is also clear they were not meeting the required standards of professionalism needed. . .

Soil health key component of farm economics – Gerald Piddock:

Future farm systems can achieve environmental and economic sustainability, but there are no quick-fix solutions for reaching that goal, a DairyNZ scientist says.

Getting there would require a balance between environmental and production- driven goals, DairyNZ senior scientist Pierre Beukes told scientists and farmers at the New Zealand Society of Animal Production Conference in Hamilton.

Farmers would have to build strong system fundamentals based around soil health, nutrients and cows to withstand the future challenge of farming within limits. . .

Healthy pipfruit profits expected – Peter Watson:

The Nelson economy is in for a much-needed boost with the pipfruit season shaping up as the best in five years.

After losing money in three of the last four years, growers expect to bank a modest to healthy profit this year on the back of record prices for many varieties in Europe and Britain and steady growth in Asia.

They have been aided by a shortage of fruit in key markets and a weakening kiwi.. .

New Zealand shearing team has first win:

New Zealand’s shearing test team has tasted success for the first time on its Northern Hemisphere test tour, levelling the eight-match series at one-a-piece.

Golden Shears champion Rowland Smith, from Hastings, and Rakaia’s Tony Coster combined to beat an English test pairing by three points at the Lakelands Shears in Cumbria. . .

Hawkes Bay Winery scoops four medals at San Francisco International Wine Competition:

Hawkes Bay boutique winery Mangapapa Estates has scooped four medals at the prestigious San Francisco International Wine Competition with its Chateau Waimarama branded wines.

More than 4,500 wines were judged at this year’s competition and out of the four wines entered, all Chateau Waimarama wines attained medals, a Gold Medal, two Silvers and one Bronze.

The Gold Medal was for Chateau Waimarama’s 2009 Hawkes Bay Cabernet Sauvignon. . .


PGW SFF deal demutualisation by stealth?

July 21, 2008

The proposed joint venture between PGG Wrigthson and Silver Fern Farms is demutualisation in sheep’s clothing according to Alan Robb.

He is an adjunct professor in the co-operatives programme at St Mary’s Unviersity, Canada, and an independent financail analyst and commentator based in New Zealand.

Writing in The NZ Farmers Weekly (not yet on line) he says:

In return for its $220 million, PGW will receive shares giving 50% of the voting equity. It will also have the right to appoint half of the board of directors. The share issue is likely to prevent SFF continuing as a co-operative.

The Co-operative Companies Act 1996 requires that not less than 60% of the voting rights are held by transacting shareholders. As PGW will hold Capital Shares with 50% of the voting equity and the transacting shareholders will have Supplier Shares it seems clear that SFF will no longer qualify as a co-operative.

Farmers who are considering the proposal should be aware of this defect. Will SFF cease to be a co-operative?

…If the board cannot see a future for SFF as a co-operative it has a duty to resign and allow those who are committed to co-operative principles and values to work with other co-operatives in the meat industry.

I spoke to SFF chair Eion Garden a couple of weeks ago about whether the company would be able to retain its co-operative status if the deal with PGW went ahead. He said that PGW will be transacting shareholders. Chief executive Keith Cooper told the ODT  the same thing:

PGG-Wrightson would be a transacting shareholder, supplying goods and services to the meat processor and marketer.

“The most important thing is to preserve all the characteristics of a co-operative, with a rebate structure, ownership and governance structure.”

But what does this mean? That PGW is a transacting shareholder by dint of its contract to procure stock of SFF’s behalf?  Wouldn’t that make PGW a third-party trader? I don’t have a problem with third parties, but PPCS, as SFF was known until its recent rebranding, has been adamant that it didn’t use third parties.

If this is the case it raises another question: why would PGW be allowed to own 50% of the company’s shares when all other transacting shareholders have their shareholdings capped at a much lower level?


New Chair for Ag Research

July 5, 2008

Hawke’s Bay sheep and beef farmer  Sam Robinson is the new chairman of crown research institute AgResearch.

Robinson, who farms near Waipukurau,  was chairman of Richmond when it was taken over by PPCS, now Silver Fern Farms.

He is a member of the Prime Minister’s Growth and Innovation Advisory Board and a former member of the Government’s Food and Beverage Task Force.

He is a director of the Port of Napier. Until recently he was chairman of the Agricultural and Marketing Research and Development Trust.

Former chairman of textiles research company Canesis Network, Andrew MacPherson has also been appoitned to the board.


Meat Industry Disunity Scuttles Taskforce

June 29, 2008

Disappointment but little surprise has greeted the news that the Meat Industry Taskforce  has disbanded.

Taskforce chairman Sir John Anderson said yesterday that consultant PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), which was commissioned to complete an industry analysis, could not get informed consent from all industry participants.

In addition, Sir John said that in the last week one company had announced it was withdrawing its support for an industry strategy, saying it was pursuing its own plans, making it impossible to compile a report.

Meat and Wool New Zealand (MWNZ) established the taskforce earlier this year to create a red meat industry strategy to address international marketing, supplier dynamics and processing.

Owen Poole who chairs Alliance Group said his company supported the taskforce and was disappointed it had failed. 

Mr Poole said the strategy could have been the catalyst for industry aggregation, and the fact PWC was going to seek contributions from farmers, meat companies and unions, would have produced meaningful results.

“I see it as a lost opportunity,” he said.

Silver Fern Farms chief executive Keith Cooper said he supported any initiative to create an industry strategy, but the taskforce never released its terms of reference, so companies did not know what it was trying to achieve.

Mr Cooper said Silver Fern Farms (formerly PPCS) was not the reason the taskforce failed.

“In regard to the Meat Industry taskforce announcement, from a Silver Fern Farms perspective, we were never asked for informed consent by PWC on the issue.”

The company supported any initiatives to improve supplier returns.

“Silver Fern Farms supported any initiative about reviewing the industry strategy or structures.”

Anzco chairman Graeme Harrison was also supportive but not surprised it had failed, given the reluctance of the four major meat companies to co-operate on industry issues.

“Unless the four companies were prepared to talk in meaningful ways, then it was never going to happen.”

While he had reservations about the size of regulatory and commercial hurdles the taskforce faced, he said it would have provided an important circuit-breaker for farmer confidence.

Mr Harrison said commercial reality would now play its hand and there would be change.

“Sooner or later, something will happen and it will be a commercial decision.”

The 07-08 season was a very tough one for sheep farmers with falling returns and steeply increasing prices for fuel, fertiliser and other inputs. The outlook for next season’s lamb prices is more optimistic, but even so they’ll be hoping that whatever happens in the industry happens sooner not later.


Two works down…

May 19, 2008

There are no surprises in today’s announcement that PPCS is closing its Burnside venison plant in Dunedin with the loss of 138 jobs.

 

The age of the plant was one of the factors counting against it and PP chief executive Keith Cooper said it had been losing millions of dollars.

“Tightening New Zealand and European food safety regulations make the continued operation of export meat processing facilities at Burnside increasingly problematic as all areas on site, even those not used for food processing, must be maintained to specified standards,” Mr Cooper said.

“In addition, the modern blast freezers used for venison processing require a large section of now-obsolete conventional cold storage to be frozen down, which incurs significant ongoing electricity costs.”

Mr Cooper said sheep and lamb numbers were expected to drop by two million in the South Island next year and national deer numbers were forecast to drop from 736,000 to around 500,000.

“The forecast seriously impacts on the ongoing viability of the venison and (lamb and deer) skin processing operations at Burnside,” he said.

It’s been a horror month for employment in Dunedin with 430 jobs lost through Fisher and Paykal’s closure of its Mosgiel plant and a further 50 jobs lost with the closure of Tamahine knitwear.  

The announcement will also be making staff at other freezing works nervous. PP announced the closure of its Orinigi works with the loss of 446 jobs last week  and there may be more to come.

Owen Hembry points out that PP with 24 plants, including Orinigi, has as many plants as Alliance with 8,  Affco (10) and ANZCo Foods (7) combined.

In fact Alliance and Affco, which has previously restructured, have both said they have no plans to rationalise.

So the pain is going to fall mainly on PPCS but as the saying goes, no pain no gain – and what comes out the other end will undoubtedly be a leaner, fitter company.

The cost of redundancies at Oringi – which employs 466 people with an opportunity for about 100 to be relocated within the company – will be about $14 million to $15 million with operating cost savings of about $15 million a year.

A fitter PPCS will have another card to play – a good geographic and product spread.

One of the reasons Alliance didn’t want to merge with PP was the overcapacity of PP works. These closures will change that, but PP may also feel that having bitten the bullet it is in the best interests of the company to continue on its own.


Sheep numbers down but prices may go up

May 17, 2008

The ODT reports that 120 meat workers at PPCS’s Burnside works have been called to a meeting on Monday. The expectation is they’ll be told that the venison processing will move to the Finegand plant in South Otago. This follows  last Monday’s news that the company’s Oringi works will close. 

 

In between the two announcements was another from Mataura Valley, a new dairy company, saying it plans to build a $90 million milk drying plant near Gore. Reactions were mixed with a warning that too many companies competing for markets could lead to prices being under cut as they have been in the sheep industry.

 

However, farmers facing the expense of converting to dairying will be tempted by the fact they don’t have to buy shares as they do with Fonterra; and the increase in cow numbers is expected to continue. Around 100 Southland sheep and beef farms converted to dairying for the new season and a similar number is predicted to convert for the 2008-09 season.

 

The scale of conversion has altered the South Island landscape. Visitors used to marvel at the number of sheep, but while driving from North Otago to Balfour a couple of weeks ago what struck me was how few sheep I saw. My impression was confirmed by yesterday’s release of 2007 stock numbers from the Stats Department which explain why meat works are closing and milk plants are opening.

 

Last year’s drought and numerous dairy conversions have led to a 3% drop in sheep numbers from 39.6 million in 2002 to 38.5 million last year. North Island sheep numbers dropped 5%: from 19.5 million in June 2006 to 18.5 million last year – just 100,000 more than in 2002.

 

The South Island still has more sheep than the North, but the numbers have decreased more too: there were 19.9 million last year, 6% fewer than 2002. The decline was steepest in Canterbury where they dropped 8% to 7.2 million and Southland down 5% to 5.7 million.

 

Beef numbers dropped 2% from 4.5 million to 4.4 million in the five years to June 2007. At the same time dairy cows increased 31% in the South Island, from 1 million to 1.3 million with a small increase of just 22,000 to 2.9 million in the North Island.

 

The drop in sheep numbers signals there may well be hard times ahead for meat workers and their communities as over capacity forces PP and possibly other companies to “right-size”. But there are encouraging signs for meat producers. We’re not the only country with a decline in sheep numbers. The drought has taken its toll on flocks across the Tasman too so the supply is down while the world demand for protein is growing. Beef prices are already at record highs in the USA; and the falling dollar will also help boost prices, not just for meat. Pelts and wool have been at rock bottom levels so even a small lift in returns from them will help farmers’ incomes too.

 

 


%d bloggers like this: