Farming's top 40

Farming's top 40

New Zealand is truly blessed with talent when it comes to our agribusiness. Here are our picks for our top 40 farming stars.

On our side the debate was enormous... and what you read from here may fuel much more.

Yet in the eyes of our independent judges those included in Primary's inaugural Farm 40 had all the right pedigree to make the grade.

There may be controversy, there may be 'dark horses', there may be the unexpected, there will be surprises, and some shining lights in other's eyes missed the cull but whittling down a massive master list of possibilities to the final 40 took time, effort and resolve.

Whatever the case from what you'll see just among this grouping indicates New Zealand is truly blessed with enormous talent when it comes to our agribusiness All Stars.

The idea was to create an Oscar for agriculture award. Where, in our own way, we’d roll out the red carpet to salute the most influential people in this country’s agriculture. It could have been more or less, but we thought that 40 had a nice rural ring to it.

The easy route would have been to draw up our own semi-educated view of who’s who and what’s what in agriculture but for there to be any level of credibility we needed to ensure we had ‘best in class’ for our judging panel so we went looking.

Any one of this group, had they not selflessly accepted the invitation to take part in this initiative, would more than likely be among the final selection. Their energy, enthusiasm, full-on but good-natured debate has made our inaugural Farm 40 happen.

Prof. Jacqueline Rowarth

Prof. Jacqueline Rowarth
Convenor of judges for the inaugural Primary FARM 40, Jacqueline is an outstanding academic, communicator, opinion former and agricultural leader and thinker in her own right. She is Professor of Agribusiness at the Univerity of Waikato Management School (WMS) and was previously Foundation Chair in Pastoral Agriculture at Massey University.

She is an active scientist, with a strong commitment to technology transfer. She has received the Zonta Award for excellence in science, a New Zealand Science and Technology Medal and was elected as a Companion of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Jacqueline was elected as a Fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Agricultural Science. She was appointed a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit and became the inaugural Federated Farmers Personality of the Year.

Bruce Loader

Bruce Loader
Bruce is a partner at Ernst & Young in its Christchurch office, focusing on serving agribusinesses audit clients.  He has worked in advisory roles in both New Zealand and England. Over the last 10 years he has been responsible for the audits of the full gamut of agribusinesses and related enterprises.

His clients have helped finance agribusiness, grown, processed and exported meats, wools, milk products, seeds, apples, wine, mushrooms and leathers around the globe, and imported fertilizers and capital for the New Zealand farming industry.  

Jeremy Duckmanton

Jeremy Duckmanton
Canterbury born, raised and now resident, Jeremy Duckmanton has been dairy farming since 1999. He is currently lower order share milking 1550 cows in Rakaia on 355ha fully irrigated property as well as managing a high input farm feeding grain property.

In 2010 he won the Canterbury / Nth Otago Sharemilker of the Year title and also finished runner up in the New Zealand Sharemilker of the Year.

Richard Loe

Richard Loe
Outstanding in two very different fields, Richard Loe is a former All Black prop who made his All Black debut against the French Barbarians in 1986, aged 25. He also operates a mixed sheep, cattle and dairy grazing farm in Canterbury.

He represented New Zealand on 78 occasions, played in 50 tests and captained New Zealand three times before his international career ended in 1995. Richard currently writes a rugby column for the Herald on Sunday and hosts a farming and rugby show called On The Field.

Neal Wallace

Neal Wallace
Neal has been the agribusiness editor at the Otago Daily Times since 2001, but has written about agriculture for most of his 27 years as a journalist for publications such as The Star, New Zealand Farmer and Ensign.

Born and raised on an Otago hill country farm, in 2003 he spent three months studying at Oxford University as a Reuters Foundation research fellow.

In 2004 he won an EU Visiting Journalist award to Europe to investigate how the EU’s expansion has affected agriculture.


Given the complexity and interwoven nature of New Zealand agribusiness, our four FARM 40 categories may seem somewhat artificial constructs. We had to start somewhere and figured that dividing the world into LEADERS, THINKERS, ENTREPRENEURS and UP & COMERS would cover and capture most candidates. We start with LEADERS - those setting the agenda, those taking us into new areas of opportunity and endeavour; and those who assume the 'buck stops here' responsibility for making things happen.

Chris Kelly


For an agribusiness-focussed publication, the name Landcorp conjures up just the right images as a vibrant ‘hub’ where farming and finance intersect. As chief executive of said ‘corp’ since March 2001 Chris Kelly would rate as a leader. What made him undisputed champion among our judges, however, involved much more.

Chris previously held various positions with the New Zealand Dairy Board, including strategic planning manager, general manager for Corporate Planning and global head of Strategic Industry Relations. Chris also had extensive experience representing farmer interests to the Livestock Improvement Corporation Ltd, Dairying Research Corporation Ltd and the Animal Health Board Members Committee.

In his earlier career, he practised as a veterinary surgeon, lecturer and advisor, and held roles in the animal health area for Glaxo Animal Health Ltd and Pitman Moore Ltd (previously Coopers Animal Health Ltd).

As head honcho on this State-owned enterprise that owns or leases 374,898 hectares, holds 105 properties and runs over 1.5 million stock units, his influence on farming practices, issues and outcomes are highly significant.

He’s unquestionably using his size to change farming in New Zealand, and is unashamedly exploiting the economic benefits of bulk purchase, but he’s doing it in a way that is helping to sustainably develop both people and land. Increasingly smaller scale farms are nurturing sound environmental practices—fencing waterways, being responsible with nutrients and the like—but through Landcorp Chris is achieving results that have national consequences.

He is a man who doesn’t bolt from commitment to innovation and novel ideas—FarmIQ and WPC being just two—and he is highly vocal in supporting industry transformation and supporting better farming returns. In short, Chris is the consummate ‘combo’ of good shepherd and steward versus plunderer and pillager.

Andrew Ferrier


When Andrew Ferrier was plucked out of Canada to eventually head up New Zealand’s dairy cooperative he brought to the table both impeccable business skills and a truly global perspective. Anyone with the ‘buck stops here’ accountability, responsible for assets of more than $14 billion and driving the company’s operations that span more than 140 countries, has leadership written all over him. It seems that anything made from milk into something else seems to be owned—or supplied—by Fonterra.

Our dairy farmers had always been recognised for producing quality milk but turning this primary production capability into creating a global supply chain from farms all over the country to consumers all over the world is no mean feat.

Yet in brand building and communication—think of the latest round of Anchor Milk ads—he has ensured the grass roots traditions and country of origin pride have not been diluted.

He is founding Chairman of Global Dairy Platform, an international organisation whose mission is to provide insight and guidance in the promotion of the healthy consumption of dairy. Andrew also sits on the Growth and Innovation Advisory Board (GIAB) which provides high level, independent strategic advice to the New Zealand Government on growth and innovation issues.

His tenure has not been without controversy. Fonterra’s 43% ownership in one of China’s largest milk producers, the Shijiazhuang Sanlu Group, seemed to be strategically outstanding until the brand was linked to an infant formula poisoning scandal. Some lost their jobs, some even face losing their lives, but Andrew’s management helped to ensure that Fonterra lost little face. Though he is stepping down at years end, his legacy will endure.



Those in and even outside the industry probably think divine intervention was at play when in 1904 Isabel Fraser—then headmistress of Wanganui Girls’ College—brought ‘yang tao’ seeds from her sister’s mission station in China’s Yangtze Valley back home.

Giving what was then called ‘Chinese gooseberries’ seedlings to the Allison orchardist family six years later the first fruits of his labour came forth. Unbeknown to them, similar trials were going on in California but—having only male plants to draw from—no berries were born.

From then on, what a ride it’s been for Actinidia chinensis—the hairy berry more widely known as Kiwifruit—and for the body, now known as Zespri, which has harnessed the power of this vine.

An example of what’s best about cooperatives when they also employ smart branding and marketing, Zespri has kept the Kiwifruit in the mouths and minds of consumers all over the world. Who else would have the proverbial to launch a computer-generated brand and sell to the world the fact it stands for “vibrant, vigorous, healthy, nutritious, effervescent, zesty, full of life, full of fun and full of energy.”

They’ve survived their IP being given away willy-nilly by well meaning scientists. They’ve survived the dirty deeds of competitors passing off their product as New Zealand bred.

They’re now also battling, and managing to contain, outbreaks of the vine killing disease PSA and they’re still forecasting being able to harvest 100 million trays in 2011.

They’ve also shown innovation via the tropical-sweet, yellow-fleshed GOLD Kiwifruit that the world doesn’t have to be green.

Sir Henry Van der Heyden


While his reputation may have soured with less than creamy performances in facing foraging media seeking fodder on induction-related issues, as chairman of New Zealand’s dairying juggernaut Sir Henry van der Heyden is a must for any agribusiness leader line up.

He began his farming career share milking in the Putaruru/Tokoroa area. He currently owns three dairy farms in partnership with his wife and has an equity partnership in two other properties.

Arriving in the chairman’s role in September 2002—and it was said so fresh from the milking shed that he needed a quick lesson on corporate attire—Sir Henry has since left his mark in many areas of farming over and above dairying. He is a member of Rabobank’s Food Agribusiness Advisory Board of Australia and serves on Waikato University’s School of Management Advisory Board.

An Angus beef burger


No, not the old one with the farm, but the mega-corporation with the golden arches. When the ‘say whats!!’ die down, think about this. Adding two premium Angus beef burger offerings to their menu has done great things for farmers nationwide.

With one million kilos of independently verified New Zealand Angus beef wolfed down since the August 2009 launch—and sales sky rocketing beyond initial expectations—the double offering looks likely to remain and has created other options using an array of locally grown produce.

McDonald’s has also led farmers and other suppliers to produce ingredients that contribute positively to the development of sustainable agricultural and food manufacturing practices. Their leadership, rather than lip service, is a clear case of putting their money where they want our mouths to be.

John McKenzie


As head of AgriTech—the Southern Hemisphere’s largest (and arguably the world’s fastest growing) seeds company—and founder of specialist proprietary forage seed company Agricom, John McKenzie is right at the roots of what is making agribusiness grow.

He is responsible for businesses across New Zealand, Australia and South America, together with R&D, production, international seed activities and turf and grain. He has moved the company forward in growth markets such as South America and Australia. Hot on innovation, this Lincoln graduate has extensive past involvement in a number of primary industry groups and currently sits on the Board of the International Seeds Federation (ISF). John is a farmer to boot with a diverse farming operation in the South Island.

Keith Cooper


In the company of Silver Fern Farm’s chief executive Keith Cooper people mention chicken at their peril. There’s only space for red meat in his business veins. More than most he has made a profound difference to our national thinking about red meat marketing and has led the charge in pulling what was a staid, old-school meat cooperative approach to production out of slow and possibly terminal decline and into the modern world.

As well as heading New Zealand’s leading red meat farmer co-operative, he is also the architect of Farm IQ. This seven year crusade is an attempt to turn the meat industry’s production-led approach into one that is market-led and focused on responding to consumer needs through a “plate to pasture” integrated value chain.

Graeme Harrison


When the definitive work is written about those who laboured long and hard to open up international markets for our primary produce, the name Graeme Harrison will certainly appear in despatches.

From mid-Canterbury farming stock, since 1973 he has been actively involved in meaty matters. He was briefly with the Department of Trade and Industry before joining the New Zealand Meat Producers Board. There he became a deputy chief executive before founding what is now ANZCO Foods in 1984. After 20 years as managing director he became ANZCO’s chairman in 2004.

Earlier in 1995, he led a management buyout of the group resulting in two Japanese companies—Itoham Foods and Nippon Suisan—owning a stake in the venture along with key New Zealand personnel. He has served on leading meat industry organisations and—as an agribusiness all rounder—is a current director of Sealord and Westland Milk Products.

Jeff Grant


Some say that when Jeff Grant set about creating the Wool Partners Co-operative he was handed somewhat of a poisoned chalice. Judging by invectives the rival Wool Exporters Council unleashed against Jeff many must have hoped he’d drink deep.

With experience as an innovator in meat circles, his new partnership model provides what many see as a much-needed opportunity for growers to take control of their industry and work together to stop being fleeced for their fleeces. The fact the subscription process attracted $40 million support—but less than the $55 million needed to proceed—shows a fair degree of backing.

What the exercise does demonstrate is that herding an old, traditional and fragmented body of wool people—particularly the exporters—in a common direction could be more challenging than corralling cats. The fact he’s trying shows he’s leading.

Don Nicholson


As head of the country’s leading independent rural advocacy group by default Don Nicholson is a leader. Yet as the only quasi or otherwise bureaucrat who made the Farm 40 grade his voice is one that has to be listened to. Of late we’ve seen less lobbying and more leadership.

He’s been active rallying the troops in earthquake-ravaged Canterbury, snow drenched Southland, and has also been making his own seismic rumblings in contributing to the debate on the riches, or otherwise, of rural broadband.

As one who weaves the dreams and ambitions of those involved in meat and fibre, dairy, goats, rural butchers, high country farming, grain and seed and even bees, clearly where Don leads thousands may well follow.


THINKERS are innovators and problem solvers. Their work, like themselves, travel pretty much under the day-to-day radar but they are national and international ‘super stars’ shaping thought; changing notions; and having the spare capacity to keep ‘nasties’ away from our borders and our farms.

Stephen Goldson


Among the Sitona lepidus, Listronotus bonariensis and Sitona deiscoideus communities, Stephen Goldson is regarded as somewhat of a pest. As a consequence, in agricultural circles, he’s both saviour and saint.

His exploration of the mechanisms of biological suppression for the troika of ‘wicked’ weevils — Clover Root, Argentine Stem and Lucerne all of which seem hellbent on destroying New Zealand pasture land – helped identify the critical importance of sub-species in biological control. Similarly, his fundamental research into insect behaviour—meshed with the ecological and genetic components of pest suppression—has benefitted crop management immeasurably.

With a background in entomology, and with experience across many sectors, he is internationally-regarded as both a scientist and strategist extraordinaire. He was chief science strategist for AgResearch last decade, and is a fellow of Royal Society of New Zealand and New Zealand Institute of Agricultural Science, as well as the UK-based Entomological Society. He is also vice-president (in the area of Biological and Life Sciences) of the Royal Society of New Zealand council.

Stephen has parlayed this expertise into creating better border biosecurity. He is executive director of B3 — a large multi-partner cooperative science programme researching ways to reduce the rate new pests cross the border and establish in New Zealand. Stephen has been highly influential in the development of sensor technologies to make our bio-protectors more efficient.

In addition, he is a right hand ‘go to’ man for chief science adviser Sir Peter Gluckman on a variety of projects related to pest management, biosecurity and science advocacy.

He has authored more than 150 papers, and has been recipient of numerous awards, including the New Zealand Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Science’s prestigious Jubilee Medal and the Agriculture and Environment Category of the Bayer Innovators Awards.

Brent Clothier


The next time you even dream of complaining about rain, think instead that you’re part of a gold rush. Fresh water is now recognised as an increasingly precious resource. One that even rates its own footprint. One person who changed the world’s thinking about water is Brent Clothier.

As science group leader in Plant and Food and adjunct professor at Massey University’s Life Cycle Assessment Centre, much of Brent’s is spent working with the wet. He is an international spokesman on water foot-printing — similar to its carbon ‘cousin’, and representing the freshwater volume needed to produce food. The importance and implications of his endeavours were recognised early in his career when he was invited to become a Fellow of the Soil Science Society of America.

He is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Blending with his knowledge of irrigation systems, Brent has conceived methodologies to assess major water users, for what types of crops, and also where these could—and even should—be grown to best advantage. Whereas other countries may require up to 70 litres of water to produce one apple, in New Zealand it takes just 10, and only six when using dwarfing root stocks. Brent’s work has enabled improved efficiencies. He has built an international reputation as the person who ‘walks the talk’ about water conservation and best use.

Alison Stewart


The world of bio-protection literally knows no boundaries—one reason why Alison Stewart’s fame and expertise has spread on both sides of the Tasman.

As director of the Bio-Protection Research Centre and professor of Plant Pathology at Lincoln University she is actively involved in the development and promotion of plant protection. She is also an advisory board member of Better Border Security and the Waite Research Institute, University of Adelaide, allowing her knowledge and influence to work effectively in trans-border situations.

Alison is also a director of Plant and Food Research and is actively guiding the future for bio-protection by building a group of researchers committed to innovation and excellence.

In that regard she is a critical force in finding new, non-pesticide and sustainable solutions that protect New Zealand's plant-based, productive eco-systems from existing and potentially invasive pests, diseases and weeds. The by-product of this initiative is threefold: enhanced national biosecurity, sustainable production systems and wealth-creating technology. The work has significance not just for agribusiness, but also in the context of a burgeoning and diversifying trade and tourism environment.

Stewart Ledgard


Others may have garnered more public accolades, but the quiet and relentless tracker in the world of carbon foot print truth seeking is Stewart Ledgard. As a global opinion former and influencer, when he has his say, he does so with New Zealand in mind.

Both AgResearch principal scientist and adjunct professor at Massey University’s Life Cycle Assessment Centre, Stewart has forged an important role as an international spokesman on carbon foot printing. His work has seen him invited to advise and contribute on Government directions and policies in Europe as well as at home. He has been instrumental in dispelling the notion that ‘food miles’ is a sensible approach for Northern Hemisphere consumers to follow, and shown that, when all factors are weighed up, New Zealand actually is ahead in terms of efficiency of food production.

In conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, he is lead international advisor for Chile, in a project to determine the carbon footprint for a range of their agricultural products.

Michael Ahie


Michael Ahie heads up the New Zealand arm of an international business coaching and consulting group, Shirlaws, a group that makes no bones about the fact they LOVE business.

In his case, the same can be said about farming. With broad international business and governance experience with multinational companies, he’s passionate about his country and helping it achieve on the world stage. Being of Taranaki, Ngā Ruahine and Ngāti Ruanui descent his roots are clearly spread across the land.

As well as holding senior positions outside agriculture, he has been in leadership roles with the New Zealand Dairy Board and Wrightson Ltd. He is currently chair of the Board of Directors of Plant and Food Research Ltd, a New Zealand Crown Research Institute providing research and development that adds value to fruit, vegetable, crop and food products.

Having received his First Class Honours Degree from Massey University, Michael has also completed the Executive Development Programme at The University of Pennsylvania’s world-renowned Wharton School of Business.

Guy Salmon


In such a fertile area of endeavour, it’s no wonder that gadflies, stirrers, curmudgeons and critics abound in agribusiness. Most provide uninformed background noise. Guy Salmon is the exception; he’s a mover and shaker in thought and deed.

He co-founded the Native Forests Action Council in 1975, and as a conservationist, beavered away to help have abolished the Forest Service and see it replaced by the Department of Conservation in 1987. As chief executive of the Maruia Society (now the Ecologic Foundation), he has played match maker in integrating both economic and environmental perspectives in policy and decision making.

Additionally, as a ‘must have’ member of policy task forces for a number of governments, he has contributed to environmental administration system reform, the birth of the Resource Management Act, and the development of policies on forestry, climate change, electricity markets, land transport and overseas aid.

Guy has worked in the fishing, agri-food and waste management industries and has helped lead a four-year comparative study of sustainable development in New Zealand and the Nordic countries.

Warwick Catto


Lincoln University graduate Warwick Catto thrives on helping things grow. He’s recognised for helping put positive people in agribusiness positions, and for helping farmers achieve sustainable—and economically viable—methods and systems, via the use of innovative agri-nutrients.

He has worked his way up the fertiliser industry food chain to become head of research and environment at Ballance Agri-Nutrients, one of the country’s leading fertiliser specialists. In that role, and more generally, he’s part of a drive to help New Zealand lead the world in sustainable, high-quality food production. An integral part of his leadership in this initiative lies behind his desire to see more education, and the building of greater capability within the primary sector.

As such, Warwick has helped energise Ballance’s advocacy to develop a self-management approach to farming; one that avoids the need for unnecessary regulations and instead employs fertiliser codes of use, nutrient management plans and other measures to demonstrate improvements.

Keith Woodford


At a time when more and more agribusiness firms (including farms) and industries are looking to achieve and sustain competitive advantage, few in the world have more finely honed credentials than Keith Woodford.

Based at Lincoln University, Keith has a background in farming systems, agribusiness and international rural development. Outstanding in local fields, he has also made invaluable contributions to the wider world in a variety of ways.

He lived and worked in Fiji for a year, and in Australia for 18, before returning to New Zealand in 2000. He has undertaken rural development and education projects in Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam and Sri Lanka. He has also held consultancies across Asia.

Keith has supervised masters and PhD theses on agricultural and agribusiness issues in Indonesia, Ethiopia, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, and Uruguay. On top of all that, he shares his insights on wider agribusiness issues as a media commentator.

Jim Johnston


He’s not Rumplestiltskin, but Jim Johnston’s work in turning Merino wool products into ‘gold’ shows that fairy tales can come true.

A chemistry professor at the Victoria University of Wellington, Jim has become internationally recognised for his research and development into nanotechnology materials and chemical process technology platforms. He was acknowledged for his contributions at the 2009 Bayer Innovators Awards.

His is a world-first process in which nano-particles of pure gold and silver are embedded in Merino wool to create a fibre that can be used in exclusive and high value-added fashion garments, textiles and carpets. The technology is not only clever, it has the extra benefit of not requiring a huge overhead to make.

In tandem with university colleagues, and organisations such as New Zealand Trade & Enterprise and AgResearch, he is working with local and international industry groups, designers and manufacturers to bring the technology and products to commercialisation.

Chris Hopkins


If you happen to see a robot working away on a food processing line chances are it was spawned by Dunedin-based Scott Technology. Under the leadership of Chris Hopkins, this internationally-recognised centre of innovation and development is taking automated production and processing machinery to a place no robot has ever gone before. Their aim is clear: to be the global innovators in automation.

In world markets, word is that the company’s engineering feats are clever and simple, meaning robust, easy-to-maintain and cost-effective. Those attributes equate to production efficiencies and savings.

But rather than resting on his robotics, Chris has been instrumental in ensuring the business remains at the cutting edge of research and development — not just in meat processing, but in the design and building of appliance systems, and mining.

To that end, the company has recently been awarded a Government Technology Development Grant worth up to $3.5 million over three years. The money will help to further stimulate research and development work – including new-product research.


ENTREPRENEURS come out of left field. They see things no one else could ever imagine and then have the audacity to create things out of nothing more than their dreams. They have passion; they embrace setbacks and failures as part of the journey; they also have the courage of their convictions to put all and everything on the line to create the unimaginable.

Sir Bill Gallagher


If an award was ever created for ‘animal who contributed most to engendering a smart idea break through’ it would be the Gallagher family’s horse, Joe.

It was Depression New Zealand and when the equine decided to use the cherished car as a scratching post, and Bill Gallagher set up an electric circuit to thwart the rubbing, no one could have guessed the shock waves it would send into farming. Joe is long gone, but the Gallagher legacy pulsates on.

By 1937 Bill had made his first electric fence, having read that in American they were also using power to control livestock. In true Number 8-wire tradition, he used mains power to make the wires live, only to have the authorities deem his use of the circuit illegal. He tinkered on, undaunted, using batteries and Ford coils to do the job of containment.

When power regulations changed, allowing the use of mains power on the land, farming would never be the same. The invention was revolutionary, allowing more efficient and flexible land use. This one creation was just the start of continued entrepreneurship and innovation designed to make farming life easier.

The Hamilton-based design and manufacturing firm specialises in electric fence systems, weighing and EID innovations, On Farm consulting and advisor services and solutions, pumps, plastics and automated gateways. They’ve even developed a weighing machine for elephants. They've cultivated a network of distribution channels in more than 130 countries, yet remain true to their roots as farmers developing solutions for their own kind.

They’ve even leveraged off their experience in power fence technology to create a separate security management business to keep unwanted intruders out rather than in.

Having won the 2010 World Class New Zealand Awards, Bill Gallagher’s focus on promoting New Zealand internationally, building global connections and facilitating the exchange of information, knowledge and skills from and about the country makes him beyond electrifying.

Jeremy Moon


How’s this for a modern love story. In 1994 cultural anthropologist Jeremy Moon meets American girlfriend traveling down under. Said girlfriend, in turn, introduces him to a Marlborough Sound island-based merino wool farming family she had stayed with while backpacking around the country. As attractive as she was, the item Jeremy was most smitten with was a pair of farmer Brian Brakenridge’s homemade underwear meticulously crafted from the fleece of one or more of his 8,000 sheep.

From size 86 cm beginnings, Icebreaker is now a global success story, turning over millions of dollars. The underlying secret — discovering that merino wool could be used to create something that allowed natural, and odourless, airflow in – was amazing. Turning that into a whole wardrobe filler of clothing possibilities took something more.

Fame and fortune have culminated with the Financial Times dubbing Jeremy an ‘evangelist in sheep’s clothing’ and Time documenting Icebreaker’s global push. Proof that invention—plus adding value to raw commodities—can be the mother of great opportunities.

Little touches—such as providing buyers with a ‘code’ so international consumers can see which one of the country’s 30 high country stations their wool was sourced—have added further sheen.

As chairman of the New Zealand Government appointed Design Advisory Board—Jeremy is spreading the ‘clean green meets smart savvy’ story further afield.


There is a slightly ‘aw shucks’ ring to the Talley Family claim of ‘evolving from humble beginnings in 1936.’ Times have certainly changed when one considers the empire that has been built and the deals that have been made since then.

On the radar primarily for its Nelson-based fishing interests, the Talley family has cast its food processing net onto dry land, with a move to control the only meat processor listed on the NZX—Affco Holdings.

Already owning 53 percent, the remaining corporate ‘crumbs’ were mopped up by acquiring the 23.5 percent controlled by another ‘family’ group—the Spencers. While some Affco directors had misgivings Talley now reign supreme on both sea and shore.

The acquisition means their food processing capabilities stretch well beyond ‘surf and turf’, covering almost the complete meal.

Over and above meat, Affco itself owns 44 per cent of Dairy Trust, which in turn owns independent cheese maker Open Country Cheese. When combined with Talley’s own dairy division specialising in high-end ice cream manufacturing, the synergies start to flow.

There’s even a vegetable growing empire, giving the family a slice of the 5+ a day market, too.

Stefan Lepionka


Squeezing a living out of juice making is one thing, but extracting a multi-million dollar domestic and export success story out of pure pulp requires some strategic additives. In that regard Charlie’s chief executive Stefan Lepionka is the top banana.

Starting in 1990 with the launch of an orange juice that bore his name, a mere seven years later Frucor Beverages swallowed the business. He then went on his OE spending time as a juice commodity trader in London, and working as a consultant to England’s leading fruit smoothie and fresh juice company Pete & Johnny’s plc.

Returning to New Zealand, and with the aim of bringing a higher quality juice product to New Zealand, Stefan created Charlies. With some fiscal issues in the past, the future looks sweet with good domestic sales and access into the Cole’s supermarkets in Australia. There’s also a product trial in 60 outlets of Hong Kong's biggest food retailer, PARKnSHOP.

Peri Drysdale


The road from being a nurse in a specialist echo-cardiography unit to chief executive of a high-value international knitwear garment supplier, in Peri Drysdale’s case, is paved with wool and possum fibre.

Untouched World began in 1981 as a cottage industry based in her Christchurch home. With her own children as clientele her first creation was a child’s garter-stitched anorak. Employing the service of over 500 knitters dotted from the Far North to the Deep South, the business went feral as both New Zealanders and visitors to the country loved the blend of natural fibres and high fashion.

With her garments having adorned world leaders and the rich and famous, Untouched World is also achieving considerable export success in some of the more discerning fashion capitols of the world.

George Fistionich


Winning the 2005 title of Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in itself would label Sir George Fistonich as vintage stuff. But as the power behind one of New Zealand’s few remaining private—but world-beating—export wineries, few others have done more to build an exemplary agribusiness or brand.

Recipient of a cornucopia of local and international awards—including named one of the world’s 50 great wine producers by American magazine Wine Spectator; and New Zealand Wine Company of the Year at Australia’s Winestate Wine Awards (10 times in 11 years)—his focus has always been simple: when wine making is done right, it’s a case of starting with nothing more than bare land and then ending up with something that stimulates the soul and inspires the senses.

Colin Brown


Without Colin Brown, the business of fertiliser spreading could be a hit and miss affair. But Colin changed all that when, in 2005, he took his TracMap system from the drawing board to the farm.

His invention is a durable and easy-to-use GPS guidance and mapping system for dairy and rolling hill country farms. The device has produced two very clear extra benefits: one in managing costs and getting greater productivity, the other delivering accountability and traceability in monitoring what is applied, where and when.

He work has also been well received overseas. The business has grown to be the largest AgGP provider in the market. Exports now make up to 20 percent of the company’s sales.

Ard van Leeuwen


Putting $4.5 million on the line to create a European-style, self contained robotic milking dome is certainly bullish. Then making it home to over 500 cows which—when not chewing their cud—are automatically milked, daily, by six laser-guided ‘farm hands’ demonstrates that Ard van Leeuwen’s methods are innovative, to say the least.

Milk production to date is double that of their outdoor counterparts—500 kg/ms with 600 in sight. Cows average six minutes in the milking box, and visit it twice every 24 hours.

A far cry from the great green outdoors, it may well be that his ‘farm dome’ represents the way the world of milking might have to be.

John Perriam


Having the vision, and ability, to turn a rabbit prone wasteland into a network of vineyards creating sublime pinot noir, a breeding ground for some of the best Merino, and having the showbiz chutzpah to turn a hirsute sheep dubbed Shrek into a global phenomenon is the stuff of entrepreneurial legends.

But wait, there’s more. His first novel Dust to Gold, detailing the story behind the transformation of his Bendigo Station holding is on its third print run, with all proceeds going to Cure Kids. As a board member of Wool Partners International he has also played his part in offering farmers a new deal in the form of the world's first fully-integrated supply chain.

McConnon Family


The McConnon family is closely involved in some of the country’s most memorable agribusiness brands, from cheese, fresh and processed milk and ice cream (Tip Top), to processed meats (Huttons). For that reason, they deserve their place as agricultural ideas people and risk takers.

With such an exemplary brand portfolio it was just a matter of time before interested suitors came courting. The Kiwi Co-operative Dairy Company acquired 83 per cent of the business, with the balance taken over by Fonterra—both companies under the leadership of then-chief executive Craig Norgate.

Though some challenges emerged on the back of these dealings, Aorangi Laboratories, the McConnon’s family investment vehicle, is still an agribusiness force, with involvement in a number of ventures, including Mt Difficulty wines.


UP & COMERS are the young ones coming through. Be it in corporate offices or cow sheds, the future health of this sector depends on them choosing a life linked with the land over so many other options. They likely grew up on farms; they apply new thinking to traditional practice; they offer a source of energy, zeal and vigour that keeps the rest of the sector on their toes.

Richard Fitzgerald



One feat alone would be sufficient to earn Richard Fitzgerald his ‘spurs’ as the country’s most upward of agribusiness up and comers. In between being a full-on Canterbury Plains farmer, Richard – as Young Farmers Club chief executive – has performed some miracles transforming a failing organisation considered past its use-by date into a vibrant, growing and increasingly relevant farming force.

He’s also helped take it into the 21st Century, issuing a brand statement – “New Zealand Young Farmers - get the edge” – and developing a vision statement that boasts: “NZYF is a progressive and dynamic social network for rural youth which develops the leadership and personal skills of its members through participation and achievement.”

He has also been instrumental in driving the organisation’s leadership development program, helping to upskill young people in the industry, particularly those in the dairying sector. The program’s graduated levels structure focuses on building skills in leadership, accountability and forward planning – not only in one’s personal life, but also business.

In this push to professionalism he has never stopped working to ensure Young Farmers also remains a social organisation which is, as their motto attests, “tonnes of fun with down-to-earth people”.

Richard has been involved in a recent successful application to the Primary Growth Partnership, securing funding to enhance opportunities for young people in New Zealand agriculture. The aim is to boost productivity by investing in innovation and long-term economic sustainability across the primary sector. It covers the full spectrum of agribusiness, including pastoral, horticulture, seafood, aquaculture, forestry and food processing (including nutriceuticals and bioactives).

Ben Allomes


At age 22 Ben and Nicky Allomes took pen to paper and set two goals. One was to have $1 million of assets in a decade, the other was to have a happy, healthy family and a low-stress sustainable farming business providing freedom and security.

Along the way Ben has accomplished much more. He has been a two-time finalist in the National Bank Young Farmer of the Year competition, and winner of the Sharemilker of the Year competition. At 30, he was national president of Young Farmers and under his watch the organisation started 14 new clubs — both at the community level and via secondary school pilot schemes known as AgriKidsNZ. He has ensured the organisation continues to keep true to its core ‘business’ covering club activities, arranging marriages and creating babies.

Ben and his family have even purchased their first farm, while running a 50% share milk of 400 cows on another, 250 cows on yet another. They’re also leasing a 140 hectare beef block. With four children they are holding true to their goals.

As he says:
“That’s the beauty of working on a farm; It’s your home as well as your workplace. And we want our children to be brought up knowing what hard work is all about; that money has to be earned, not taken for granted.”

Collier Isaacs


Collier Isaacs is definitely on the up. He’s comfortable talking about—in relation to deer velvet—the ‘cosmic forces said to control all natural phenomena and life processes’ which he did, in an earlier incarnation, as chairman of DeeResearch and DeerSelect, and a director of Deer Industry New Zealand.

As general manager—market services at Meat New Zealand—Collier took the proactive role in managing issues and processes related to promotion, quality assurance and research and development for various livestock.

Appointed as manager—corporate strategy for Landcorp in 2002 he then helped set the agenda for strategy, new business development, R&D, marketing, procurement, quality and safety systems and training.

Now, as chief executive of FarmIQ systems, he will have the opportunity to sink his teeth into what he describes as a real and meaningful initiative, with pan sector partners covering a large part of the value chain. Having been involved in the project design and build, and with an impeccable track record to date, Collier may just be the chosen one to help turn the red meat industry’s production-led approach into one that is market-led and focused on consumer.

Dean Nikora


Dairy farmer Dean Nikora has been known to lament city ‘slickers’ views about the benefit of working in soulless office towers as opposed to toiling in the great outdoors.

His views are particularly revealing, as his ambition and hard work has proved there are real rewards to be had farming.

Though he left school at 16 with no qualifications and entered the dairy farming business with nothing, he and wife Kristen have created a business worth some $35 million, and which incorporates six Hawkes Bay properties.

A winner of a Maori Excellence in Farming Award and a holder of the historic Ahuwhenua Trophy, Dean is also a director of Ballance Agri-Nutrients, a former member of the Fonterra Shareholders' Council and former chairman of the Large Herds Conference. He showed particular leadership and acumen as part of a syndicate helping the receivers of the Crafar dairy farming conglomerate. He also became the first dairy farmer to chair the elite Hawkes Bay Grasshoppers – an invitation-only group of movers and shakers in the area’s agriculture sector.

Craig Carr


Ambition and synergies would seem favoured concepts in Craig Carr’s agribusiness world. His company Winslow (named after a dilapidated feed producing mill he bought, at age 18, in 2000) develops and manufactures nutritional stock feed, animal feed solutions and biological treatments targeted at ruminant farming operations.

The company also specialises in producing a large array of grain, seed and vegetable seed products from throughout New Zealand and, in turn, markets these at home and overseas to about 40 countries. Winslow also owns and operates agricultural machinery for silage and straw making, along with buying and selling the feed products. At the high-tech end of the agribusiness spectrum, Winslow distributes Lely Robotic Milking machines and provides farm technology applications and best practice. This was launched by creating New Zealand’s first fully commercial robotic dairy farm.

George Tatham


They say farming is in the blood, but when you’re the fifth generation in charge of a 2070 ha property near Masterton it must be firmly bedded in your body, soul and spirit.

George Tatham’s, and his wife Sarah’s, focus is still generational, with the aim of continuing to improve Matariki for future generations. In charge for close to a decade, they’ve already made significant changes to the land and their farming methods. Most significant has been their investment in infrastructure.

While heritage and history have guided him, George is also accomplished in taking on leadership roles and focusing on current and future farming issues. As 2010 Wellington region supreme winners of Ballance AgriNutrients awards, recognition came from a major upgrade of the water reticulation system and the creation of a laneway system to improve stock movement. An ambitious waterway fencing plan is underway run in conjunction with an extensive native planting program.

Tim Mackle07 TIM MACKLE:

Tim Mackle ticks just about all boxes marked ‘outstanding’ when it comes to being an agribusiness all star. Growing up on the family farm in the South Island, Tim has a PhD in animal, food and nutritional sciences from the prestigious Cornell University in the United States. Here at home he spent several years as a milk characteristics scientist at the Dairying Research Corporation in Hamilton.

He moved to a position with the New Zealand Dairy Board as commercial strategist before taking up an executive assistant role to former Fonterra chief executive Craig Norgate.

He is currently Dairy NZ ceo. This farmer-focussed organisation has three areas of investment: productivity (feed, animals and farm systems); sustainability (environmental management, biosecurity, animal welfare and community impact); and people and business (farm business and human capability).

He oversees research and development, leading on-farm adoption of best practice farming, promoting careers and advocating for policy, legislative and investment decisions by central and regional government.

James Lawn


Receiving accolades from secretaries, technicians and lecturers in just his second year of study, then following that up by winning the 2009 Massey Agriculture Student of the Year award shows James Lawn’s future in agribusiness can only grow stronger.

From Taranaki dairy farming roots, James’s diligence, commitment to responsible leadership and professional development, and involvement in Massey Young Farmers all contributed to him appearing on the ‘radar’ in winning the coveted award.

An avid sportsman, team supporter and debater, he is also credited with transforming Massey’s Agricultural Common Room into a place of both study and socialising.

Currently completing an honours degree in agribusiness, word is he’s certain to be one of the big names in agriculture in the future – and Massey will be proud to claim him as one of their own.

John McCaw


A stiff Nor’wester is not the only driving force on the Canterbury Plains – there’s also John McCaw. From an honours degree at Lincoln University, he joined the family arable farm in the Methven region.

In 2004 he reached the finals of the National Bank Young Farmer Competition. He spent 2005 helping with the competition (learning more, in the way that leaders know they have to do) and in 2006 won Young Farmer of the Year. In so doing he secured a place on FAME—the Food and Agribusiness Market Experience, which built his experience and contacts.

He is now regional vice-chairman for the grain and seeds section of Federated Farmers. He is also on the Farming Future steering committee, which is busy developing a plan to build links between rural and urban communities, with the aim of ensuring a sustainable future.

The combination of practical and business skills, political experience and vision—not to mention youth—make John a natural pick for the Farm 40.

Jonathan Wallis


The Wallis family members have all achieved great heights, and Jonathan Wallis is no exception. Son of aviator Sir Tim Wallis, and farming a high country station near Lake Wanaka, Jonathan has been both the face and force working through issues related to Crown Pastoral Land Review.

In his position as chair of the High Country Accord, he has been instrumental in working through issues, court proceedings and other challenges to ensure the ‘rural high country voice’ is heard during the debate over the two million hectares of high country land under perpetual lease contracts.

The outcome that Jonathan has helped to orchestrate sits well with people of his ilk as well as the wider public.

As a result the three objectives of stewardship, economic use and relationships should be more achievable than those they replace, as these new objectives reflect an understanding that conservation and farming can co-exist in a sustainable enterprise.

This story originally appeared in Primary magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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