Self-taught seed man’s vision for NZ
Why should we care what cows eat? Dr Philip Yates ONZM says our economy depends on it and has spent his career driving agribusiness forward. Catherine Healy met the 81-year-old at his Shortland St office.
It was a teacher at Kohimarama School who sparked Philip Seabrook Yates’ interest in plants back in 1941.
‘‘We had to pick leaves and press them.
‘‘I have a lot to thank that school for,’’ he says.
He was born into a family famous for its association with plants. The Yates family first entered the seed industry in 1765.
‘‘I’m the sixth generation. It wasn’t expected [that I would join the business] but the opportunity was there and I grabbed it.’’
Born in Orakei on March 3, 1932, Dr Yates believes he was one of the first Pakeha children born in the area.
‘‘There were only two houses in Orakei in those days, apart from the marae.’’
Growing up during the war was a strange time.
‘‘I had a friend at school who was a refugee from the blitz in London.’’
Later Dr Yates attended Kings College but never went on to earn a university degree.
‘‘My father said I should get out in the real world and find out what work is all about. I’ve spent the last 60 years educating myself.
‘‘It’s a regret I’ve got, that I have no degree, but it was rare in those days unless you were a doctor or a lawyer.’’
His doctorate is an honorary degree from Massey University.
He spent 36 years in the family company and rose from being an awkward 17-year-old junior to chief executive.
He was widowed at age 37 and left with three children aged 11, 8 and 4.
Raising them while dealing with his grief and working long hours was ‘‘very difficult’’, he says.
After Equiticorp raided the company’s shares in 1985 he was tipped out of his seat as chief executive.
Finding himself unemployed at age 53, he decided his best option was to start his own business and founded Genetic Technologies Ltd with the aim of building up the Pioneer seed brand in New Zealand.
Dr Yates and his company have had a huge influence on cow nutrition over the past 24 years by encouraging farmers to grow and use maize.
He says if farmers feed their cows the right balance of maize silage, grass and other supplements such as palm kernel they can drastically increase their milk production.
The problem with New Zealand’s traditional all-grass system is that cows are grossly underfed, he says.
‘‘There’s such a lot of water in grass. They get bloated and can’t eat enough.’’
He say farmers who use an energy dense food like maize get incredible results.
These days Dr Yates divides his time between his Remuera home, his Shortland St office and a coastal property in the Bay of Islands where he is restoring the native rainforest.
His other interests are aviation and sailing. He spent 25 years involved in yacht racing and completed the Sydney to Hobart race.
He’d like to see more farmers increase their production by getting into maize.
He says New Zealand spends half a billion dollars a year importing feed supplements.
‘‘It’s not necessary to export that wealth offshore. Imagine keeping that half billion in the country.
‘‘That’s a lot of money.’’
if our dairy export dou-
Family tradition: Dr Philip Seabrook Yates was recognised in the New Year honours list for services to agribusiness.
Go to aucklandcityharbournews. co.nz to see a video featuring a farmer who uses maize.