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.

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS -

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.

‘‘Imag­ine bled.’’

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-

Photo: JA­SON OXENHAM

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.

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