Farm­ing dy­nasty looks south­ward

Un­usu­ally dry sea­sons in the Waikato are prompt­ing the van der Hey­den fam­ily to re­con­sider their farm­ing op­er­a­tion, re­ports Chris Gardner from Waikato Farmer

South Waikato News - - RURAL DELIVERY -

Fon­terra chair­man Sir Henry van der Hey­den and his fam­ily have their eyes on the South Is­land.

Sir Henry, who has led the 10,500 strong dairy co­op­er­a­tive through its biggest re­form since its for­ma­tion in 2001, is now turn­ing his eye to the fam­ily farms. The four prop­er­ties on the out­skirts of Pu­taruru have, like other Waikato farms, suf­fered huge pro­duc­tion losses as a re­sult of three ex­ceed­ingly dry sea­sons, two of which were of­fi­cially de­clared a drought by the Govern­ment.

While they don’t in­tend to sell the farms, which have been in the fam­ily for half a cen­tury, they do in­tend to di­ver­sify by adding farms in a less drought-prone part of the coun­try to their port­fo­lio.

Milk pro­duc­tion was down be­tween 15 and 20 per cent on the van der Hey­den farms, which milk a com­bined 1500 cows, over the last three sea­sons, be­cause of the drought.

‘‘We have got four farms so close and if you have a weather event it hap­pens to all four farms,’’ Sir Henry said.

‘‘How do you de-risk? We have not got a farm in the South Is­land.’’ Sir Henry said he had re­cently had a din­ner-ta­ble dis­cus­sion with his fam­ily about re­duc­ing risk by buy­ing a South Is­land farm but it had not yet pro­gressed.

‘‘My par­ents bought their first farm, just down the road, in 1963. In that time we have not had a lot of droughts. Ir­ri­ga­tion is not an op­tion here be­cause of the con­tour of the land.’’ Sir Henry and his wife of 30 years, Jocelyn, have four chil­dren. Gareth, 29, is a char­tered ac­coun­tant who was re­cently ap­pointed chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer of a large South Is­land farm­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion.

His fi­ancee, Alice, is the grand­daugh­ter of for­mer Dairy Board chair­man Alan Candy. Simon, 27, is a 50/50 sharemilker on one of the fam­ily farms and the van der Hey­dens have sharemilk­ers on an­other two.

The fourth is run as an eq­uity part­ner­ship. Erica, 26 and Janique, 24, are also ac­coun­tants. Erica works in Hamil­ton and Janique in Auck­land.

Sir Henry, with Gareth and Simon, also has a stake in Chilean dairy op­er­a­tion Manuka.

‘‘I’ve been farm­ing here since I left school,’’ Simon said.

Palm ker­nel be­came nec­es­sary two sea­sons ago when Simon bought in 200 tonnes at a cost of $5000 to keep his 450 herd fed. He had to do the same last sea­son too.

His dream was to leave the fam­ily farm and dou­ble his herd size in the next few sea­sons.

‘‘When the right op­por­tu­nity comes along I would be happy to move,’’ he said.

‘‘What’s im­por­tant is that the heart and the core of this fam­ily is dairy­ing,’’ Sir Henry said.

‘ ‘ When you look at it Simon started with my cows, Gareth is more fi­nance and I am re­ally big into gov­er­nance.

‘‘The cen­tre re­ally is the fam­ily farm, it does not mat­ter what the size of the farm is.’’

Photo: WAIKATO TIMES

FARM­ING FAM­ILY: Sir Henry van der Hey­den with sons, Gareth, cen­tre, and Simon on one of the fam­ily’s farms.

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