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