Taking on reform challenge
Rick Powdrell sees a tough three years in front of him as the new Federated Farmers meat and fibre chairman.
Meat industry reformation, stricter environmental regulations, a wool levy vote and land use change are some of the issues he sees affecting the country’s 12,500 sheep and beef farmers.
‘‘It’s going to be an interesting period for me,’’ the Te Puke sheep, beef and dairy grazing farmer said. But he enjoys a challenge. His 28-year association with Federated Farmers began in 1986.
‘‘We had a pretty convincing field officer in those days who convinced me it was a good thing to be involved in. I would say he was right.
He was involved in local meat and fibre matters until the early 1990s, before stepping away for a decade because of the responsibilities of running a farm and raising two children.
But he maintained an interest in farmer politics.
He also served on the Beef+Lamb Farming for Profit committee, he chairs the Te Puke Veterinarian Service, and sits on the board of the Te Puke Economic Development Group.
More recently he served two years on the meat and fibre executive, firstly as its Bay of Plenty representative and then as vice-chairman before he was elected to the national board at the group’s national conference in June.
He is also the federation’s Bay of Plenty provincial president.
The turning point for Powdrell
Rick Powdrell says the new Federated Farmers national board will continue the collaborative approach undertaken by former president Bruce Wills. in his leadership aspirations with Federated Farmers came when he underwent a Kellogg Rural Leadership programme.
Many on the new Federated Farmers board were not just farmers. They had achieved in other areas of life and had big skill sets.
New president Dr William Rolleston was an example of that, he said.
The organisation had changed immensely under the tenure of Bruce Wills to a more collaborative approach, which he supported.
‘‘That’s how I like to operate. It’s my natural style. I’m not a confrontational person, but I’ll put my foot down if I need to.’’
That process was needed if there was to be any progress in meat industry restructuring, which Powdrell has set as a goal during the next three years.
‘‘I’m not going to say it will be all fixed, because I don’t know if anyone knows what all fixed means.’’
‘‘Unfortunately time and time again, it gets compared to the dairy industry.’’ When Fonterra was formed, the companies involved were owned 100 per cent by farmers, but red meat farmers only owned about 50 per cent of their industry. The rest was in the hands of private companies.
‘‘That really puts a whole lot of complexity into it.’’
One of the hardest issues in this debate was getting farmers to engage, he said.
The meat industry in the South Island was dominated by the two co-operatives Silver Fern Farms and Alliance Group, whereas in the North Island, it was in the hands of private companies.
The often-maligned Sunday night spot buyer was just one factor in many that needed to be resolved. Those that engaged in that activity were a minority, he said.
A year ago, the federation’s meat and fibre executive decided they needed to learn more about farmer behaviour.
Powdrell said this would put them in a better position when they discussed meat industry matters with the government or other sector bodies.
Their work showed that loyalty – particularly to people more so than a company, played a large role in supplier behaviour.
That manifested itself in the number of stock or supplier agents that attended a farming family wedding or twenty-first birthday.
‘‘Those are the strength of relationships that get built up.
‘‘Often, if an agent changes companies then farmers change with them. The person of contact is as important as the company.’’ The industry needed to understand that, Powdrell said.
They also released an industry options paper authored by the federation’s meat and fibre policy advisor Sarah Crofoot for farmer feedback.
The executive now had to analyse all of that information.
They were also in discussions with the meat companies.
Their interpretation of loyalty and committed supplier sometimes differed from the view of a farmer.
‘‘If we are to move this industry forward in some shape and form, one of the big things is that all the key players are going to have to communicate more and get a lot closer than what we are.’’
There also needed to be a greater focus on the sheep and beef industry’s view on water and the environment.
‘‘Some of the ideas been looked at could have severe impacts on future sheep and beef operations.’’ Powdrell said that farmers had done very well in recent times, considering the strength of the New Zealand dollar and the lingering effects of the Global Financial Crisis.
NOT JUST FARMERS: