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.


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