Young sees so much potential

Tapanui farmer Richard Young is looking forward to his tenure on the board of Silver Fern Farms. Photo by Linda Robertson.
Tapanui farmer Richard Young is looking forward to his tenure on the board of Silver Fern Farms. Photo by Linda Robertson.
Newly elected Silver Fern Farms director Richard Young believes the sheep industry needs to celebrate its successes.

Sheep farmers were too hard on themselves; they needed to celebrate the achievements behind the farm gate, including the increases in productivity.

But to actually turn those gains into sustainable profitability was about ''fixing the bit in the middle'' - the industry structure, he said. Mr Young (45) comfortably topped the poll in the company's recent director elections, having stood down as chairman of Meat Industry Excellence to seek election to the board.

He urged farmers to take a positive attitude and get motivated to drive change, ''rather than sitting back and being apathetic''.

''Ultimately, any change has to be driven by the farmers themselves. We've got to get off our bums as farmers and really unite and end up with what we want for our industry . . . and not what perhaps someone else wants,'' he told the Otago Daily Times yesterday.

The increased voter turnout in both the Silver Fern Farms and Alliance Group director elections had given a mandate from farmers that they wanted change, he said.

Married to Keri, a practice nurse in Gore, and with three children, Mr Young runs a 300ha intensive sheep and cropping property at Tapanui.

After attending Otago Boys High School, he completed a commerce degree in economics at the University of Otago. He then spent seven years shearing before he went farming.

He has been heavily involved in the Tapanui community, holding positions in various sporting clubs, both at local and district level, as well as spending the past six years on the board of trustees at Tapanui School.

Being on the board of Silver Fern Farms was ''certainly going to be a challenge'' and he was looking forward to it.

The last nine months had been challenging but he had really enjoyed his involvement with the push for reform in the industry.

He had met a lot of really good people, who were willing to help and do what was right for the sector.

Those involved with MIE had made a big commitment and, although there had been donations, it had been a big financial commitment and also a cost to their businesses, he said.

Being cast into the spotlight over the past few months did not really bother Mr Young and he enjoyed the camaraderie of working with people. His involvement with MIE was a team effort and it involved a great group of people, he said.

Following meetings throughout New Zealand seeking a mandate for change, and some robust debate about what the next moves would be, the conclusion was reached that they needed to try to get people on the boards of the co-operatives, as well as maintaining MIE to drive industry change from the outside.

There was a ''real dearth'' of leadership in the red meat sector to take on governance roles and he believed that was a real indictment on the two co-operatives that they had not promoted people to take on those roles.

While it was a big decision to make to stand for Silver Fern Farms, what convinced him was that with the profile he had created, he had become ''quite electable'' and it was a matter of putting candidates up that were most electable, he said.

He would not have put his name forward if he did not think he could give the position full commitment, and he was also grateful for the support of his wife and children.

It was gratifying to get the level of support he did, but with that came the expectations that the new MIE-endorsed directors - he and Dan Jex-Blake on Silver Fern Farms' board, and Don Morrison on Alliance Group's board - would deliver.

There were going to be ''lots of challenges, lots of roadblocks'' but they were all ''pretty determined''.

''We wouldn't have put in the effort of the last nine months to not see this through.

''Whether we get to where we want to go, who knows? But we certainly won't die wondering,'' Mr Young said.

There was so much potential in the red meat industry ''and we're just squandering it'', he said.

The co-operatives had to play their part and demonstrate value creation for shareholders and act in a way they could be trusted and transparent to shareholders.

It had to be a partnership between farmers and companies to get the right result. The success of any reform would be reliant on farmers wanting it, he said.

In an address to the company's annual meeting yesterday, Mr Young said the clock was ticking and there was not time to wait five years to get industry reform in place.

A merger between Alliance Group and Silver Fern Farms might not be an option but some form of analysis around the benefits of it were an integral part of moving forward, he said.

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