Fonterra Shareholders' Council member Greg Kirkwood and his
wife, Kelly, share a passion for the dairy industry. Photo
by Sally Rae.
Ask Greg Kirkwood what he loves about the dairy industry
and he says: ''You don't know where you're going to end up.''
''There's so many opportunities ... as long as you can
stomach the falls or trips on the way through,'' the newly
elected Fonterra Shareholders' Council member said.
Mr Kirkwood, his wife Kelly and their 9-year-old twins Max
and Phoebe, live in the historic Springfield homestead on the
Otago Peninsula - the base for New Zealand's first
co-operative cheese factory - with nary a dairy cow in sight.
It was a different lifestyle to the years of ''bloody hard
work'', as Mrs Kirkwood succinctly put it, when the couple
were sharemilking in both the North and South Islands, but
both remain passionate - and deeply involved - in the
They own a large-scale dairy property in the Maniototo, near
Ranfurly, which comprises three dairy sheds run as one unit,
and calving 2400 cows.
As the business had grown, Mr Kirkwood realised that, with
capable staff, he could withdraw from the daily, physical
work. He was always available to lend a hand during busy
periods, and travelled to the farm at least a couple of days
a week, while his wife handled the administrative work.
But if you had asked him 20 years ago what his goal was, it
would probably have been milking 1000 cows, which was why it
was important not to be fixated on goals, Mrs Kirkwood said.
''It changes and evolves as you go along. You've got to let
your goals change ...not be fixed on them,'' she said.
Born in Whangarei, Mr Kirkwood came from a dairy farming
background, although the family lived off-farm on a run-off
property and his parents were involved in commercial and
That probably whetted his appetite to be more commercially
involved in farming, rather than hands-on, he said.
He started his sharemilking career with 160 cows several
years before meeting his future wife, a nurse, and the couple
continued sharemilking in the North Island before moving to
North Otago in 2002.
Attending a large herds conference in Christchurch the
previous year was a ''turning point'' as dairying in the
South seemed more viable with irrigated pasture, easy cow
production and stable cash flows.
They moved to Papakaio, sharemilking for Pat and Anthea
Finlay, and grew the business ''pretty quickly'', increasing
both production and cow numbers.
What they learned at Papakaio, concerning pasture management
and performance, they then tried to replicate in the
Originally, they bought that property in a partnership but,
after three years, bought out the partners. They had
concentrated on better pasture management and increased
production. They had done a lot of regrassing, internal
infrastructure and some irrigation development.
When Mr Kirkwood was asked to undertake some Fonterra
governance training, he admitted he ''walked into something''
he knew very little about. He found out a bit about himself,
skills he did and did not have and he was interested in the
fact he could make a difference in the industry, using the
skills he did possess.
Late last year, he was elected to the Fonterra Shareholders'
Council, representing Ward 32, or Southern Canterbury, which
also included parts of East and Central Otago.
The council is an elected national body of farmer
shareholders, representing their views. The council reports
on its views of the company's direction, performance and
operations and, each season, reviews the board's statement of
intentions. It meets regularly with both board and management
and consults farmers.
Mr Kirkwood said standing for the council seemed to be a
natural progression and he looked forward to gaining greater
insight into Fonterra.
It was a company that was ''forever evolving'' and that was
something that he loved. There were always big issues; the
likes of Trading Among Farmers might be to the fore at the
moment, but there would be ''new challenges unknown around
He believed deregulation and environmental sustainability
were among the biggest challenges the co-operative faced.
Looking after the environment was something that was very
important to both Mr and Mrs Kirkwood.
''We read it a lot [but] we are responsible for leaving
something that is better than when we took it over,'' Mrs
She was looking forward to getting over to the Maniototo farm
more often and getting some further beautification projects
under way, including plantings on some large dryland blocks.
The couple worked very much as a team - ''if you're not
heading in the same direction, someone's got to change'', Mr
They simplified not only the way they operated but also the
way things should be communicated and structured.
One of Mr Kirkwood's favourite sayings, which he related to
staff, was ''it's not that we make good decisions, it's that
the decisions you make, you make work''.