Landpower founder Herby Whyte and his wife Pam have moved
from being potato growers at Lochiel to owning one of the
larger agricultural machinery retailers in New Zealand and
Australia. Photo by Landpower/Neil MacBeth.
Herby Whyte owes his success to potatoes - and hard work.
From growing potatoes, and despite not having a farming
background, he established Landpower, one of the bigger
agricultural machinery retail businesses in New Zealand and
Mr Whyte was born and bred in Invercargill and left school at
15 to be an engineering apprentice at Sheetmetalcraft Ltd in
''The company I worked for did a lot of farm machinery in
those days, altering combines to bulk machines and building
grain-storage facilities,'' Mr Whyte said.
''I got involved with farmers by working on their machinery
and I thought it looked like a good way of life.''
He completed his apprenticeship by age 18, then leased a
small farm in Lochiel, near Winton to grow potatoes.
''At that time land sold for 100 an acre.''
Harvesting was done by hand, which limited any growth
potential and most potato growers could only manage about 8ha
''We couldn't get potato harvesters in New Zealand at that
time as they were on a list of machinery that couldn't be
''I went to Wellington to see the then Minister of
Agriculture Brian Talboys. I got a meeting [with] him and he
provided me with an import licence and foreign currency,
which you had to have at that time. I was then able to import
one from England.''
He said the harvester allowed him to expand production to a
profitable 80ha (200 acres) and that became his main
''From there, I quickly acquired another five farms within
three years, then land prices suddenly escalated to
''As opportunities presented themselves I couldn't see how I
He said people asked about buying their own harvesters, so he
got another import licence and starting bringing them in to
sell throughout New Zealand.
The farm machinery business was ''on the side'' and then by
1975 it grew into his first company, Farmrite. He started
importing other brands, such as Lely.
He said the machines were brought into New Zealand partially
assembled and completed here.
''It was a totally inefficient system, but [was] the way we
had to do things.''
He said at that time there were no trucking businesses in New
Zealand as the state owned the railways in a monopoly and
everything had to go by rail.
''New Zealand in the 1960s was almost a communist country and
we accepted it because we didn't know any better.''
During the following years he added other franchises to his
stable and expanded into Australia in 1982.
''By the 1990s, selling farm machinery was my main business
Farmrite became Landpower in 1995 and now has 25 retail
outlets in Australia and New Zealand with 380 employees
employed throughout the group and its headquarters is in
It sells Claas, Amazone, JCB and Grimme.
''Half [the outlets] we own and half are independent,'' he
He chose those brand names as they were all third-generation
family companies, all based in Germany and all came with
In addition to his farm machinery operations he was one of
the first people to enter the deer industry, establishing a
deer farm near Lochiel in 1977. It was sold in 1985 to the
Eastern Deer Company in Hawkes Bay.
Landpower is still owned by Mr Whyte and wife Pam. They have
two children - Kerry and Barry - and two grandchildren.
At 68 he has no intention of stepping down.
''I will keep on with my life's work.''
- Mr Whyte is attending celebrations near Winton on October
10 to mark 100 years of Claas.
Herby Whyte says farm machine technology is advancing at ''an
He said all farm machinery manufacturers were using wireless
sensory technology and GPS systems in their machines and
vehicles, especially for precision farming systems.
Proof of placement technology for fertiliser and chemicals
was now available.
''My view is it will be standard farm practice in Southland
where fertiliser and effluent is cut or injected into the
''If they spray it on to the ground there is always going to
be a risk of run-off and we want to minimise the chance of it
getting into the waterways,'' he said.
''Greenseeker technology can be used for selective
The optical sensory system uses cameras that look at
paddocks, recording crop health and colour.
''It is used extensively in Australia for spraying broadacre
weeds and that technology is now available in New Zealand.''
Rather than using the full width of the boom to spray the
total area the system's camera takes a photo of the
particular weed, then the computer sets the nozzle on it and
sprays just that weed.
It also looks at crop health, including identifying where
fertiliser has been placed, mapping it for the future.