Alliance chair retires

Cust farmer Murray Taggart is standing down as chairman of Alliance Group after a decade in the...
Cust farmer Murray Taggart is standing down as chairman of Alliance Group after a decade in the role. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
"An absolute privilege."

That’s how retiring Alliance Group chairman Murray Taggart describes his tenure on the board of the co-operative following an announcement he would be replaced by director Mark Wynne.

Mr Taggart, who has been chairman for the past decade, said it had been no secret this was going to be his last term as chairman.

The board had been working on a succession plan and, with new chief executive Willie Wiese in place, it was the appropriate time to "pass the baton on", Mr Taggart said.

While mingling with farmer shareholders at last week’s Wanaka A&P Show, he noticed it was the people involved who had been key to such an "awesome experience", the North Canterbury farmer said.

Elected as a supplier representative in 2010 and elected chairman in 2013, he also served on the Alliance board from 2002 until 2007.

Asked if there was any sense of unfinished business, particularly given Alliance’s $97.9million pre-tax loss last year — a dramatic reversal from the previous year’s record $116.3million profit — Mr Taggart said every retiring director had that regret.

"This is a journey ... There’s no end. You realise you’ll never see things to completion", he said.

It was the fourth time he had seen the current cycle in his career; he had seen it as a banker, a farmer, a director and now as a chairman.

"Every time you think you’re not going to let this happen again. It’s a journey without an end. The fairy tale never happens. All you’re trying to do and every director ... is trying to get the best outcome you can for the business", he said.

Since announcing he was stepping down last week, a visibly relaxed Mr Taggart said he had received some very touching feedback and messages.

Having such a role had meant a big impact on his own family and his wife Gina would not miss the cancelled holidays. He was also "desperately" looking forward to being a farmer again.

Prior to going farming, Mr Taggart worked for seven years at ANZ Bank. He was a Nuffield Scholar in 1996 and won the Tasman region FMG Rural Excellence Award in 2006.

He is a former national meat and fibre chairman of Federated Farmers and a past director of CRT Society and Ballance Agri-Nutrients.

Taggart Farms is a 733ha mixed cropping farm near Cust, which grows a wide range of arable crops and includes a sheep and beef finishing operation. Mr and Mrs Taggart farm with their son Roscoe and daughter-in-law Gracie.

His favourite part of the year was the six-week period from Alliance’s annual meeting in December until the end of January, Mr Taggart said.

"I get to play farmers and I absolutely love it. I struggle every year to get back into governance stuff. I just turn up to the yard in the morning and say, ‘what do you want me to do?"

Grateful for the ongoing support from farmer shareholders, he was the first director to be elected north of the Rangitata River and he hoped a North Island representative would be elected soon.

Governance could be a "pretty tough gig" for directors at times — "at times it can feel quite personal" — and he appreciated those brave enough to put their names forward.

As chairman, there was very close interaction with the executive team "and you almost feel like you’ve let the side down a bit [standing down] because of those relationships", he said.

His other governance roles include director of FMG and chairman of forestry company Taumata Plantations Ltd which, he quickly stressed, had never converted a sheep and beef farm to forestry.

Despite the current challenges, Alliance had a strong future and he was confident the co-operative’s resilience and its ability to adapt in the face of adversity would ensure it would thrive for another 75 years, Mr Taggart said.

In a statement, Mr Wynne said Alliance — like all meat exporters — continued to face significant volatility as a result of geopolitical tensions, inflationary pressures, high levels of inventory across all proteins in various markets, particularly lower-cost Australian sheepmeat, and weakening global markets.

The board remained committed to the co-operative’s long-term strategy and, in particular, changes made across the business in response to the tough trading environment.

Those changes had highlighted significant opportunities for improvement.

"The global markets continue to be challenging. However, the new season has started on a much more positive note. But there is more work to do", Mr Wynne said.

Mr Wynne has extensive experience in agribusiness, including 20 years in the dairy industry.

He stepped down as chief executive of Ballance Agri-Nutrients in September last year.

He was previously president South Asia for Kimberly-Clark, growing the United States-multinational’s market share with brands such as Kleenex and Huggies.