South Canterbury's 'Spud King' Allan Pye dies

Allan Pye, the "Spud King", has passed away. Photo: NZ Herald
Allan Pye, the "Spud King", has passed away. Photo: NZ Herald
Self-made multimillionaire farmer Allan Pye, known as the "Spud King", has passed away.

Pye, who grew a vast potato farming empire on both sides of the Tasman, died on Saturday, aged 83, according to a death notice in his local paper, The Timaru Herald.

A funeral service will be held at a South Canterbury farm on Friday.

Pye left school at 14, leased two acres of land and started growing potatoes.

Seven decades later, the Spud King’s family business is estimated to be worth $1 billion.

Last year, Pye gave a rare interview to the Herald, giving them a tour of one of his farms on the Canterbury Plains between Rakaia and Methven.

The interview revealed a quiet, unassuming farming mogul with few interests outside of working the land and turning a profit.

"I have no interest in playing golf, or bowls, or billiards; I just enjoy farming," he said several times during the interview.

His South Canterbury farm, where he lived in a humble house, now amounts to almost 3000 hectares where he grew lots of spuds, carrots and other crops. He also owned nine dairy farms, milking 9000 cows.

Despite his huge success, Pye eschewed many luxury items coveted by other wealthy businessmen like flash cars, big houses or international travel.

Instead, he was never happier than when he was working on the farm.

"I love sitting on a header. There’s nothing more satisfying than sitting on a header and harvesting 10 to 12 tonne per hectare crop of wheat. It’s better than anything. Sex is good but only lasts for a short time. Driving a header, it goes on all day and all night," he said.

Pye was born in the South Canterbury pottery town of Temuka in 1941.

At 14, he left school and started growing potatoes.

The determined, self-taught young farmer gained early success and kept slowly building his enterprise.

The goal was always to make money, he said.

"It seems a bit stupid really, there should be something else in life than just money but that was important to me."

And when asked how he likes his spuds, perhaps with a Sunday dinner, there are shades of shrimp enthusiast Bubba Blue in Forrest Gump.

"I like spuds mashed, boiled, roasted... anyway at all," he smiled.

"Nothing better than spuds."