Agriculture trip a ‘whirlwind’ of inspiration

Zanda McDonald award winners Rozzie McKenna (left), Sam Vivian-Greer and Rhys Roberts (far right)...
Zanda McDonald award winners Rozzie McKenna (left), Sam Vivian-Greer and Rhys Roberts (far right) farewell North Otago farmers Grant and Ele Ludemann during a visit to North Otago as part of a mentoring trip. PHOTO: SALLY RAE
Sam Vivian-Greer admits he is not usually the most emotional person.

But during this month’s mentoring trip around New Zealand for winners of the Zanda McDonald agribusiness award, the Wairarapa man acknowledged he was a little emotional, particularly as he wrote down each day’s experiences in a notebook.

The award, now in its eighth year, supports talented and passionate young professionals in the agricultural sector from Australia and New Zealand.

Part of the prize package includes a trip to high-performing farms and businesses in Australia and New Zealand, travelling by a chartered Pilatus PC-12 aircraft.

Mr Vivian-Greer is rural project manager at Te Tumu Paeroa, which administers 88,000ha of Maori-owned land which occupies 15 regional councils and across multiple land uses, including grazing, dairy, forestry and horticulture.

His role comprises supervising the operational entities that are administered, engaging with various primary industry bodies and assisting the wider organisation with any rural matters arising.

During a visit to former Zanda McDonald award winner Morgan Easton’s home on a dairy farm on the lower Waitaki Plains, Mr Vivian-Greer said the trip "almost unlocks you a bit" - there were big, heavy conversations with leaders in the sector.

And it had been a somewhat surreal experience, meeting people normally seen on television, or in an article or who were "a very powerful name on a piece of paper".

They shared their stories, talking not only about their professional journeys but also opening up on their personal lives.

One of the main discoveries had been that family and values were "key in everything" while culture was also "massive".

Many of the people they had met were leaders, whether they sought to be or not, "because they are just grunty humans - very, very good and very, very capable and they’ve risen to the top", he said.

Being able to "unpack" his experiences with the others on the mentoring trip - 2022 New Zealand winner Rhys Roberts, of Mid Canterbury, and 2021 Australian winner Rozzie McKenna, along with tour leader Matt Wyeth - had also added "a whole new layer".

Mrs McKenna works for Lambpro, Australia’s largest prime lamb seedstock business.

Her role as operations manager involved managing the database for more than 10,000 performance recorded stud ewes and co-ordinating staff and day-to-day activities for running the business, as well as providing client services, she said.

Lambpro provides genetics to more than 345 lamb producing businesses around the country and it was expected that, this year, those clients would produce more than 1.2million lambs.

With her husband John, she also owned and operated a small livestock business comprised of commercial sheep and stud cattle, selling black coated composite bulls.

The mentoring trip had been a "whirlwind", visiting everything from corporate properties to family farms, and she would be able to draw from the experience that others had in the future, she believed.

She and her husband hoped to buy their own farm and she was impressed with how there were so many ways to help young people get their own business in the sector in New Zealand.

Describing the trip as a life-changing opportunity, she said it was also great to draw on the experiences of the other winners and hear how they had got to where they were.

Mr Roberts is chief executive of the Align Group which operates seven farms and a market garden and is vertically integrated with a yoghurt brand and milk processing facility.

He was running a regenerative agriculture project trial to monitor farm productivity, animal and human health, and environment outcomes.

The creation of a market garden fed his team through the fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry and eggs from their farms.

All of the team were on fully flexible rosters and could manage their own schedules, choosing shifts that suited them. That freed them up for about 1000 hours combined per year which they reinvested in the community.

Mr Roberts said an overwhelming feature of the trip had been the level of inspiration in the rural space in New Zealand.

He had been on plenty of tours but it was very rare to get inside the house and sit at the kitchen table, and being able to do that with leaders in the industry had been inspiring.

While those they spoke to might have talked about luck, it probably was not luck, rather they had taken opportunities.

All had singled out one or two "really great steps" they had taken that "set them up and got them on the treadmill".

A key theme was the strength of relationships with spouses, he said.

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