Analyst helps build the big picture

Emma Higgins is enjoying her career advising the dairy industry. PHOTO: DAVID HILL
Emma Higgins is enjoying her career advising the dairy industry. PHOTO: DAVID HILL
Growing up on a sheep and beef farm, Emma Higgins never imagined she would have a career advising dairy farmers.

The RaboResearch dairy analyst had ambitions to be a lawyer while growing up on the family farm at Wakefield, near Nelson.

"I always thought I would never be involved in agriculture. I studied law at Canterbury [University] and got a job in Wellington working with corporate clients and it was fun for a few years, but I felt the draw to come back to agriculture.

"So I ended up working with cows in Canterbury — ‘the dark side’, as my dad put it."

The job drew on her legal skills and research skills as she sought to make sense of the global dairy markets and dairy issues and report back to Rabobank and its clients, dairy farmers and the media.

As the only New Zealand-based dairy analyst for RaboResearch, a division of Rabobank, the job required a lot of travel.

"In ordinary times, outside of Covid, I travel the length of the country visiting farmers and going on farm, and talking to processors, trying to get a feel for what New Zealand’s production looks like," Ms Higgins said.

"I cover the New Zealand side of things, but I have colleagues around the world who cover the dairy industry in their regions, so we put it all together and see what the supply and demand of milk around the world looks like."

It meant Rabobank could predict what the farm-gate milk price might look like for Kiwi farmers, though it was "quite challenging and complex" to get it right, she said.

The conservative prediction at the moment was $6.35 per kilogram of milk solids, but a lot depended on the fluctuations on the Global Dairy Trade over the next few months and how much demand there was in China.

"There has been very strong buying in China across most of this year. We are seeing China’s local milk production rise, so there is a concern if they do decide to change their buying strategy it will present some risk.

"We think their stock levels are at the highest they have been since 2014, so it’s unusual."

New Zealand’s success in managing Covid-19 meant it was seen as "a safe and reliable market", which added "another layer to the provenance story" for Kiwi farmers "and that’s where the opportunity lies", Ms Higgins said.

"More broadly speaking, we can’t forget we are in the midst of a pandemic. We are seeing more lockdowns across Europe with the second wave, so all that has an impact."

Environmental regulations would also have an impact, she said.

"Change is needed, but the devil is in the detail. We don’t argue against the reform, but it’s about providing more tools in the toolbox so they [farmers] can meet their environmental obligations."

A dry summer also beckoned and with the La Nina weather pattern forecast in Canterbury, it would also have an impact.

"I think farmers are amazingly resilient and they have some huge challenges to deal with, so I think it takes a really special person to be a farmer," Ms Higgins said.

"Now that I’ve got children I like to go back to Nelson to the home farm, but I don’t see myself moving into a full-time career in farming, as I just don’t have the practical skills. Right now, I’m quite happy talking about cows.”

Add a Comment