Friday, 24 May 2024 10:46

Six-way battle for two Farmlands board seats

Written by  Sudesh Kissun
Voting started two days ago and ends at midday, Thursday, June 27. Voting started two days ago and ends at midday, Thursday, June 27.

Voting is underway for Farmlands director elections with six candidates vying for two vacant positions.

Sitting directors – Dawn Sangster and Gray Baldwin - are facing a challenge from Samuel Belk, Dani Darke, Will Noble and Calvin Payne.

Voting started two days ago and ends at midday, Thursday, June 27. All candidates will be personally advised by phone or email on July 1, says Farmlands. The co-op shareholders will be advised by public announcement as soon as practicable after candidates and the board have been advised, it says.

Voting papers mailed to shareholders earlier this week has results of an independent assessment of candidates carried out by Propero Consulting.

Farmlands says it’s important that shareholders voting in the director elections have appropriate information to assist them in making their decision.

“For these reasons, Farmlands has appointed Propero Consulting to undertake an independent assessment of the director election candidates.

“Propero Consulting is a well-regarded organisation that specialises in governance services, including evaluation of boards and executive teams, and in this case director election candidates.

The Farmlands board provided input to Propero Consulting on the key capabilities required for the board.

“The final selection of capabilities to be evaluated and the subsequent evaluation process have been conducted independently of the Farmlands board,” it says.

“We trust that the Propero Consulting report that follows provides a useful and objective assessment of the candidates’ relevant


Here are brief profiles of each of the candidates extracted from the voting papers mailed out to shareholders:

Gray Baldwin

Baldwin has a 707ha dairy farming operation with maize and forestry areas in south Waikato. Along with Farmlands, he is a current director of Trinity Lands and has served on LIC and Ballance boards.

Baldwin says winds of change are blowing through farmer co-operatives and there are financial woes in the meat industry and new overseas competition in fertiliser. He says Farmlands operates in a very tough retail environment – cyclone Gabrielle and the red meat downturn have added to challenges.

“This is a time for cool heads, experienced, tried and true governance that knows how navigate tough times.

“I have been through many cycles with other directorships and want to be there to both challenge and support our management team as they make Farmlands “match fit” for the future.

“I have received shareholder feedback that we have lost our way with chemicals, seed and fertiliser and associated advice in some regions. Good people have moved on, our product range hasn’t been up to scratch, timely delivery hasn’t always happened.”

Baldwin says the new management team at Farmlands is putting remedial actions in place and he will ensure they deliver for shareholders.

Samuel Belk

Belk is the owner-operator of Stronsay Farm, a 420 stock unit sheep and beef farming operation with accompanying vineyard.

He says their business uses Farmlands extensively – for shearing gear, calf milk, seed, fertiliser, fencing gear, vineyard chemicals, fuel and animal health.

“And, just as importantly, we use the local farming advice and viticultural/horticultural advice.

“Farmlands is a great partner. As someone who spent more than three decades in international business, finance, and money management, I appreciate consistent, long term, and reliable partners.

“I am acutely aware of the competitive pressures on a shareholder-owned cooperative in a small country. In an environment of aggressive cost-cutting enabled by global trade, the pressures can be significant. I want Farmlands to continue to succeed and thrive. I believe this success will continue if Farmlands provides fair priced products and advice, while adapting to the needs of primary producers.”

Dani Darke

Dani and her husband Anthony farm a 630ha sheep and beef property in the King Country.

She says Farmlands is one of New Zealand’s iconic farming businesses.

As is the case for many NZ agri organisations, Farmlands must relook at its operating model to be relevant and profitable in this economic climate, she says.

“The challenge is to deliver on its purpose of improving the profitability and productivity of New Zealand farming businesses.

“The Farmlands board will be subject to considerable churn over the next 5 years. Bringing in a new director now, will promote more stability over this next strategically important period.

“I will bring a fresh perspective, with the ability to challenge and be a constructive part of a board that gets on with making decisions. My focus is strongly on business efficiency and good commercial outcomes. I am highly motivated to contribute fully, and known as an advocate for rural communities.”

She says her experience with Ballance Agri-Nutrients, where she serves as an elected director, has given her solid financial and commercial acumen, and a deep understanding of supply chains.

Will Noble

Noble joined the NZ primary sector in 2020 as the chief executive of FarmIQ, a farm management software company. He owns a lifestyle block, breeds

Hereford cattle and is a judge in the Zanda McDonald award.

He notes that Farmlands is a shareholder of FarmIQ.

“These different relationships give me a unique, well-rounded, practical and realistic perspective of our cooperative. I live on a lifestyle property where we run traditional Herefords and small mob of Dorset Texel-cross sheep.

“I live in a remote farming community and am passionate about the potential benefits of our co-operatives.

“I’m standing for election as a director to give a stronger voice to our farming shareholders. Many farmers feel the retail focus of the current strategy is at the potential cost of services to the very businesses that founded the co-op. A balance must be struck between short term profitability and the long-term sustainability of our farmers and growers, and the communities to which they are critical.”

Calvin Payne

Payne owns Pacific Programme Management and provides programme management services to local councils. He owns a lifestyle block and supports rare breeds including full blood highland cattle and pure breed Berkshire pigs. He’s an elected member of the Malvern Community Board in Selwyn.

He also has over 40 years of experience in the construction and engineering industry, including 17 years in New Zealand.

“I believe I can apply my construction Industry experience and knowledge to Farmlands to support our co-operative for the future.

“We need to work with government at all levels, national, regional, district and locally to adapt our industry for the imminent challenges of climate change and ensure it is resilient.

“Our primary industry is our food supplier, and it is therefore essential that we also protect it against global supply chain issues. The two main challenges for farmers today are climate change and the effective use of new technology. We need to adapt as an essential industry to climate change. The climate is changing, and we cannot stop it.

“We need to stop building houses in some areas, farm in different ways and look at utilising land that may have not been farmed before.”

Dawn Sangster

Sangster is a director of GlenAyr Ltd, a 2,670ha family farming operation comprising 3 sheep and beef properties. Their business also has a shareholding interest in a North Otago dairy farm.

Sangster says as a hands-on farmer and experienced company director, she understands agriculture, large-scale business, and the challenging environment farmers, growers and the cooperative operate in.

“During my past five years on the Farmlands board, I have seen an unprecedented trading environment and climatic events that have made the business of farming more complex, costly and stressful.

“Farmlands is adapting and evolving to meet current and future shareholder needs.

“Our transformation program will minimise your input costs and deliver sound advice and service. While change can be hard, it is necessary for a strong co-op that will deliver value to us in the future.

“While some of the changes have created friction, I want to assure you they are designed to ensure Farmlands delivers on its purpose of improving on-farm profitability and productivity. We are making progress.”

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