Six leaders vie for Australasian agri award


Papakaio dairy farmer Morgan Easton has been shortlisted for the 2017 Zanda McDonald Award. The Australasian agribusiness award was launched by the Platinum Primary Producers (PPP) Group in 2014. Source: The Otago Daily Times Online

It was in memory of Australian beef industry leader and PPP foundation member Zanda McDonald, who died in 2013 after an accident at his Queensland property.

Mr Easton (33), along with Invercargill-based dairy consultant Jolene Germann (32) and Waiau farmer Henry Pinckney (34), have made it through to the next stage of the award.

The trio was selected for their “impressive leadership skills, passion for their work and determination to make improvements to the agricultural industry”.

They will head to Brisbane next month for the interview round, vying for selection for a place in the finals.

They will be up against three Australians — AuctionsPlus chief executive Anna Speer, stud manager Will Creek and business analyst and The Farm Table managing director Airlie Trescowthick.

The three finalists will then be invited to attend the PPP conference in Melbourne in April, where the winner will be announced.

Platinum Primary Producers chairman Shane McManaway said the award centred around helping agriculture’s future leaders further their career paths for their own personal development as well as for the benefit of the industry.

The prize package included two mentoring trips, one in New Zealand and the other in Australia, and Mr Easton said it was the mentoring involved that was one of the key attractions for him.

He hailed originally from the Waitaki Valley, where both his father and grandfather were mixed farming and cropping farmers. The property was converted to dairy in the early 1990s and sold, after which the family bought another sheep and beef farm on the northern side of the Waitaki River and also converted it to dairy.

The Papakaio property was bought by his parents, David and Clare, in 2008.

Mr Easton completed a bachelor of agricultural science degree at Lincoln University, spending his last year at Cornell University in upstate New York.

On his return to New Zealand, he worked for Dexcel (now DairyNZ) for 18 months, based out of Dunedin. He was then awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and obtained a master of science degree in agricultural economics from Purdue University, in Indiana.

While he was in the United States, his parents told him they were looking at the Papakaio property and the possibility of him returning home to help them develop and run the property was discussed.

Mr Easton and his wife, Hayley, won the Canterbury-North Otago Sharemilker-Equity Farmer of the Year title in 2013 and went on to be runners-up in the national competition.

Since then, he, his wife and his parents had also bought a small, neighbouring farm and embarked on a redevelopment phase of that property.

The couple, who have three young children, were now share milking the two properties, milking a total of 1600 cows, and the synergies between the two — including sharing staff and machinery — worked well, he said.

He had read about the Zanda McDonald Award in farming publications and was particularly interested in the mentoring provided by PPP members, who were “top farmers” or agribusiness professionals, Mr Easton said.

The Easton family’s business was a family farm; some of the businesses involved in the PPP, such as the McDonald family’s operation, were inter-generational and had been very successful over time.

“I wanted to learn and be exposed to some of those family farming businesses … [and learn] how they have grown and thrived inter-generationally,” he said.

After their success in the Dairy Industry Awards, the Easton family enjoyed a “bumper year” with high milk prices. But the past two years had been tighter than they would have liked.

Many international factors were at play, which farmers had no control over.

Milk production was down on their property; it had been a tough spring, lacking in sunshine, and while paddocks looked “nice and green”, the dry matter was very low.

Despite some challenges in the industry, he was optimistic about the future and had no regrets about his chosen career, Mr Easton said.

“I’m here because it’s a family farm. I want to be farming and working outdoors,” he said.

They had a great team of seven employees, the majority of whom had worked for the Easton family for three or more years and who enjoyed living in the lower Waitaki community.

Looking forward, the dairy industry was “pretty exciting”, Mr Easton said. It was an industry in which performance was measured daily when the milk tanker pulled up. It was a great industry for an analytical person such as himself.

“You can compare yourself to last year and the day before. You can make changes and see your changes quite quickly,” he said.

He had previously completed the Fonterra governance development program, which was another good way to get off the farm and be exposed to different knowledge and ideas, he said.