2009 Power & Influence List: Primary Sector

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5th December, 2009 Leave a Comment

===1.Chris Kelly ===

(2008 No 1 Agriculture)

Landcorp boss

It has been an extraordinarily tough year down on the farm: milk prices collapsed, beef demand was muted, the dollar was all over the show, costs were up, and the effects of the previous year’s drought lingered. But Chris Kelly shepherded (not to mention cow-herded) the country’s biggest corporate farmer through with a respectable (albeit reduced) net profit of $10.3 million. He is described as an outstanding chief executive of the massive enterprise, which runs 1.5 million stock units on 105 farms scattered the length of New Zealand. And his influence is set to grow. Landcorp has already been contracted by receivers to take over the management of one failed farm, and as the shake-out of the heavily indebted dairy sector continues, it is likely to receive more such requests. It was also called in to help advise Agriculture Minister David Carter and MAF officials on the Crafar Farms animal-welfare scandal. Kelly has kept Landcorp at the forefront of the drive for sustainable farming methods: one of Landcorp’s Canterbury farms has been trialling a bio-digester that turns dairy effluent into energy, and the company is now preparing to roll that out to other farms. It also earned a gong from DOC this year, in recognition of its riparian planting programme in Southland. Kelly is also strong on training – he’s on the board of the Agriculture Industry Training Organisation, and 40% of Landcorp workers were enrolled in study programmes this year.

===2. Henry van der heyden===

(2004 45th, 2007 8th, 2008 No 2 Agriculture)

Fonterra chairman

As chair of Fonterra, Henry van der Heyden oversees 8% of New Zealand’s GDP, so the Power List wouldn’t be complete without him. But it has been a topsy-turvy year for him and his 10,500 farmer shareholders – 2008/09 brought challenges “unique in the lifetime of anyone in the dairying business today”, he said. Powerless to control the international commodity milk market, he was forced to start the year by slashing farmers’ milk payout by 90c (it was later boosted by 10c to finish up at $5.20 for 2008/09). Then, in July, he was the bearer of the abysmal news that the payout for 2009/10 would be just $4.55 – less than the cost of production for some indebted farmers – only to ramp it up again to $6.05 over the following months as the commodity market recovered. He stood down as a director of the NZX mid-year because of a perceived conflict of interest over the co-op’s second attempt at capital restructuring – although he needn’t have bothered, given that he and his board backed away from publicly listing Fonterra because of opposition from farmers. Instead, the co-op will be rejigged so farmer shareholders can buy extra “dry” shares and, in time, they might even trade among themselves. Van der Heyden called the plan “capital structure evolution”; veteran rural writer Andrea Fox called it “uninspiring” and a compromise that wouldn’t solve Fonterra’s problem of “capital anorexia”. Van der Heyden has been on the board of Auckland Airport since September, has several directorships with smaller companies, and has farming interests in the Waikato and Chile.

===3. Peter & Andrew Talley ===

(Peter Talley 2006 33rd, 2007 15th)

food moguls

The origins of the Talley empire go back to 1936, when Peter’s father Ivan (whose name was Talijancich when he arrived from Yugoslavia) set up a fish shop in Motueka. These days, Peter and son Andrew are at the sharp end of an increasingly powerful ?dynasty that straddles the fishing, vegetable processing, meat and dairy sectors. The Talleys have cornerstone stakes in meat processor Affco and dairy company Open Country Cheese. Started by former National Party MP Wyatt Creech with one Waikato plant in 2004, Open Country has been on a rapid expansion path, opening two new processing plants in the past year or so, and is the No 2 milk processor in the country (although still only a fraction of the size of Fonterra). The Talleys are also big shareholders in South Pacific Meats, near Invercargill. Notoriously media-shy, they are described as hard, loyal to their Motueka home base, and successful because they work “three times harder than everyone else”. National Business Review’s Rich List valued the Talley fortune at $300 million this year.

===4. Allan Hubbard===

(2005 41st, 2006 18th, 2007 28th)

Financier

The Press observed recently that locals in Alan Hubbard’s home patch no longer have blind faith in his finance company, South Canterbury Finance (SCF). But his financial empire remains pivotal to the South Island’s primary sector. Timaru-based Hubbard is still revered by many for his willingness to back struggling local farmers and businesses who have been shunned by the banks. But SCF has been in strife this year over related party loans and exposure to impaired property loans, and posted its first loss since the Depression. Just how well Hubbard digs SCF out of its current difficulties, and how the company deals with his succession (he’s 81 and on dialysis three times a week) matters a great deal to the 45,000 investors who hold SFC debentures. As well as owning SCF, Hubbard’s investment company Southbury Group also controls Scales Corporation (with businesses ranging from apple growing to shipping). Through SCF he also has a significant interest in Dairy Holdings, which owns 58 dairy farms. And he also owns the biggest helicopter outfit in the country, Helicopters NZ. A headline on a recent story by Press finance editor Marta Steeman summed up the nature of Hubbard’s current power: “Too big to fail?”

===5. Keith Cooper===

(NEW)

Silver Fern Farms boss

She’s a hard road running a meat company, particularly the biggest in the land and one that spent much of the past few years up to its neck in debt. But the panel reckons Keith Cooper, who has been chief executive since 2007, has rehabilitated the image of the co-op (formerly known as PPCS) and is making an impact on the industry. The big plan hatched in 2008 to merge with PGG Wrightson and move from the traditional production-driven model to a consumer-driven “pasture-to-plate” nirvana ended in tears. But SFF emerged from the bust-up pretty well, getting a $37 million compensation settlement out of the big rural servicing firm. What’s more, Cooper went ahead with the pasture-to-plate plan anyway – bringing in contracts requiring farmers to produce the kind of meat consumers actually want, hooking up with genetics company Livestock Improvement Corporation to help match farm production with consumer preferences, and launching a new line of branded, ready-to-cook chilled cuts with the French supermarket chain Intermarch√®.

5th December, 2009 Leave a Comment

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