Cancer claims farming leader, trade envoy

Last updated 07:19 06/06/2014
Alistair Polson, former Federated Farmers president and agricultural trade envoy, has died after a short illness.
Fairfax NZ
RURAL LOSS: Alistair Polson, former Federated Farmers president and agricultural trade envoy, has died after a short illness.

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Alistair Polson, former Federated Farmers president and agricultural trade envoy, has died after a short illness.

The Whanganui hill country sheep and beef farmer and kiwifruit grower, succumbed to an aggressive cancer. He was 58.

Polson rose through the federation's provincial ranks to take on the national presidency in 1999. His three-year term coincided with a sharp increase in farmers' fortunes due to increased market demand, settled weather and favourable exchange rates.

The Labour Government involved him in Doha Round trade negotiations, where he worked behind the scenes to tell farmers in potential markets of the benefits an end to subsidies had brought New Zealand farmers.

This work became a permanent job in 2004 when he was appointed special agricultural trade envoy, a role that saw him travel the world as trade talks opened up, the latest being the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

His term was extended several times and only came to an end last year.

The recipient of several honours, including a Nuffield Scholarship, he served on a many rural-based organisations, including AgITO, the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, Veterinary Council of New Zealand, NZ Landcare Trust, Waitotara Meat Co and PPCS (later Silver Fern Farms). 

At the time of his death he was chairman of the NZ Farm Environment Trust which administers the nationwide farm environment awards.

Although he travelled widely, he was home the night floodwaters engulfed his farm in the Mangamahu Valley in February 2004.

Within two hours of water entering his home it was chest high and he and wife Bo, son Nick and their five dogs were forced to climb onto furniture.  But the water kept rising and eventually they had to escape to the roof through a skylight just before dawn. They took with them food and a change of clothing, and a hacksaw.

After a couple of hours on the roof, Polson managed to lasso his boat, which was chained to a trailer, and pull it over to the house. Then he dived in and cut the chain with the hacksaw.

They motored upstream to a neighbour's property, but the hacksaw still had not outlived its usefulness.

They came across 300 lambs trapped in a paddock surrounded by water and opened a gate to let them out.

"The lambs saw the gate open and swam for it but they missed it and got hooked up on a fence," he said.

"So I got out the old trusty hacksaw and cut the fence in two or three places and then we worked hard pushing and throwing them over the fence. We saved about 250. It was a small victory."

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Farmers were used to dealing with extremes of weather but this was a bit over the top, he said at the time.

"Some days you feel like the pigeons, some days you feel like the statue. This was definitely a statue day."

He is survived by his wife and three children. The funeral will be at Wanganui Collegiate School on Wednesday.

- Stuff

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