Environmental record a key Landcorp concern

GERALD PIDDOCK
Last updated 07:29 17/06/2014
Landcorp chief executive Steven Carden
Fairfax NZ
ENVIRONMENT KEY: The lack of answers to improving agriculture’s environmental footprint was of huge concern, Landcorp chief executive Steven Carden says.

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Landcorp has to play a greater role in improving farming's environmental footprint, the organisations chief executive Steven Carden said.

The lack of real solutions to reducing nitrogen leaching was extremely worrying, Carden said in his keynote address at the Agricultural Communicator of the Year Awards in Hamilton.

"I think at this point it's unsolvable based on the current science that exists, the technologies that exist and the farm systems we are using."

"The one thing that worries me the most and our viability as a long term industry is our ability to get the whole environmental piece right," he said.

Carden signalled a shakeup at the organisation as he tries to turn the company into the best large scale farming business in the country.

Landcorp, along with other organisations had to work really hard to try and fix environmental issues.

If they don't there will not be a sustainable farming sector in the future, he said.

"I don't want that and I know most people in this sector don't want that."

The environment will be central to the stories Landcorp wanted to tell about their organisation going into the future.

Issues around nitrate leaching were a national issue and was the biggest challenge farming faced environmentally.

"More work needs to be done in the industry before we can be confident that we are going to be able to solve the nitrogen issue environmentally without compromising productivity."

The only alternative was to destock and deintensify farming systems, which would come at an environmental cost, he said.

Landcorp's 137 farms varied across the country in stock and land class. That allowed the company to build up a wide range of knowledge around how to manage nutrients effectively.

Landcorp had environmental plans for each of their farms which outlined how they are to develop environmentally. That allowed their farm managers to accurately measure the N impact across different farming practises. "That will be quite useful for the research community going forward as well as looking for techniques to mitigate."

Landcorp had achieved wealth and productivity on its farm that were on land that was a challenge to farm on, he said.

It was a cost to the taxpayer when it was established, bleeding $30-$40 million to the taxpayer every year. Today, it has 137 farms and employs 700 people nationwide.

"This year we will make an operating profit of $30 million and for the last 27 years we have returned a dividend to the government of 25 of those 27 years."

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There was a lot that Landcorp could do better, he said.

"We have 137 farms, some of which are fantastic, but there's a whole bunch that are pretty average and mediocre.

Landcorp had an obligation as the country's largest farmer to show some leadership in an environment that was getting increasingly tougher to farm in.

Carden wanted Landcorp to be lean, hungry, flexible and adaptive and become the world's best farming organisation. He said the organisation would have no credibility if it was not focused on achieving the best financial result day in day out on all of their farms.

He also wanted to focus on turning Landcorp into an organisation that focused on the end consumer and tailor what they were producing to what the end consumer wanted.

The best days of the New Zealand primary sector were ahead of it, but the extent of which the industry needed to lift its game could not be underestimated.

Farming's reputation greatly concerned young people. As a result, it was struggling to attract them into the industry. Farming had a horrible track record when it came to safety. The hard, rugged farming persona was an inappropriate attitude that needed to change.

Landcorp would put huge amount of effort in the future into people. Their success was based on having the best managers running their farms, he said.

He said the organisation's workers cared deeply and passionately about Landcorp, farming and its future. Carden said it infuriated him when people told him that Landcorp employees were uncaring.

Landcorp had a "dodgy" reputation amongst people, which Carden said was due to a lack of understanding about the organisation's role.

"We have some unbelievably good staff across the organisation, but like any organisation we have a whole range of staff that are probably not as good as they should be and have probably reached the point where they don't care."

In an organisation that is desperate for talent and striving to improve, Landcorp cannot have people that do not care as passionately as others, he said.

He said he was under no illusion his priorities would be extremely difficult to achieve.

"The whole company is full of energy to improve performance by being safer, more efficient and more productive farmers.

"We want to demonstrate that profitable and environmentally responsible farming go hand in hand."

He wanted New Zealanders to see how good farming was for the country, and for young people to see farming as a career.

"Our goals are ambitious, and we won't always get it right, but we'll always front up and share with the industry and all New Zealanders the places we are finding success, as well as where we still need to do better."

- Waikato Times

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