NZ Dairy Winter 2022

96 | nzdairy Di Malcolm DAIRY PEOPLE CANTERBURY » Rhys Roberts Rhys and Kiri Roberts have helped a number of Align Farms’ international employees gain New Zealand residency, including Teddie Mallari (pictured left). Teddie is in the process of making New Zealand his home. Photo: Johnny Houston Five opportunities in focus for Align Farms New Zealand’s dairy industry can’t rely on yesterday’s solutions to solve tomorrow’s problems, according to the Chief Executive Of cer and Director of Align Farms Ltd, Rhys Roberts. Align Farms includes eight properties (six dairy farms with two support farms) milking 5000 cows on just under 1900 hectares in Mid Canterbury. It is a nalist in this year’s ANZ Business of the Year – Excellence in Primary Industries. Rhys believes the industry has cornered itself, and that its sustainable way forward and back into the hearts of urban New Zealanders comes down to diversity and fresh thinking. He said Covid-19 has exposed New Zealand’s “addiction to international employees”, and while it might have solved the labour problem, that reliance has – over time – disenfranchised urban Kiwis from appreciating where their food comes from. He is honest about what are the two things that drive Government decision making in New Zealand – the majority and tax receipts. “I don’t think we’ll win the majority debate right now in regional New Zealand,” Rhys said. “But one thing we can in uence is tax receipts. And I genuinely feel that is the opportunity.” This self-confessed “actionist” believes the latter will be key to the short-term solutions, and the former remains critical for dairying’s safe passage into 2040. “If we can win back our children, we will win back the majority and if we hand over businesses that are more robust, that will go a long way to allowing them to adapt to diversity.” With the government bearing down on dairying communities as it pushes to regulate allowable levels of nitrates in waterways from 11.3 milligrams per litre to closer to 2.4, Rhys stands as a voice of reason coming from the people, who know the difference between what’s possible and what could crush the industry. “We can make structural changes in our business and get to 6.3, but to get to 2.4 (based on the information I have) sounds likes it’s a wholesale change to forestry. “My personal opinion is that there needs to be a level of policy change otherwise it will reduce tax receipts, and that will drive policy change anyway. I probably take a relatively optimistic view that we will get that. But we would have rocks in our heads to suggest that the issue will ever go away.” Rhys says there are ve opportunities that Align Farms is focussed on to have a sustainable business in 20-30 years including lowering stocking rates and pushing per cow production; re-focussing its wintering programme; engaging young New Zealanders; embracing diversity of land use and changing the succession result. “We have a stocking rate of four cows/ha right now. Our ve-10-year goal is to get it to three cows/ha producing 600kg Milk Solids/cow on a grass-based diet with less than 500kg of supplement going into the cows. We have invested in cow collars, DNA testing, we’re using bespoke matings, and increasing herd testing so we are breeding from the elite cows. We have the intention of dropping 1500-2000 cows out of our business in the next 10 years.” He noted that if Align Farms’ whole herd produced as much as the top 20 cows in its business, it would only need 2500 cows to achieve the same production as it is getting from 5000 cows now. “Soil run-off is controversial, but it’s a critical mitigation option that we do have in front of us. No farmer purposely allows soil to run off their property however with rain events with bare soil available it does happen. Maybe we need to invest in soil traps, or cover cropping or shelter. I’m not sure, but I’m certainly focussed on it.” “Our addiction to off-shore labour has caused us to really take our focus off young New Zealanders, and they have – in turn – lost their connection to where food is produced. The generation that are now policy makers in Wellington have left a bit high and dry, to be fair. In my view by re-focusing on the younger generation and sharing sustainable food practices with them will go a long way to waking up in 2035-2040 with a really highly engaged population that is supportive of farming and food production.” “Why can’t we have 30% of the farm in dairy, 30% in horticulture, 15% in arable, 10% in forestry, 5% in viticulture, 5% in native retirement area, and No8HR congratulates Rhys & the team at Align Farms on their on-going innovations & success 07 870 4901 We love to help businesses like Align Farms to comply and thrive. • HR - lead your teamwell, and stay compliant • Recruitment - find & get the right people into your business • Leadership development - maximise the performance of your team& business • Payroll - let us take away the headache, and give you the confidence your payroll is right every time. Proudly supporting Rhys Roberts and Align Farms 03 308 2321 | 1 Smallbone Dr, Ashburton | Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 8am-5.30pm; Saturday 9am-12pm VetEnt is proud to work with the Align Group