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Baldwin brings dairy perspective

South Waikato farmer, Gray Baldwin prides himself on being unconventional – and feels being a dairy farmer makes him a unique asset to the Farmlands Board of Directors.

 
Gray Baldwin.The successful North Island candidate in last year’s Director Elections, Gray farms a Lichfield dairy operation with wife Marilyn that winter milks 850 cows Jfor supply to Miraka. The operation has been once-a-day milking for the past 5 years. “This saves on cost and provides better animal welfare outcomes. Our per cow production at 410kg MS/cows is higher than the national average.”

“We’re farming 713ha at Lichfield and we have a boundary with the largest cheese factory in the world (the Lichfield Fonterra site). With 100 percent autumn calving, we’re starting to calve this month,” Gray explains.

“We also grow a significant amount of maize and that is at the heart of my relationship with Farmlands. With 162ha of maize this year, we keep about a third of it for ourselves and we sell two thirds of it to our neighbours, most of whom are Farmlands shareholders.

“The cash from the maize is used to buy lucerne for our 650-cow feed pad – with winter milking we need green feed as well as starchy maize.”

Gray’s executive career started as Marketing Manager for BNZ Agri in the late 1990s. Roles that followed included various roles with Ballance and time as CEO of Summit Quinphos, before becoming GM – Dairy Operations for Carter Holt Harvey.

“We developed 26 dairy farm conversions for Carter Holt Harvey. It took 5 years to sell them all and my workload got less as we sold them.”

The lighter schedule gave Gray an opportunity to enter governance, starting with becoming a Director of Ballance in 2009. Governance roles with Trinity Lands, LIC and South Waikato District Council followed.

Now joining the Board of Farmlands, Gray describes the co-operative as “a big company that needs good focus”.

“When I look at the three major players in rural supplies, Farmlands has the most stable shareholder base and is the most likely to succeed, given the various shareholder issues emerging with the other two,” he says.

“Taking a co-operative forward does take a little bit longer – we have got to get everyone on-side and you’ve got to support shareholders. Farmlands shareholders so comprehensively supporting the change in governance (at November’s AGM) is pretty good evidence to me that our shareholders are prepared to move with the times.

“It bodes well for the challenges in the future for the company.”

When in board meetings, Gray says he likes to think outside the box and challenge the status quo with a view to doing it better. “No company should be sitting on its haunches saying ‘we’ve always done it this way’,” he says.

“I think with my experience in other co-operatives, I know a bit about their nature. I went to the Summer Institute of Co-operative Leadership at University of Missouri in 2015 and looked at cooperatives from around the world.

 

“I think a dairy farmer’s perspective on the Board is a useful asset and Farmlands has a great opportunity to do a lot more in that space.”