Never stop learning

Julian Raine proves education and perspiration brings the right rewards.

image 1Twenty years after he became a Nuffield Scholar, Julian Raine is still finding new ways to turn the theoretical into practical. Dairy. Beef. Horticulture. Hops. Forestry.

This is not a roll call of the different industries in the primary sector – just the ones Nelson’s Julian Raine involves himself in. It sounds like a hectic existence but Julian seems to take it all in his stride.

From a strong farming family, Julian is a Director and shareholder in Wai-West Horticulture – just over 200 hectares of apples, berryfruit and gold kiwifruit. Further down the road, he still manages Oaklands, the dairy farm that has been in his family since 1844. The 200 cow, 460 hectare operation is complemented by a 400 cow, 300 hectare operation at Motupiko.

It’s one of New Zealand’s oldest farms but Oaklands these days finds itself sandwiched between urban sprawl. The realities of urbanisation do not daunt Julian, as he is passionate about the value of local production.

“Oaklands Milk is its own brand and goes to cafés, restaurants and vending machines in Nelson, plus there is a home delivery service,” he explains. “We also have Aunt Jean’s, which is our supermarket brand. “All of our milk is delivered in glass bottles, so when the restaurants, cafés and home delivery are finished with their milk, all the glass bottles come back to us to be sterilised and re-used. With Aunt Jean’s, the bottles can just go into the recycling.”

Glass bottles and value-add milk is only one aspect of the Oaklands story. Nelson is also centre stage to another unique Oaklands initiative – milk vending machines.

“It came about partly by necessity – our winter contract was cancelled and we were a longtime winter milker, roughly about 80 years.

Image 2I was the last Chairman of Nelson Milk before the shareholders agreed to sell to Kiwi Dairies, one of the three parties that formed Fonterra in the late 1990s,” Julian explains.

“We had been milking as a town supply farmer for decades and leading up to that, milk used to be taken from Nelson and trucked to Christchurch. They didn’t renew our contract so we felt there were a couple of things we could do – we were more remote from where our milk came from and there was an opportunity to get back closer to the Nelson customers. It was evident in some of the other industries I’m in that people had become more remote from where their food is produced.”

In his various travels, Julian had seen vending machines in villages, so contacted a manufacturer in Italy. After a year’s planning, the machines were imported and rolled out to the public. The initiative is an example of what Julian describes as “looking at complex issues from every angle”.

Image 3He credits the Nuffield Scholar programme, which he completed in 1997, as critical to his growth in this area. Julian focused his Nuffield Scholar studies around integrated fruit production. His travels on the subject took him to Europe, South East Asia and North and South America. So how did a man from a longstanding dairy family find a passion for horticulture?

“I live in Nelson and I wanted to continue to live in Nelson. Nelson isn’t renowned for its dairy, so you’ve got to think where the future is – the future is we grow really good fruit here and a wide range of fruit. I thought if I’m going to be involved in farming in its broader sense then I need to learn a wide range of skills,” he says.

Nuffield provided an opportunity to develop and Julian was keen to know more through an obvious thirst for knowledge. “There were obviously some things about integrated fruit production that I wanted to bridge the gap between the growers and scientists. I wanted to become the translator between the scientists and what they said and those in the field.”

Applying what he learned during his studies has paid dividends. Understanding the life cycles of insects and the associated scouting techniques have become standard since the early 2000s.

“Understanding the timing of chemicals rather than calendar spraying, which was true 2 decades ago, has been important. We are now far more sophisticated in what we do when we are targeting specifically.

“In the apple industry, we have developed very sophisticated systems to a point there are nil detectable residues at harvest time. It is very friendly chemistry now that is targeting specific species and is environmentally friendly.

“Apple futures as well, which is now the apple standard for the industry. That evolved around the time of the initial study and the majority of the industry is now done through apple futures.”

Image 4Since his studies, Julian has developed an intensive governance portfolio. Aside from his involvement with Oaklands and Wai-West Horticulture, he is President of Horticulture New Zealand, Chairman of Boysenberries New Zealand and is on the Board of New Zealand Hops.

“The Nuffield way is to give back to the industry and community for the rest of your life – not in the thinking of ‘it’s a life sentence’ – but people have invested in you and you need to repay that investment.

“It’s kind of like a moral contract and you’re doing it all the time. Nuffield has a great global network – not just New Zealand but the UK, Ireland, France, Netherlands, Canada, Australia – we’re also forming beachheads in Brazil – so it is well on the way to forming a global network of farmers and thought leaders.”

The global networks have provided a valuable sounding board for Julian with his many ventures. He says his family have had a long association with the hop industry, which is going through an exciting period at the moment. A Director of grower Himetai Hops, Julian says new entrants to the market are being kept busy trying to satisfy some of the demand coming out of the craft beer industry.

image 5Beef is a sideline to the dairy operation, although they are now able to rear their own calves. Julian says the change came out of the public concern for bobby calves. “I know it’s not practical for every farmer but we have sufficient land to rear our own beef and sell them to other farmers to grow them on for the beef market, or we grow them on,” he says.

When you add in the 100 hectares of forestry – a long-term investment consisting of mainly Pinus radiata with redwood, cypress and Douglas fir thrown in – it makes for an extensive portfolio. Julian insists dairy is the main focus for him at present, as they continue to push value-add products.

“We’ve put in a new dairy and now have a public viewing room. We get lots of school groups – we have one coming from Richmond today and we’re hosting secondary school students tomorrow,” he says. “We have regular viewings with school groups, who come and see where their food is produced, rather than buying it from the supermarket and having no idea where their food came from.” Julian says he opens up the farm to connect people to the realities of food production, while trying to remain grounded with public thought.

“People refer to it as the urban/rural divide – this is about bridging that,” he says. “We’ve learned things talking to kids and parents and they’ve learned things from us.

It’s the same philosophy when I’m selling boysenberries around the world. We have a good idea of where the trends are and we need to keep up. It’s a two way street – we’re always talking about the issues we have, what’s too costly, what’s not working or what we have in place.”

Image 6The previously mentioned ability to “look at complex issues from every angle” is key to keeping up.

As Julian explains, “some people try and solve a problem and look at it from one direction. Nuffield has given me the ability to walk around a problem and look at all the different aspects.”

The advice Julian gives any aspiring Nuffield Scholar is simple – the support network is already there.

“There’s more than 100 Nuffield Scholars around New Zealand. Go and talk to one – you can go online and look on the website and there is lists of farmers there. You can pick up the phone and talk to Anne Hindson, who is the General Manager. There is plenty of help there.

“There’s also the Kellogg Rural Leadership Programme, which is also better known. It’s seen as a stepping stone for Nuffield. There’s about 40-50 places a year in the Kellogg Programme and that can give you a taste of where it is going to lead you.”

It is sage advice from someone that has put his theory into practice. That being said, he’s happy to avoid branching out into another industry anytime soon.

“I think there’s enough on my plate at the moment, I’m just doing more of the same.”

For more information about Nuffield Scholarships and the Kellogg Rural Leadership Programme, visit www.nuffield.org.nz or www.kellogg.org.nz