Young leader’s vision

Nigel Woodhead completed the Kellogg Rural Leadership programme in 2019 and that same year, sat at the most sought-after strategy table in NZAg – the Primary Sector Council. The young Otago farmer reflects on his leadership journey so far.

The rise from sheep and beef farmer to in-demand leader has required hard work and sacrifice but if Nigel is going to do something, he goes all in. In his roles, the Farmlands shareholder has felt compelled to make sure young farmers’ voices are heard at the top table.

Back in 2018, Minister Damien O’Connor set the Primary Sector Council’s 15 agribusiness leaders the task of creating a unified vison and strategy to help the agriculture, food and fibre industries gain more sustainable value from their work.

“We wanted to produce an output with meaning, not just another report that sits on the Minister’s desk,” Nigel says. Initially, Nigel was asked to be an Observer for the panel, on the back of his 2017 FMG Young Farmer of the Year win. The idea being that he would watch and learn but the natural leader was soon sharing his thoughts and was recruited onto the decision-making team.

“I make a daily living on-farm and have a young family so I had to sacrifice time by being away but it was too good an opportunity to turn down.

“I was very lucky to be involved with so many amazing, successful, smart people who had real-world experience in change management and vision setting.

“I think it is my generation and my children’s generation who are set to gain hugely from the vision we came up with, so I felt an obligation to stay in the room and make a difference.”

Nigel commuted to Wellington to contribute on the ‘Taiao’ working group – the guiding methodology behind the Council’s vision. This statement was launched in December and entitled ‘Fit for a Better World’.

“For me, the vision had to be challenging and future focused but relevant for farmers like me. We wanted to position our sector for the future, saying this is where we see ourselves making the biggest gains – then each business owner can make changes in their own world that will contribute to NZ Inc,” he says.

Nigel says the response from farmers has been positive, with many identifying that the vision aligns with their own.

Back then, Nigel was busy juggling a 400ha farm in Milton, toddler and government strategy – but that did not put him off taking his leadership training further. With an evident passion for fresh produce, Nigel decided on this as a theme for his Kellogg Rural Leadership research project.

“My wife, Leanne ordered a box of avocados from a Bay of Plenty orchard via Facebook – they turned up on our doorstep 2 days after being picked and were absolutely beautiful,” he enthuses.

Shorter, accessible supply chains formed the premise of his December 2019 Kellogg report, titled ‘First, catch your crayfish – Linking NZ food producers and consumers for everyone’s benefit’. He believes that there is the need and want for an independent digital platform to marry up consumer and producer – enabling Kiwis to access the best fresh food New Zealand is known for, and ensure producers get the cut they deserve.

“I wanted to work on something related to the work I was doing for the Council. I think it is my generation and my children’s generation who are set to gain hugely from the vision we came up with, so I felt an obligation to stay in the room and make a difference.

Although the e-commerce platform is definitely a tactical layer underneath all that strategy stuff. It helps to answer some of the many ‘so what?’ questions which naturally arise from the vision statement.”

Nigel was inspired by the work of Eat New Zealand and hopes that an organisation like that will pick up on his ‘digital farmers’ market’ concept and run with it.

“COVID-19 has seen some private companies start up in this space as middlemen but based on my research, I believe profits should go straight back to the person who has worn the risk and who is responsible for the quality of that produce.”

After 2 years in a national leadership role, Nigel aims to work on his own farm business plan for now, give back to the FMG Young Farmer of the Year via its Contest Board, and lead a more mindful, connected life. He believes the pandemic’s lockdown has helped to nurture that local-first mindset and the Woodheads hope it will remain.

This next phase may allow Nigel a little time to sit back, reflect on his leadership journey and enjoy the taste of ripe avocados.

“I like to think I’m a natural leader, but I reckon it only comes with time. You need to prove yourself and build other’s trust in you (and in yourself). No one can tell you how to be a great leader.”

Applications for the next Kellogg Rural Leadership programme close on 14 th October.

Images courtesy of FMG and Nigel Woodhead.

The Kellogg Rural Leadership Programme has been developing rural agribusiness leaders for nearly 40 years. There are two intakes of 24 participants each year, selected to represent diversity among the sector. Farmlands is proud to be a programme partner.