Friday, July 1, 2022

New Faces cultivates leaders

Age brings experience but young farmers are needed to keep the wheels of succession turning.

Finding people to step into leadership roles is a common issue in agriculture. The deer industry is helping to overcome leadership succession problems by cultivating a fresh crop of “new faces” each year. They attend the Deer Farmers Association (DFA) branch chairman meeting in December, then are actively encouraged to attend the Deer Industry Conference the following May.

Each of the 22 DFA around New Zealand nominate a member to attend. From this list, between six and 10 are chosen to receive financial assistance to attend the meeting.

The New Faces initiative has been running for five years. Deer Industry NZ (DINZ) Chief Executive Mark O’Connor said the initiative was an excellent way to bring new, interested people into the industry leadership structure.

“It eases them in and allows them to see what it's all about without having the responsibility of being a branch chairman.”

He also sees value in that it helps DINZ receive another farming perspective.

DINZ Producer Manager Tony Pearse said the idea of the programme was to introduce potential leadership candidates to the structure of the Deer Farmers Association and let them interact with the DINZ board.

“It is unique in that board members can interact with the new faces. It creates camaraderie in the industry.”

The two-day meeting includes an evening social event. The initiative encourages personal succession planning and movement within the branch.

“If don’t have a succession plan people can get landed for life with the chairman’s role. It is also good for people to see that the deer industry is wider than behind the farm gate.”

Previous New Faces now involved in industry leadership include David Morgan, Kris Orange, Grant Charteris and Richard Currie.

Pearse said the candidates were encouraged to go on to further leadership training, such as the Kellogg Rural Leadership Course. 

‘new face’ 

Builder turned farmer Tahi Doonan is not only a new face in deer industry circles, he’s fairly new to deer farming altogether.

Doonan has been managing Aspen Farms for his wife’s family for 12 months, after needing a Marlborough job when the couple returned to NZ. In December he attended the Deer Farmers Association branch chair meeting as one of the New Faces.

Although once in the building business, Doonan now oversees a total of 500 hectares. This includes a cropping area under two newly installed centre pivots, 830 deer, and 1150 ewes.

His logistical management skills have been invaluable when turning his hand to the intricate web of farm management. What he may lack in farm experience he more than makes up through motivation and a thirst for information. The 34-year-old has embraced deer farming, with his enthusiasm being noted by those in deer industry leadership circles. After a nomination from the Marlborough Deer Farmers Association (DFA), Doonan was invited to attend the Wellington meeting of branch chairman of all the DFAs.

He said the New Faces programme was a fantastic opportunity to meet leaders in the deer industry.

“It was really good to meet the people I’ve read about in magazines. Grant Charteris was great to talk to.”

Doonan is hoping to help reverse the trend of declining membership in the local associations.

“Every person that got up to speak [at the meeting] said shrinking membership was an issue.”

The first time Doonan handled deer was 2010, the day before his wedding to Olivia. He was watching his future father-in-law saw off velvet and offered to “get in there” and help him. He survived the experience and had no black eyes for the wedding.

Now he is putting his own stamp on the farm, with a plan to lift hind numbers to 1000 and drop sheep numbers. He is also phasing out velveting stags as he believes venison production is a better fit with the ewe lambing system. 

  • To read more about Tahi Doonan, see the March/April edition of Young Country Magazine. 
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