This year’s Rabobank agribusiness awards were also held in New Zealand for the first time.
Hocken, director of Grassmere Dairy, a family-owned, 1000-cow dairy operation has been intensively involved both on the farm growing the business and in local and national agribusiness ventures.
His return to the family business in 2013 came after a lengthy academic and professional career that included doing a masters degree in political science and government at Cambridge University in Britain.
The age-grade NZ rugby representative also played for Belgium’s national team while working in both government and industry consulting roles in Belgium and Australia.
Hocken has been Federated Farmers dairy sector chairman and an associate director of the NZ Rural Leadership Trust. He was also a Nuffield Scholar in 2017 when he examined the challenges around agricultural innovation.
In his report Hocken identified agriculture’s wicked problems prompted by trying to produce more food for more people off less land with a smaller environmental footprint.
He identified how the speed of innovation and uptake was making the usual top-down research-development-extension model typical of NZ farming redundant.
He maintained farmers and growers are the key component missing from most research models and getting them engaged up front would help speed up solutions development.
Hocken has championed farmers to get on board with innovation and that prompted him to help establish a collaborative innovation network in Manawatu for farmers with innovative ideas.
That resulted in the Rural Innovation Lab, which held a muster last month, showcasing farm and grower entrepreneurs forming its first candidates in a project that got $400,000 from the Provincial Growth Fund and a further $750,000 from other parties.
The early innovations include an aerial enabling better digital connectivity across the farm and a digital network to make farm technology more user-friendly.
Rabobank Australia and NZ managing director Peter Knoblanche said Hocken has demonstrated an ability to pull together a broad collaboration of people including iwi, farmers, tech companies and scientists to focus on the challenges facing this country’s food and agricultural sector.
Hocken paid tribute to his family, farm staff and mentors in accepting his award.
“I am very fortunate to have a supportive family network and a great team on farm. This has enabled me to pursue a number of off-farm projects,” he said.
The supreme 2019 Rabobank Leadership Award went to Volker Kuntzsch, chief executive of Sanford, NZ’s largest seafood company.