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New woman at the helm of IrrigationNZ

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Irrigation New Zealand is to be guided by a new chief executive in a new location and with a refreshed strategy. Annette Scott talked with Vanessa Winning about her new role.
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Vanessa Winning | October 28, 2020 from GlobalHQ on Vimeo.

Former DairyNZ farm performance manager Vanessa Winning is looking forward to leading New Zealand’s irrigation sector as it heads into a new era of management and renewed focus.

Winning has been appointed the new chief executive of IrrigationNZ, taking up the role in the organisation’s new Wellington base.

Following a review of the organisation’s activities the board, in July, put renewed focus on solving the tension between the fundamental need for irrigation in a post-covid NZ and the sector’s increasingly restricted license to operate.

The board has restructured the organisation to reflect a new two-pronged approach to focus on advocacy at a national level, as well as deliver value on the ground in the regions.

This included moving IrrigationNZ’s headquarters from Christchurch to Wellington and appointing a new chief executive to lead the organisation from the capital city.

While home base for Winning is Auckland, she is used to commuting for her work.

“I have been commuting for many years for work, and I have good friends around the country with spare rooms to stay,” she said.

“I figure in my new role now with IrrigationNZ that I will spend half my time in Wellington, a quarter in Canterbury and the other quarter in the rest of the North Island.”

IrrigationNZ will be based in Wellington with Federated Farmers and Beef + Lamb NZ.

“I just started this week, so I’m literally just getting my feet under the desk,” she said.

A strategic executive leader with more than 20 years’ experience in the agriculture, banking and corporate sectors, Winning brings exceptional stakeholder management and engagement skills to her new role.

In her most recent role as general manager of farm performance at DairyNZ, Winning led a large team across the country to help farmers improve their businesses and reduce environmental impacts. 

Before DairyNZ she was 18 years in banking, trade, product development marketing and communications. 

Winning has also recently completed a contract for the Federation of Maori Authorities (FOMA) on a He Waka Eke Noa project.

IrrigationNZ chair Keri Johnston says the irrigation sector has much work ahead to continue building public trust and bridge knowledge gaps about the benefits that fair water management can bring to both communities and the environment.

“We believe Vanessa (Winning) is the right person to drive this,” she said.

“She has the strategic vision to lead our sector in the right direction; she partners to achieve positive outcomes, has commercial experience to grow an effective organisation, understands the primary sector and has worked in it managing large teams, and can navigate the increasingly complex area of water management in NZ.”

Winning says she has always been passionate about agriculture as a sector that is meaningful with a purpose to make a difference.

“Water is important and the conversation that more water means more functional use of land is not being had enough,” she said.

“I see so much potential for water in our country; its sensible harvesting, fair management and pragmatic use for balanced outcomes across the economy, environment and all of our communities, including mana whenua.

“I can’t wait to get stuck into the role.”

Winning’s key role in the new focus for IrrigationNZ is to cement the sector’s seat at the table of central and local government.

“I want to get the conversation moved away from water quality to derisking water capture, and quality will flow on from there,” she said.

Winning believes all governments understand the importance of water to NZ.

“But with so much politics around water, some of the meaningful science is not coming out,” she said.

Connecting members and supporting irrigation schemes will remain a priority as Winning also eyes opportunity for greater involvement with iwi.

“There is massive opportunity for Maori to use their unproductive land and reduce the impacts they are trying to achieve,” she said.

During her tenure as a senior executive, Winning has given time to several not-for-profit organisations, including as a board member of Surf Lifesaving NZ and, until recently, the board of the Institute of Primary Industry Management professionals.

She is on the organising committee of Ahuwhenua and the Pasture Summit, a farmer-led board focused on pasture-based farming.

In her spare time she enjoys running.

“I’m a bit of a plodder really. I’ve run a few marathons, but I’m literally there to complete (and) not to compete,” she said.

In addition to appointing a new chief executive in Wellington, IrrigationNZ has established a new position of regional policy and planning manager, taken on by former chief executive Elizabeth Soal.

Based out of her hometown Oamaru, Soal will represent and support members in regional planning changes following the roll-out of new freshwater regulations and amendments to the RMA. 

This role will assist members on-the-ground to understand the important changes, undertake advocacy and policy work at the regional level, support the chief executive’s national advocacy work by providing regional perspectives into national policy development, and work with stakeholders around developing regionally-led water infrastructure solutions.

Soal says she is looking forward to continuing to work for an organisation that supports a growing sector.

“When I joined IrrigationNZ two years ago, I was impressed by the ongoing commitment both farmers and growers had to their water management and those who work in the freshwater and irrigation industries right around the country,” Soal said.

“Irrigation will play a pivotal part in the sustainability of NZ’s future, both the economy and environment.

“Irrigators will provide resilience against many challenges in years to come – who knows what they may be if 2020 has been anything to go by.”

Winning says the regional policy role is going to play a key part in the wider focus and strategy for IrrigationNZ.

“Elizabeth (Soal) is the very right person for this,” she said.

“We will complement one another, representing and working with the organisation from the grassroots level through to the strategic levels.”

IrrigationNZ will be guided post-covid by its refreshed strategy, which will advocate for irrigation as core to a healthy and thriving Aotearoa New Zealand  by supporting the industry’s wise use and management of water for resilient and responsible food and fibre production.

Winning says it’s important to tackle the unbalanced pressure on the industry for the good of all communities.

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