Monday, April 22, 2024

Agribusiness visionary Allan Pye dies aged 83

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Self-made multimillionaire Pye was a farming legend in his native South Canterbury and beyond.
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Hard work and an eye for opportunity were behind the successful farming business of Allan Pye, who died on March 16 at the age of 83.

The agribusiness legend and self-made multimillionaire leaves behind a legacy of growth and innovation across many sectors of New Zealand farming.   

Born in South Canterbury in 1941, Pye grew up on the family farm in Temuka and after leaving school at the age of 14 began a farming career that would span almost 70 years. 

He started picking potatoes for two local farmers and instead of wages was offered seed potatoes by one of them. This started a lifelong passion for growing potatoes.

In his early days of farming Pye also owned a hay-baling business, a heading contracting business and even got into the transport business after buying a couple of trucks.  

He purchased his first block of land in 1961 at the mouth of the Orari River and a few years later bought a small block at Farm Road, which is still owned by his former wife Diana Pye and farmed by his sons’ business Pye Group today. 

From there Pye grew his farming enterprise on both sides of the Tasman and at the time of his death he owned substantial land holdings in Mid and South Canterbury; Rushy Lagoon, the biggest farm in Tasmania; and a large farming operation with his son Mark in Parilla, South Australia.

Pye was always looking at ways to improve both on farm practices and farmgate returns. He was an early adopter of irrigation after travelling to the United States to look at farming practices. 

He started a seed-dressing business and was instrumental in the formation of South Island Export Barley Society, which was set up to drive better returns to farmers for growing barley.

In 1981 he was awarded a Nuffield Scholarship and toured the United Kingdom and Europe, buying a dairy farm along the way.

He was a supplier of potatoes, carrots and peas to Watties in Timaru and when they amalgamated operations in Christchurch he worked with local farmers and businesspeople to help establish Alpine Foods, which is now the McCain factory at Washdyke.  

The relationship with McCain led Pye to Australia and the formation, with Mark, of Parilla Premium Potatoes, which is now one of Australia’s biggest potato, carrot and onion growers.  The Australian operation also includes Zerella Fresh, a South Australian fresh produce supply business. 

Hailed as perhaps his biggest business success was the formation of Dairy Holdings in 2000. 

This started in conversation with the late Allan Hubbard at a family wedding and soon after Pye set out to purchase about 30 dairy farms previously owned by Tasman Agriculture and Dairy Brands. For 14 years he was a cornerstone shareholder of what is today the largest milk supplier to Fonterra.

Other business ventures included importing alpacas from South America, importing trucks from the UK, an Australian potato crisp business, Chippies Potatoes, and shareholdings in several transport companies.  

Pye was a strong supporter of irrigation schemes in Canterbury above being a shareholder through his various land holdings. He invested funds in Rangitata South Irrigation and at a crucial time purchased excess shares in Central Plains Water, ensuring the scheme could go ahead. 

One thing standing out throughout his farming career was his collaboration with others. 

Whether it be the seed business, the Barley Society, Alpine Foods, Rushy Lagoon, Dairy Holdings or his farming partnerships with his family and other shareholders, Pye was often the visionary who surrounded himself with others that could help make those visions a reality. 

Allan John Pye is survived by his five children, 15 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.   

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