Saturday, December 9, 2023

Signing up for 24,000ha of sustainability

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Rural investment and property management giant attracts new talent.
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Rural investment and management company Craigmore Sustainables recently appointed Reuben Casey chief operating officer after his 12 years in leadership roles for the retailer Kathmandu. He told Hugh Stringleman how Craigmore aligns with his values.

Craigmore Sustainables is now the largest diversified rural investment and property management company in New Zealand, managing more than 24,000ha across 54 dairy, grazing, forestry and horticultural properties.

It has over $1 billion of capital under management from international and NZ farming family investors and equity partners, and employs more than 250 people.

During 2022, new capital of over $250 million was placed into the Permanent Crop Partnership, the Forestry Partnership, the Totara Forestry Partnership and the Craigmore Farming Partnership.

Craigmore was founded 15 years ago by Forbes Elworthy, of the well-known South Canterbury farming family, who divides his time between the United Kingdom and NZ.

He also founded Map of Agriculture, a global data platform company operating in the UK and NZ.

Craigmore has three operating divisions in the primary sector – horticulture with a capital value of approximately $400 million, farming $400m and forestry $200m.

The main activities are 22 dairy farms in the South Island, apples, grapes and forestry on the east coast of the North Island, kiwifruit in Bay of Plenty, and kiwifruit, avocados and forestry in Northland. 

In January Craigmore announced the appointment of Reuben Casey as chief operating officer and Con Williams as general manager of horticulture.

Casey says Craigmore has a focus on sustainability, innovation and trying to lead the industries and create a halo effect.

The company’s values align with his, especially in creating a holistic impact for the shareholders, employees and the communities in which it operates.

“These industries – farming, horticulture and forestry – have been the backbone of New Zealand’s economy for such a long time,” Casey says.

“We have this amazing competitive advantage in being able to grow things better than other parts of the world.”

Craigmore has chosen to concentrate its productive facilities in the regions of the country best suited to these activities – horticulture in Northland, Bay of Plenty and Hawke’s Bay, forestry in Tairāwhiti and Northland, and dairying in eastern districts of the South Island.

Outside of those regions it has hop-growing interests in Nelson province and minority shareholdings, without management responsibility, in A2 milk specialist Argyll Farms and in the larger Southland-based Fortuna Group, with 15 dairy farms.

Casey’s role as chief operating officer includes the three divisions of farming, horticulture and forestry and the support functions, like IT and human resources.

The similarities to his previous role at Kathmandu include widely dispersed teams of people who have to be valued and empowered with strong systems.

Craigmore’s chief executive officer, Che Charteris, looks after finance, investments, acquisitions, and capital and has led the company locally since 2010.

In the company’s 2022 Impact and Sustainability Report, Charteris said that investing in natural assets and revitalising rural communities is crucial to improving social equity, reversing biodiversity loss and addressing climate change.

The company’s aim is a long-term land management business of people and partners in responsible land use change going well beyond just buying a few farms.

Craigmore Farming Partnership had one Hawke’s Bay apple orchard leased to Mr Apple completely inundated by floodwaters during Cyclone Gabrielle and it is being assessed for tree damage. 

Kauri Forestry is one dedicated forestry partnership, managed in partnership with GlenSilva GmbH, and capital is being raised for another. The focus is on harvesting for the construction sector rather than carbon farming.

Forestry blocks have extra-wide riparian planting of significant waterways in natives to minimise the impact of slash, and harvesting has been delayed on some properties where it was felt the overall catchment was already exposed due to other harvesting activity.

Craigmore has also committed to developing a proof-of-concept net-zero dairy farm by 2035 with minimal off-farm offsetting, within its overall greenhouse gas emissions reduction work programme.

Casey says the company’s target is to reduce GHG emissions 50% by 2030 when compared with when Craigmore took over management responsibility.

“With the support of others, we are trying to be innovative and responsible and show industries what can be done.”

The 2022 Impact and Sustainability Report summarised Craigmore’s changes in land use that have resulted in GHG reductions.

Prior to Craigmore purchase, the farms portfolio ran 240,000 livestock units and that has now been reduced to 189,000.

The orchards had 300,000 trees and vines and that count is now four times larger at 1.2 million. The original 1.5 million timber trees have increased to 9.2 million.

“Based on net cradle-to-gate estimates, Craigmore investment can be estimated to reduce the annual emissions of the previous land use by 100,000t of CO2e, as farms have been transformed into forests and orchards.”

Wiroa orchard near Kerikeri airport in Northland was a 137ha dairy farm purchased in 2019 for conversion to kiwifruit.

When fully converted it will have 12ha of red, 70ha of gold, 4.4ha of bush remnant where kiwi live and 17ha of native plantings on slopes and gullies unsuitable for orchards.

On that orchard Craigmore has an agreement with Zespri to trial replacements for Hi-Cane dormancy breaker.

Most of the new products are fertiliser-based instead of sprays and are likely to have fewer ecological side-effects.

When fully developed and certified, about 25% of Craigmore’s kiwifruit will be organically managed.

Newly appointed horticulture general manager Con Williams, formerly from MyFarm and ANZ Bank, said the opportunity to work at large commercial scale on innovative projects attracted him to the new role.

“My observation so far is of high-powered people in specialised roles, particularly at the large Springhill site now developed in Central Hawke’s Bay, where I was from,” Williams says.

“It is one of the biggest single-site horticultural developments in NZ at 480ha, and at maturity will produce 12,000t of apples and over 2000t of grapes annually.

“Craigmore has a mission and purpose that is inspiring.”

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