Friday, July 1, 2022

Strength in numbers the key

Opposing a new sharemilking contract clause led Malcolm Piggott into farmer politics. As the new Fonterra Shareholders’ Council member told Steve Searle, the experience taught him that working together brings results. Experience as a lobbyist for sharemilkers’ rights has taught newly-elected Fonterra Shareholders’ Council (FSC) member Malcolm Piggott that a unified voice for farmers is a lot more effective than individuals alone facing a challenge. “Individuals can be picked off but when we join together we have more of a say.” The representative of Fonterra suppliers in the co-op’s Morrinsville area (ward 9) said some in the past would have seen broader industry matters as someone else’s responsibility. But the co-op’s members needed to be involved “if we want to steer a course”. Appointed initially to the FSC’s representation committee, his first choice, he believes the council provides a two-way flow of information between farmers and Fonterra’s directors.

“There are monthly ward reports that are compiled and presented by the council to the board so that linkage with the farmer is there … or you would like to think so,” said Malcolm, who was to attend his first council meeting at the end of this month..

His advocacy role for farmers began in 1999 when sharemilkers were opposing a new demand being added to some sharemilker contracts, that the sharemilker paid for all heifer grazing.

“Farm consultants thought their best interest was to maximise the return to their clients (the farm owners) and reasoned it was in the sharemilker’s interest to maintain young stock and therefore could pay for the grazing,” he said.

“It wasn’t part of a standard contract and not officially in effect but when a sharemilker job was to be advertised some farmers and their consultants had an opportunity to lever in that new clause.”

The issue prompted Malcolm to become more involved with Waikato Federated Farmers and his efforts led to him being elected as the federation’s national chair of the sharemilkers section in 2008.

A few years ago he let his membership lapse but keeps an eye on the issues facing farmers.

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Rosalie and Malcolm Piggott, with Renee, 16, and Craig, 18, are on their own farm after sharemilking for 15 years. Photo by Malcolm Piggott.

Before turning to farming Malcolm worked as a carpenter and joiner after completing a building apprenticeship. It was an experience that convinced him that the best way to train people is to work alongside them and show them the skills.

“I don’t consider myself an academic but there’s a lot of problem solving on the farm and finding a way to get something done,” he said. “I used to say to staff there’s no such word as ‘can’t’ and would often use the cliché ‘nothing is impossible’.”

He and Rosalie, who is well practised in all the jobs required to run a dairy farm, could manage their Kereone farm themselves but employ a farm assistant from Monday to Friday each week on an hourly rate to free up Malcolm for his interests, including the FSC, and to allow Rosalie time for her job as a Fonterra area manager in the Cambridge ward.

Malcolm has re-fenced the farm from 47 down to 27 even-sized paddocks to better suit a 24-hour grazing system “because I like the fact that all the day’s feed is available so the last cows to the paddock get to have a full feed”.

The dairy is a 20-aside herringbone that can be managed by one person except during spring when help is required.

The farm’s redevelopment has included laying drain coil and covering the smaller open drains, more extensive drainage of wet areas and re-grassing paddocks. Much of this work has been done following crops of turnip and maize silage put into about 10% of the farm each year.

On their different farms Malcolm said he’s always been careful with costs. A farm bike and a well-used four-wheel drive ute, useful for carrying children around the farm, are preferred over a more costly quad bike.

Their son Craig, born at the end of his parents’ first year of sharemilking in the 1993/94 season and now 18, is ready to enter university to study mechanical engineering while Renee, 16, is keen on geography and photography at high school. The family enjoys wakeboarding and other activities with their boat, usually at Lake Karapiro, or the beach.

Malcolm’s also a keen photographer and is usually carrying a camera to most places, including round the farm to capture that magic landscape shot.

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