Wednesday, July 6, 2022

World-beaters in sustainability

Central Hawke’s Bay deer farmers Tim Aitken and Lucy Robertshawe have won a prestigious international farming award.

SHOWCASING NZ: Tikokino deer farmers Lucy Robertshawe and Tim Robertshawe think winning the Marks & Spencer Farming for the Future Award was not only a win for them, but a win for New Zealand agriculture.

They were recently named 2012 “champion of champions” in the Marks & Spencer Farming for the Future Award.

It’s not only a win for them, but a win for New Zealand agriculture, Aitken said.

The annual award celebrates farmers in the British retailer’s supply chain taking great steps to improve the sustainability of their business.

In a two-stage process, the Firstlight Venison suppliers first won the international section of the competition against 50 entries. Then via the Marks & Spencer website, they won a public vote against suppliers in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England.

Marks & Spencer’s head of agriculture and fisheries sourcing, Steve McLean, said the judges were impressed by the work Tim and Lucy had done on enhancing the natural environment and water quality on their farm, their involvement in research and development, their approach to animal welfare and how they shared their knowledge with the wider farming community.

Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills said winning the champion of champions award showed that Tim and Lucy won the hearts and minds of a discerning British public who supported them in the popular vote.

He wanted all NZ farmers to follow their example and lead the world in innovative animal welfare and environmental management.

Aitken and Robertshawe are Firstlight Venison shareholders and suppliers, farming 600 breeding hinds and their progeny near Tikokino.

“I don’t see myself as any better than a lot of other farmers, so it is fantastic recognition for NZ agriculture,” he said.

While the prize money is modest at £1000, Aitken said the win had wider benefits, including vindicating what they are trying to achieve at Firstlight.

Firstlight Venison is a producer group, with 25 farmers in a partnership with Firstlight Foods. Firstlight Foods takes a commission and the farmers own their product into the market.

“It is really interesting that the farmers involved have really taken ownership of their product and are really passionate about it and what they do. We are selling to the consumer.”

Aitken saw Firstlight’s chilled venison products – barbeque patties, sausages and steaks – for sale in Marks & Spencer during a marketing visit in 2010.

Every couple of years Firstlight suppliers visit the market to carry out promotional campaigns including taste testing in supermarkets.

Moving to supply Firstlight seven years ago had changed the way he and Robertshawe farmed, he said.

“I don’t look at the schedule anymore; I don’t ring up stock agents. All I do is look after the animals and supply the best product I can.

“If there is a problem in the market, it is our problem and we fix it. We are trying to supply into the UK every week and we haven’t missed a delivery yet in seven years.”

Firstlight customers also came out to NZ and visited their farms. “It’s really nice to have those relationships.”

They were looking 10 years out at these long-term relationships, he said. “It changes your whole focus and how you think.”

Aitken said the award was recognition for the hard work they had put in on their farm and it was fantastic to win. “But what has really blown us away is the people who have got behind us and supported us.”

He hoped they would be able to visit the market again soon, but said their focus now was on maximising the benefits for NZ venison and agriculture.

“This sort of award doesn’t come around every year.”

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