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Strategy The Key To Being A Top Sharemilker

Sharemilker Of The Year 2004: Strategy The Key To Being A Top Sharemilker

With entries for the Sharemilker of the Year closing in January, the country’s best sharemilkers are completing their entries. One of the competition judges tells Owen Gill what distinguishes the top sharemilkers who win the competition and what entrants at any level get out of the competition.

Bank of New Zealand Agribusiness Area Manager Peter Gunn promises entrants in the Sharemilker of the Year one thing: a quantum leap forward in their businesses, provided they prepare for the competition and they are willing to learn.

“The judging process is not a grilling, but expect to have the judges look at every part of your business under a microscope,” says Peter, who works for Bank of New Zealand in the Bay of Plenty/Hauraki area. “Entrants in the competition find out a lot about their business, and about themselves as farmers and businesspeople, because of the level of scrutiny in the judging and the interaction with other entrants.”

Peter is among the most experienced judges in the annual competition, which is aimed at celebrating the best sharemilkers in the country.

Entries for the 2004 Sharemilker of the Year close on 20 January 2004. Last year, 143 sharemilkers entered the competition, which is made up of 11 regional competitions and then a national run-off to choose the national winner. Bank of New Zealand, one of the biggest banks in New Zealand’s rural sector, is one of the sponsors supporting Sharemilker of the Year.

Since he started working for Bank of New Zealand, in 1994, Peter has judged regional competitions in Auckland, Northland, the Bay of Plenty, and the Central Plateau. Last year he was one of the finals judges for the competition.

Competitors in Sharemilker of the Year are required to disclose the performance of their operation in areas that include finance, pastoral and stock management, and strategy. Most importantly, they are required to set out some clear long-term objectives for themselves and their business, and explain how they are going to achieve those objectives.

It is that last section that separates the outstanding performers from all the rest, says Peter. “It is important for you quantify how you are going to get there in terms of dollars and time. Otherwise, you are talking about something that is just a bit of a dream really,” he says.

For many entrants, their long-term objective is to build up enough experience and equity to buy their own property. But, says Peter, farm ownership is not necessarily the only goal that people have. “These days, you see entrants who are looking at a range of options. For example, people are considering equity partnerships and all forms of off-farm investment which show a good return.”

Andrew and Jackie Siemelink, of Te Puke, agree with Peter Gunn on the importance of a solid objectives and strategy component for entries in the competition. The Siemelinks were the 2003 Bay of Plenty winners and they were the runners-up in the 2003 national competition.

“You have to show the judges that you have some dreams and aspirations,” says Andrew. “And the judges want some evidence that you know how you are going to get there.”

Andrew and Jackie first entered the competition in 1998. They steadily improved the quality of their entries until they won the 2003 Bay of Plenty regional title. Andrew says that during the period since 1998 their performance as sharemilkers improved exponentially, an improvement he credits partly to the competition.

“Where we are now, as farmers, compared to where we were in 1998 … it’s not even comparable,” says Andrew. “The biggest thing we got from Sharemilker of the Year was confidence as farmers. I have a lot more confidence now as a farmer.”

Peter Gunn says judges aim to give entrants constructive feedback that they can use immediately. Entrants receive a written report from the judges, providing comments on all aspects of their entry.

“Some of the questions that get highlighted,” says Peter, “are the quality of decision-making on the farm, whether technology is being used to its maximum potential, whether or not the professionals that work with you – your lawyers, accountants, and bankers, for example – are delivering for you.”

Peter is a graduate of Massey University and he grew up on a dairy farm near Dargaville. Today he leads Bank of New Zealand’s 16-member agribusiness team in the Bay of Plenty/Hauraki area. The team has offices in Rotorua, Tauranga, Thames, and Whakatane.

Twenty years ago Peter was working on United Nations capital investment projects in agriculture in the developing world. He has advised on rural credit – including for high-altitude rice-growing and coffee - in places as diverse as Bhutan and Papua New Guinea.

Peter says one of the most exciting aspects of the Sharemilker of the Year is seeing high-performing farmers recognised for their effort. “Judging is a real buzz, especially when you come across the crackerjack people,” he says. “The top performers put real passion into everything they do in running the business.”

And Peter sees people who flourish – personally and professionally – as a result of the competition. “In the late 1990s I saw a couple who did well in the national finals. At the time they were on a small farm in the Auckland area. On the weekend of the national finals they were offered at least five jobs. They have gone from a herd of 200 to 3,000 in the space of a few years. That’s success.”

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