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The Name Behind Some Of New Zealand’s Best-known Pastures And Forage Crops Is Changing This Spring

Thirty-three years after it first teamed up with a family-owned seed business in the Netherlands, Barenbrug Agriseeds will be known as Barenbrug, effective 1 July

Managing director Michael Hales says the Royal Barenbrug Group has been part of the NZ company since it was founded, providing unique access to plant genetics, science and knowledge.

“This collaboration has been a key part of our success in the NZ pastoral industry – we would not be where we are today without it.”

While the name on the distinctive yellow seed bags will be different as of this season, Michael says farmers can be reassured everything else remains unchanged: “Our people, products and strategy remain the same.”

So too is the company’s long commitment to providing NZ pastoral producers the best seed they can grow and all the advice they need.

“The Royal Barenbrug Group has always given us the scope here in NZ to tailor the business to the needs of NZ farmers. As a result, we’ve been able to develop many innovative and successful varieties which are widely used throughout the country. We also to export these varieties to several countries, including through our subsidiary in Chile.”

Managing director Michael Hales, left, and marketing manager Graham Kerr, getting ready for the new branding from 1 July

Founded in 1904 by Joseph Barenbrug, the Group is now a fourth generation family business with 22 research programmes across six continents, and operating companies in 18 countries.

John Thijssen, global head of the Royal Barenbrug Group, says this long history of stability is no coincidence.

“We are proudly family-owned, and like their predecessors, the current owners Bastiaan and Frank Barenbrug have always been focussed on further growing the company and investing for the future generations. Rather than try and satisfy short term interests, like publicly listed companies, which think quarter to quarter, we think generation to generation.”

Likewise the Group’s truly global footprint sets it apart, both in terms of seed production and research, he says.

“Having a physical presence in six continents means we have our own people and our own knowledge and technologies developed in these different regions. It also allows us to use each other’s capabilities.

Global head of the Royal Barenbrug Group, John Thijssen, worked on a Waikato dairy farm in his younger years, and ‘fell in love’ with NZ and its unique grass based dairy systems

“From a research perspective, for example, being able to share the insights gained from our work in in all these different continents within our global research group allows us to excel as a company.”

Critically, as pastoral farming faces pressing new environmental demands, this scale gives the Group more opportunity to pursue emerging technologies in plant breeding, such as genomics and phenotyping, he says.

“These new technologies will allow us to identify plants that are more efficient users of nitrogen, more efficient users of water, and more tolerant to disease, and to do this much faster than we have traditionally been able to.

“This work is high tech, high cost, and high risk. Because we are a global group, we can afford to invest in these rather expensive techniques to allow our breeders to make big leaps forward in finding ways to address the challenges staring grassland farming in the face.”

New Zealand itself has much to offer the Group in this regard, not least in its pastoral knowledge base, which was a key factor in the Barenbrug family’s decision to become involved in the industry here more than 30 years ago.

“We look at NZ, the country, the farmers, and the institutes, as global champions of grazing grassland management. There’s a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience that we can both take from and contribute to, to further develop and grow our understanding of productive and sustainable pasture and pasture management.”

John Thijssen says Christchurch-based start-up Farmote is a perfect example of NZ’s ability to innovate in this area.

The Farmote system combines satellite-based hyperspectral technology with in-field sensors to provide farmers real time accurate insight into the amount of feed available in every paddock every day.

“We are so intrigued by this development that we have taken an equity position in that company. We see global potential there. In parallel with developing new plant genetics, we feel it’s also very important to find ways to help farmers get the best out their pastures and their grazing management.”

He may be the head of a global business turning over in excess of $NZ425 million a year, with more than 750 employees, but John Thijssen has a close and personal interest in NZ, and the NZ Barenbrug business is part of his regional responsibility.

In 1988, he did an internship on a Waikato dairy farm, and ‘fell in love’ with the country and its unique grass-based farm systems.

“I’ve always stayed in touch with what’s happening there, and I have been back many, many times.”

Barenbrug is based on a 224 ha breeding and research station in Canterbury, and has a total staff of 60 throughout NZ. Its advanced pasture and forage cultivars include several industry firsts, such as Trojan, Rohan, Shogun, Tabu+ and the new Maxsyn.

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