Passion shown for ag industry

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Kiri, and Rhys Roberts who has been named a finalist in the Zanda McDonald Award.

Mid Canterbury’s Rhys Roberts has been named a transtasman finalist in the Zanda McDonald Award.

The award is touted as Australasia’s agricultural badge of honour.

Mr Roberts was one of eight finalists; four in New Zealand and four in Australia, selected for their passion for the industry, strong leadership skills, and the contributions they were making in the primary sector.

He is chief executive officer of Align Farms Group in Mid Canterbury, and farms with his wife Kiri, who is farm manager, at Align Clareview at Westerfield.

The Align Farms Group, founded by directors John Buchanan and Rob Cameron, is made up of seven farms in Mid Canterbury, covering 1786 hectares and milking 4500 cows.

Clareview – a 296 hectare property – was bought by the group in 2013 and is the largest farm in the Align group.

They milk 1080 cows on a 80 bail rotary, achieving around 480,000 milk solids per year supplying Westland Milk Products.

And have a number of initiatives in place to help them along their journey including a roster system app where staff choose their work days in four week periods, and a five year trial in place to collect data on regenerative dairy farming on a commercial scale.

Mr Roberts has spent more than 20 years in the industry and was continually working to find a better balance on farm – environmentally and socially where they could “work the farm, not have the farm work us”.

Award chairman Richard Rains said covid travel restrictions had driven the change from one award winner to two last year, but had also created an exciting opportunity.

The increase to eight finalists and two winners has a positive impact on more future leaders in Australia and New Zealand, he said.

“We’re thrilled to be able to invest in the future of all eight finalists, and our two winners, and help with their future career and personal development.

“Our judges have again been overwhelmed with the level of talent and capabilities of this years’ candidates, who have come from a broad range of backgrounds in the primary sector.

“They display a deep-seeded desire to make a difference, along with ambition, personality and drive.

“We can’t wait to meet the finalists face-to-face for interviews, and provide them with mentoring and media training as part of the process.”

The Zanda McDonald Award recognises future young leaders working in agriculture, and provides an impressive prize package centred around a tailored transtasman mentoring programme.

The four New Zealand finalists are Mr Roberts, 34; Adam Thompson, 35, director of Restore Native Plant Nursery, beef farmer and mortgage broker from Cambridge; Katie Vickers, 28, head of sustainability and land use for Farmlands, from Christchurch; and Olivia Weatherburn, 33, national extension programme manager for Beef + Lamb New Zealand, from Mossburn Southland.

The four finalists from Australia are Charlie Perry, 35; Kate McBride, 23; Gavin Rodman, 28; and Jeremy Cummins, 34.