Rhys Roberts wins ag title

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Kiri Roberts with husband Rhys who has been named the winner of the 2022 New Zealand Zanda McDonald Award.

Rhys Roberts’ entrepreneurial approach to primary production has seen him named as the winner of the 2022 New Zealand Zanda McDonald Award.

Mr Roberts is chief executive of the Align Group, who operate seven farms, a market garden, and has links to a yoghurt brand and milk processing facility.

He lives with his family on the Align Claremont farm at Westerfield, 25km from Ashburton; his wife Kiri is farm manager.

He was thrilled to receive the award.

“It’s such a privilege and I’m really grateful for the opportunity,’’ he said.

‘‘A definite highlight for me will be the trans-Tasman mentoring trip, where I’ll get to spend time with top ag leaders in New Zealand and Australia, as well as previous award winners and finalists.

‘‘The learnings I’ll get from that experience will be absolutely lifechanging,” he said.

The Zanda McDonald Award, now in its eighth year, supports talented and passionate young professionals in the ag sector from Australia and New Zealand.

As his prize Mr Roberts receives a trans-Tasman prize package centred around mentoring, education and training 100 percent tailored to his needs.

Mr Roberts was passionate about food production and future work places and was currently running a regenerative agriculture project trial, to monitor farm productivity, animal health, human health and environmental outcomes .

His focus on building a “future workplace” has resulted in creating a market garden that feeds his team through the fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry and eggs from their farms.

All of the team are on fully flexible rosters and can manage their own schedules, choosing shifts that suit them.

This frees them up of about 1000 hours combined per year, which they reinvest into the community.

Zanda McDonald Award patron Shane McManaway said Rhys was highly ambitious and prepared to break the mould of the past and do things differently.

‘‘Some of the results he’s seeing, due to his innovative approach, are nothing short of exceptional. He has a strong environmental and wellbeing focus, as well as creating a significant difference to the company’s bottom line.

‘‘As judges we were extremely impressed and inspired by his leadership, and know he has a very strong future ahead of him.”

The award interviews and presentation were originally going to be held in Martinborough, but this changed to an online format as a result of the sudden covid alert level change to Red last month.

Mr Roberts was named as a finalist alongside 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.

Once covid restrictions ease, the four will get together for media training and to spend some time with leaders in the sector, which is a benefit available to all award finalists.

As the 2022 winner, Mr Roberts will receive a professional development package that includes an all expenses paid trans-Tasman mentoring trip to high-performing farms and businesses in Australia and New Zealand, $10,000 towards further education, and incredible networking opportunities.

He will travel by a Pilatus PC-12 aircraft to parts of his mentoring trip, enabling him to reach diverse and remote farming operations on both sides of the Tasman.

The award would normally crown one winner from across Australasia, but in response to covid related travel restrictions, an Australian and a New Zealand winner were crowned this year.