Tony Leggett

Two enterprising young Australian rural professionals received an amazing insight into New Zealand agriculture during a two-week whistle-stop tour of the country last November.

The pair were joint winners of the 2019 Zanda McDonald Award which is presented annually by the Platinum Primary Producers (PPP), a group of 150 larger scale and influential farm owners and agribusiness professionals from both sides of the Tasman.

The award is open to anyone under 35 and winners receive $2000 in prize money plus a flying trip around properties and agribusinesses on both sides of the Tasman, hosted by members of the PPP group.

When the judges couldn’t separate two Australian finalists, the decision was made to award both.

Shannon Landmark is 27 and is a trained vet. She co-ordinates the Northern Beef Genomics Project at the University of Queensland, working on improving genetic selection and reproduction rates.

She shared the award with Luke Evans, 29, station manager at Cleveland Agriculture based at Rockhampton Downs Station, a 450,000ha beef property at Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory. Luke not only runs this significant operation, but also mentors youth, and provides on-the-job training and employment opportunities at the property.

Their NZ tour took them to north of Gisborne to visit Whangara Farms, a large-scale Maori Incorporation sheep and beef property, then to Leaderbrand’s Gisborne packhouse to meet its owners, before flying south to Taupo and a short drive to the 10,000ha Lochinver Station east of Taupo.

At every opportunity, Landmark and Evans peppered the managers and owners at each property with questions ranging from production goals to ownership structures and plans.

The owners and managers of each business were asked to reveal their choice of mentors and discuss their biggest challenges.

A favourite question from Landmark was to ask what their legacy would be in the business. Answers varied depending on the status of the person in the business, but often were built around leaving the property and the business in a better state than when they started.

A recurring challenge across every farm visited on their journey was the importance of recruiting and retaining a high-quality team of people. Leaderbrand’s founder Murray McPhail responded quickly with his own approach to creating a great team dynamic in his large-scale vegetable growing and packing business.

“I apply my MBWA – management by walking around!” he said.

From Taupo, Landmark and Evans headed south to visit PPP member properties in Wairarapa before heading south to Marlborough, Canterbury then Central Otago to eventually fly home out of Queenstown.

Evans says the intensity of farming in NZ was in stark contrast to the Northern Territory property where stocking rates are extremely low.

“We’ve been fortunate to remain outside the really serious drought zone, but we’ve had two particularly dry seasons with limited rainfall, so our 120,000 head of cattle are always searching for feed,” he says.

Evans recently trained as a helicopter pilot and now flies the station’s own Robinson 22 machine for mustering stock, checking dams and water systems, and dropping supplies to staff.

Landmark’s data collection work is coming to an end and now her colleagues in the laboratory will set about finding genetic markers that can pinpoint early puberty from a snip of tail hair.

“I can’t speak highly enough of the experiences I have thanks to the Zanda Award. It’s been amazing to see inside some of Australasia’s best farming businesses,” she said.

The Zanda McDonald award is sponsored by Allflex, Pilatus Group, CBRE, MDH and Australian Community Media.