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  • Writer's pictureSilvereye

Stuff | English, Farmers need to embrace technology

Silvereye Director and Chairman of Agribusiness New Zealand was featured in this Stuff article following his keynote speech at the Southern Primary Sector Update conference in May. 

The day before his 50th birthday Conor English left a secure high-profile job to start his own company, Agribusiness New Zealand.

It was a big risk, but one that has paid off for the former Southlander.

English was the keynote speaker at the Southern Primary Sector Update conference, hosted by Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, at the Ascot Park Hotel in Invercargill on Friday.

About 80 rural accountants and business advisors listened as English challenged their thinking on the opportunities that lay ahead in a forever changing environment.

“Farming can be very challenging,” English said.

However, he said the accounting profession was critical to helping farmers build smarter and better businesses.

“You are the trusted advisor for farmers – they look to you for leadership.”

English, the youngest of 12 kids who grew up on a farm at Dipton West, said it was great to be back on his home turf.

For six years he was the chief executive of farmer lobby group Federated Farmers, which currently has more than 26,000 members.

He left his high-flying job in 2014 to start his own company Agribusiness New Zealand of which he was chairman.

This has included attempting to build farms and businesses in Russia, China, Kazakhstan and now Africa.

English has launched his own fresh milk brand into China and exported seafood, meat, dairy cattle, embryos and fruit from New Zealand, Australia and South America.

English spoke about the need to produce more food for an increasing world population that was expected to reach 11 billion in 2088.

“There is a magnificent opportunity for Southland farmers, as food producers, to meet this demand.”

English said they also had to accept the challenge from increasing alternative protein sources, like the impossible burger.

“But so what?

“We’ve faced competition before from margarine, synthetic wools and alternative milks.”

English said two of his six children did not like meat, and he joked “I must have brought them up poorly”.

“But, we all have different tastes and we can’t be too defensive about people liking different things.

“I like hokey pokey icecream, but I don’t expect everyone in the room to like it.”

English said it was also important for people to keep up with new innovations and technology such as smartphones.

“They are the way of the future and you need to embrace them,” he said.

The former politician also presented his view on world politics.

He believed United States president Donald Trump had disrupted the electoral cycle but had brought authenticity to the role.

“Trump says what he thinks and he’s not afraid to say it. I think he will bolt in at the next election.”

English was also a director of several companies including GMP Pharmaceuticals, Quotable Value and Cannasouth, the latter of which was dedicated to the development of medicinal cannabis treatment options.


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