Hugh Wigley says it’s satisfying to end his 15-year stint as Chairperson of the Federated Farmers Herbage Seedgrowers Subsection at a time when the industry is on a high.
“Currently we’re looking at the highest returns I’ve seen in my time in farming.
“The SIRC (Seed Industry Research Council) and the NZ Seeds Authority (NZSA) are doing good things and the general buoyancy of the industry has all occurred just as I’m retiring. I’d like to think I had some part in these things but I think it’s a matter of timing and people working together,” Hugh said.
“It’s certainly also satisfying to have a young and capable team on the Herbage Seed committee to carry the industry forward.”
Hugh’s father bought the first part of the family’s farm off the main road in the Waimate District in the late 1940s and Hugh stated farming there in the late ‘70s. They specialize in wheat, grass seed and oil seed rape.
It was in his NZ Young Farmer days that he was appointed delegate to Feds’ Waimate District branch. By the late 1980s he’d been nominated to go to meetings of the South Canterbury Arable section in Timaru.
By the early ‘90s he was Chair and before the turn of the century he’d joined the Herbage Seed Subsection national committee, and was elected Chair in 2006.
The co-operation evident in recent years between farmers and the grain and seed trade industry wasn’t always there.
“One of my earlier experiences was being appointed to the committee that supervised the non-proprietary cultivars. There were four herbage seed members and four members from the GSTA (Grain and Seed Trade Association). To try and smooth the waters we needed an independent chairman, a sheep farmer and long-time Feds member from Fairlie.
“So we had two opposing forces who were often at odds.
“It’s such a contrast now, with the establishment of the NZ Seeds Authority, and farmers and the GSTA realising they need each other and working as one in a very collaborative manner.”
Hugh said farmers and the GSTA contributed equally to the setting up of the NZSA and paying for the software to move seed certification from a manual system to a computerized process. When the government saw that the industry was co-operating, money also came from the Sustainable Food and Fibre Fund.
Another huge step forward was the setting up of the Foundation for Arable Research (FAR) in the late 1990s.
“They brought over scientists from the UK, where they had a similar research organisation. I think from then we took a quantum leap forward with our technology of growing crops and the realisation we had a very similar cropping climate to the UK’s.”
Hugh is full of praise for FAR’s extension service and standard of communication. It’s not always the case that research and science actually gets to the producers who can put it into practice, he said.
“Technology is always changing. The challenge is to keep up with what’s happening. The only long-term way forward is to follow scientific principles and not get distracted by some of the trendy systems that seem to have a new buzzword every five years.”
Again underlining the spirit of co-operation between industry stakeholders, the Seed Industry Research Centre was formed in 2017, with the aim of enhancing New Zealand’s $200 million seed export sector. The big advantage is that industry is also contributing to SIRC’s funding.
“The new grass and clover technologies being used by our dairy and sheep and beef farmers is totally reliant on arable farmers producing their seeds, and if you start factoring in the returns from those new varieties…well, herbage seedgrowers have had a huge effect on the development of the New Zealand pastoral system – and thus the whole economy.”
Back in the day, 1000 kilograms of ryegrass a hectare was considered a good achievement. By the turn of the century, Ryegrass 2000 grower groups were being set up, and now it’s Ryegrass 3000 groups.
Hugh has held the fort as Subsection chair for an extra two or three years while John McCaw has been busy with the NZ Seeds Authority. But John is now ready to take over the reins and Hugh is very content to stay on the committee for another couple of years before stepping down altogether.
“I’d particularly like to thank Liz my wife for her support over the last 30 years, which has enabled me to carry out these roles.”