James Parsons Chair of Beef+Lamb NZ

September 2014

The newly appointed chair of Beef + Lamb New Zealand talks about his year of change

At 37 year old James Parsons was recently elected the youngest chairman ever of Beef +Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ). He began his term in March 2014. During a year of change, James also relocated from a family farm in Broadwood in the Far North, to a 478ha sheep and beef venture at Tangowahine. Manager Willie Purvis and his wife Philippa manage the farm, as the role of B+LNZ chairman is demanding, with considerable travel required both around New Zealand and internationally. James is now in a key position to positively influence the New Zealand red meat and wool supply chain, inspired by his Nuffield Scholarship studies, which he undertook in 2008.

James was born into a farming family in Waikato and the family moved north in the 1980’s to take up a Land and Survey ballot farm at Broadwood, south of Kaitaia. He went to Lincoln University gaining a Diploma in Farm Management in the 1990’s then was a travelling shearer and shepherd before returning home and buying the farm from his father in 2001. He married Janine, a registered nurse in 2002 and they have three boys, Corin, Matthew and Joseph.

James has a strong history of industry service including terms as:

  • Federated Farmers Meat and Fibre chairman for Northland.
  • Northland Sheep and Beef Council vice-chairman.
  • Kaitaia Vets director and later chairman.
  • Far North Meat and Wool Monitor Farm management committee member.
  • Beef + Lamb NZ northern North Island farmer-director since 2009, and re-elected in 2012 for a second three-year term.

In 2008 James was a Nuffield Scholar and completed a report called ‘Supply Chain Relationships and Value Chain Design’. The subtitle was ‘How to Re-design New Zealand’s Red Meat and Wool Supply Chains’. Over six months he travelled to developed markets for New Zealand lamb and beef in the United States, Canada, Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, China, Mexico, Brazil and Australia.

James said in his report that New Zealand commodity supply chains are long and dysfunctional with built-in disincentives to communicate, which breeds mistrust and second-guessing. In contrast, a value chain creates a collaborative culture through incentivising communication, trust and inter-dependence rather than independence. It is typically short with few chain partners and is focused on a certain market or customer, and the sharing of ideas between chain partners facilitates co-innovation and product differentiation. In complete contrast with the traditional supply chain, the value chain philosophy is “how can we collectively grow the pie rather than compete for our individual slice?”

James concluded that NZ meat and wool farmers must pursue a producer-led value chain approach as quickly as possible. The huge productivity and efficiency gains made by farmers since the last big industry upheaval in the 1980’s have not resulted in higher prices for their products, due to weak, fragmented selling of commodities. Although it is sometimes difficult with co-operative ownership models, farmers need to be connected with the consequences of their choices and paid accordingly for their products. Processors also need to develop multiple shorter value chains with targeted R&D and marketing to ensure that the benefits are captured and don’t leach away. 

In 2013 James and Janine sold their Far North sheep and beef farm, and now farm a 478 ha sheep and beef property between Whangarei and Dargaville. It is an equity partnership with a small board of directors, of which James is managing director. They have also bought the well-regarded Ashgrove Coopworth Stud of David Hartles from nearby Maungaturoto. It includes 325 recorded ewes and 160 ram hoggets, of which about 110 will be offered at an auction in November. The farm has 120ha of flat to easy land and the rest is steep hill country.

The July 1 livestock numbers were 1100 ewes and 600 ewe hoggets, which include the registered Coopworths; and 160 ram hoggets, from which the sale rams are selected. There were 60 cows, 39 rising-two heifers and 260 finishing bulls. Calving begins on October 1 and lambing on 28 August, with the ewe hoggets to start on October 1. All sheep mating is planned for the performance-recorded ewes to maintain the highest level of facial eczema resistance, FE Gold. All the sheep are electronically tagged.

There is monthly water quality testing at the base of the farm catchment to track and record nitrogen, phosphorus and turbidity levels, as preparation for more intensification and riparian fencing in the future.

It is a demonstration farm for Ballance Agri-Nutrients and after 120 soil tests at GPS-marked sites, ground spreading will be done with variable rates of fertiliser. That has ceased for the winter because of high soil moisture.

“I’m really excited as a sheep and beef farmer about the opportunities in front of our sector. What’s more B+LNZ has steadily built momentum in delivering value to farmers. We know we can go another level yet, by continually focusing our resources and refining our efforts in assisting farmers to make informed and profitable business decisions.”

James Parsons says the rollout of initiatives from the across-sector Red Meat Profit Partnership would also provide opportunities for farmers to access many tools and services to lift productivity and profitability. There would be access to better benchmarking data and programmes to build capability by attracting and retaining talent in the industry and coordinated farmer-focused extension. He said this was an exciting initiative with B+LNZ working alongside six meat processors and two banks, and with significant funding support from the government’s Primary Growth Partnership Fund, to achieve the programme’s objectives over the next seven years.

James believes NZ agriculture is very good at “hard” systems, like pastures, paddocks, fences, yards, handlers and other tools. We are also good at the “soft” systems such as procedures and skills, but we are not good on information systems, especially the information that moves along complex value chains. Control of that information, also called architectural knowledge, will be the battleground of the future.

His ideal value chain in NZ meat and wool where farmers become true price-makers, may take 10 or 15 years to achieve as a number of consolidation moves are required as opportunities arise.

“In many ways we are a sleeping giant in pastoral agriculture, particularly in lamb. If we can re-design the system and streamline the supply chain, as well as leveraging our intellectual property in other producing countries and feed their production through our markets, we would be unstoppable.”