New Zealand co-ops celebrated at sector’s annual awards

Winners included Livestock Investment Corporation, Fonterra and the 150-year-old SBS Bank

Agri-tech co-op the Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC) has been named New Zealand’s Co-operative Business of the Year.

LIC also won a joint award with dairy co-op Fonterra, for their data-sharing platform Agrigate.

The Cooperative Business NZ Annual Awards were presented in Wellington at an event hosted by national sector body Cooperative Business NZ.

LIC picked up its gong for developing world-leading biosecurity protection from the drug-resistant bacteria Mycoplasma bovis, among many other achievements.

Cooperative Business NZ CEO Craig Presland said the Waikato-based, 110-year-old agri-tech and herd improvement co-operative exemplified co-operative values and highlighted the strengths of the enduring business model.

“LIC tells, arguably, the biggest success story among New Zealand’s co-operatives in the last 18 months,” he said.

“It is a stand-out example of a modern, progressive co-op, which has to operate at the leading edge of its field in dairy genetics and agri-tech to keep its farmer shareholders ahead of the game.

“Co-ops are member-owned as opposed to investor-owned, with Kiwi shareholders having skin in the game. The co-op business model is part of our nation’s DNA so it’s appropriate that LIC has won this year’s Co-operative Business of the Year.”

Co-operative Leader of the Year went to Carl Taylor, co-founder of one-year-old start-up Combined Building Supplies (CBS).

Mr Taylor, a Christchurch-based builder, set up the building supplies co-op in April 2018 to offer a level playing field for smaller and medium-sized construction businesses, which do not have the buying power or bigger rivals.

“To date, they have brought together more than 160 SME trade businesses so that their combined spending means bigger discounts for CBS Co-op’s members,” said Mr Presland, who called for a similar co-op game-changer to solve the country’s housing crisis.

The Co-operation Amongst Co-operatives Award, named after the sixth Rochdale Principle, was shared by LIC and Fonterra for for Agrigate, a data-sharing and exchange platform for farmers.

Mr Presland said Agrigate was first envisaged five years ago by the late John Wilson, former chair of Fonterra, and Murray King, chair of LIC. They recognised that farmers increasingly employ a number of digital tools, all working independently of one another rather than in unison.

“The co-operation of LIC and Fonterra demonstrates their joint and genuine understanding of what it means to be a co-operative – working in collaboration as a way of meeting members’ needs,” added Mr Presland.

The award for Outstanding Co-operative Contribution went to Rob Hewett, former chair of Silver Fern Farms (SFF) future chair of Farmlands.

Craig Presland said Mr Hewett, who farms in South Otago’s Manuka Gorge, has led a range of initiatives including increasing SFF’s board diversity and working with China’s Shanghai Maling to restore SFF’s balance sheet, “while protecting the essence of the co-operative and the voice of its shareholders”.

The Enduring Service Award went to SBS Bank, New Zealand’s oldest co-operative, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. Established in 1869, the Southland bank is believed to be the first building society in the world to have achieved bank registration, in 2008, while retaining its mutual structure.

Mr Presland said the member-owned bank ensures profits are re-distributed back to customers each year and therefore retained locally, otherwise invested into local communities – “unlike our four major retail banks, all Australian-owned, whereby a portion of their $NZ5+bn in annual profits is being transferred offshore”.

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