12 January 2017
Methven dairy farmer, Alister Body had been appointed the new Chairman of the Ashburton Trading Society.
The former Chairman of the Ruralco Joint Venture Board was appointed at Decembers Board Meeting and has been a Director of the co-operative since 2011. He replaces longstanding Director and Chair, Phil McKendry, who retired from the Board in November last year.
“I’m looking forward to the challenges ahead in what I believe are exciting times for ATS and Ruralco. Our long term strategy, which has been embedded over the last couple of years, has ensured a clear path for future growth and we are poised to be a significant regional co-operative with national reach,” he said.
“We are seeing operational excellence and efficiencies in our store based offering, along with our seed, energy, fuel and fertiliser divisions. This is complemented by the extended reach and growth of the Ruralco Card.”
Development of the Ruralco brand will become more apparent early next year with the highly visible repositioning of the brand as it becomes the outward facing and nationally recognisable brand of the co-operative. “It will be introduced from February this year with buildings, vehicles and staff uniforms all set to be updated.”
The Board also appointed a new Deputy Chair with Jessie Chan-Dorman taking up the role. The Dorie dairy farmer has been an ATS Director since 2013.
“All of the ingredients are in place for a positive future and I look forward to working with the management and staff of this great co-operative to ensure we continue working towards a sustainable future for you, your business and rural New Zealand.”
1 December 2016
As dairy farms’ nitrogen reports start hitting letterboxes for last season, farmers are being encouraged to put as much effort into this season’s recording as they do into producing milk.
“These reports are a great tool for assisting farmers to analyse their nutrient use and see what needs to be done to improve their nutrient efficiency,” says Ballance Farm Sustainability Services Manager, Alastair Taylor.
“We know from our records how much fertiliser we have sold to a farm, for example, but what we don’t always know is where it was used, or if supplies were topped up from another provider. A farm might be feeding out silage or baleage from a run-off block, but don’t record it as brought-in feed because to them it’s home-grown. The better the information provided, the better the accuracy and the value of the final report.”
Individual nitrogen reports provide farmers with their nitrogen leaching risk and nitrogen conversion efficiency results, allowing them to compare their performance against other farms in their region. Increasing controls over farming in areas like Canterbury and the Waikato also mean the reports are a useful aid to achieving compliance with local requirements.
While keeping close records can be seen as a chore when there’s more pressing work to do, Alastair says attention to detail is increasingly important. “Even if you don’t do the formal recording, making a quick note about changes in stock numbers when they happen, or where you applied applications of fertiliser, all contribute to a better end result.”
Ballance has been integral to the record and report cycle that dairy farmers signed up to under the Sustainable Dairy: Water Accord and is the only fertiliser company actively working with all Accord signatories. Each season additional staff are brought in to process information recorded by suppliers to Miraka, Tatua, Synlait and new signatories Oceania, as well as a proportion of the data filed by Fonterra’s suppliers.
“Each season we’re generating more than 3,000 reports over a six week period using the industry modelling tool Overseer™. The information we provide then goes back to farms via their milk company.”
Reports help the dairy companies, farmers and their Ballance Nutrient Specialists to identify potential improvements to nitrogen use efficiency.
“With many regional councils bringing in nitrogen and phosphate rules, and with both being fundamental to farm production, losses are both a compliance challenge and effectively dollars down the drain. Aiming for high maximum nutrient efficiency makes farming, financial and environmental sense.”
Ballance has a range of free resources for anyone interested in turning the learnings from their reports into action available from http://www.ballance.co.nz/Our-CoOp/Sustainability/Farm-Nitrogen-Reports
15 November 2016
The first full year’s trading of Ruralco as a wholly owned subsidiary of ATS has produced significant benefits for the co-operative and for members accessing the many discounted services and products through the expanding Ruralco Supplier network.
The Ashburton based farm supplies co-operative recorded increased Group revenue of $210m compared to $119m in the previous year and this was primarily due to the Ruralco card business being fully consolidated into the ATS Group for the whole year as opposed to only one month in the previous financial year. There was a gross profit of $8.8m for the year and EBITDA (Earnings before Interest, Tax, Depreciation and Amortisation) was $228k, compared to $6.8m and $495k respectively in the previous year. Group equity at the end of 2016 was $14.9m ($15.2m in 2015) and as in the previous financial year, there was no long term debt.
“The financial results for the year are acceptable given the external agricultural market environment,” says ATS Chairman Philip McKendry.
Significant cost savings in day to day operating expenses were experienced, being $800k down on the last financial year and over the last two years the Group has reduced its overheads by $1.5m. The Group, like its shareholders, was forced to look very closely at operating expenses over the last two years and McKendry says it’s pleasing to see this reduction in overhead costs.
He says it’s all part of ATS’s long term strategy which has been embedded over the last couple of years and has ensured a clear path for future growth.
Much of this success can be attributed to the young but knowledgeable and experienced ATS Board’s commitment to the strategy of retaining a local co-op with a national reach, and to the Group’s management team and staff who are continuing to deliver the best of both worlds to members. “They have remained committed to this direction even with the reconfiguration of the executive team during recent months, which included the appointment of Robert Sharkie as Group CEO.”
“We have done the hard yards and we are now well on the way to further positive outcomes. The cash position of the co-operative remains very healthy, and current year’s trading performance is strong and materially above budget to date,” says McKendry.
ATS is now well positioned with a platform for growth via its Ruralco Fuel and Card network while still retaining its existing regional store based farm supplies offering and its Seed, Energy and Fertiliser divisions. “This has been a deliberate attempt to future proof the co-operative.”
3 November 2016
The inaugural ATS/Ruralco Girls’ Night Out in Methven has been hailed a great success by organisers with similar events likely to follow.
Hosted at the ATS Methven Store, local suppliers showcased their wares while the 90 women in attendance were treated to nibbles thanks to the Somerset Grocer, and were entertained by Christchurch based, New Zealand celebrity food guru, Jax Hamilton.
Well known for her stint on New Zealand’s second series of Master Chef 2011 and more latterly for her cooking demonstrations and as a popular MC and host, and for her role on Countdown supermarket’s Feed Four for $15, Jax shared an interesting and entertaining insight into her life and her recipe for success.
An experienced presenter and in regular demand at a variety of functions and events, Jax says it was great to be doing something closer to home as many events take her away from her South Island base. When she’s not on the road, Jax loves developing new recipes and has most recently been working on a new project due for release early next year.
Organisers of the Girls’ Night Out say the idea behind the event was to give something back to rural townships. “ATS/Ruralco already run highly successful annual events such as our Instore Days and our Christmas shopping day in early December, although these are primarily Ashburton focussed. A Girls’ Night Out was a chance for one of the district’s rural communities to play host to an exclusive event showcasing local businesses and products as well as our own Gift and Homeware business,” says Group CEO Rob Sharkie.
“It was a great opportunity to reiterate our commitment to our farming communities – big and small. Demand for tickets was high, and feedback from those who attended indicated strong support for similar events in the future, both in Methven and possibly other small towns,” says Rob.
“At this stage, it’s quite likely we will look at hosting another similar event,” he says.
“A lot of the success was due to the commitment shown by our main sponsor Somerset Grocer, and our suppliers –Big Al’s in Methven, Emmily Harmer, Methven Pharmacy, Mirror Image, Mountain Gym in Methven, Paper Plus, Style Footwear, Silk Estate and Totally Kiwi. Their interest and support provided a great night out and shopping for the women who attended.”
1 November 2016
WorkSafe’s data from 2015 shows that experienced farmers carrying out routine jobs with vehicles are getting caught out. In 2015, there were 19 fatalities on farms – 16 of those involved vehicles. In over 50% of the incidents, farmers were aged over 55 and driving vehicles on sloping or uneven ground.
“These were mature and experienced people doing jobs they would have done many times before,” says Al McCone, WorkSafe’s Agriculture Programme Manager. “Examining vehicle fatalities from the last three years, we find that often the driver/rider had set out to do a fairly routine task like spraying or stock work.”
The incidents had some common factors like operators or others being hit by the vehicle, or being killed during a rollover. “To keep yourself safe make sure the vehicle won’t move when you get out, and wear seatbelts when in the cab or roll frame. Extra care is needed when working on or near slopes, especially on tracks with steep drop-offs.”
The quads involved in the fatalities ranged in age and size, and were often in sound mechanical condition. However, low tyre tread depth and under-inflated or uneven tyre pressure was noted as a possible contributing factor in some cases. Often the vehicle had slid on a slope and a number of incidents involved quad bikes overturning into drains, ditches or waterways. “Good practice like keeping at least one metre from a stream or culvert edges, stopping and dismounting to spray, and working out ‘no go’ areas on farm in advance could all help prevent incidents.
“Any vehicle is only as good as the way it is maintained and used,” says Al McCone. “Make sure tyres and brakes, especially the handbrake on tractors, are in good condition, and it is essential operators know how to use the vehicles properly.”
Farmers, both employers and employees, are also more likely to be working alone at busy times, so having a plan in place for lone workers meant if anything went wrong, the alarm could be raised. “Like most risk management processes, it doesn’t need to be complicated,” says Mr McCone. “There are a number of solutions that send out ‘man down’ or just location signals. If you can’t afford these, then get a simple system in place where people check in at agreed times. If they don’t, then check on them.”
The fatalities highlight the importance of good risk management and following safe practices. WorkSafe advises the following:
For more information on staying healthy and safe on farm, go to www.saferfarms.org.nz.
1 November 2016
We thoroughly enjoyed catching up with everyone at the recent Spring A&P Shows at Ellesmere, Amberley and Ashburton. These shows are always a great opportunity to meet and greet at a time of year when everyone is enjoying the warmer weather and the spring growth after a long winter.
Spring is always a time of optimism and positivity and with the recent improvements in the forecast dairy pay-out, the quiet confidence being shown in the agricultural industry looks set to continue for a little while longer. Other sectors will be looking for similar positivity although it is a little too early to predict where lamb and stock prices will sit after Christmas.
Our last few months of trading have been steady and reflect the careful and cautious approach to spending being shown by farmers. We have been working closely with our members to ensure they make considered decisions on where and what they spend within their farming operations, and it’s an approach we are committed to continuing.
Forward planning is important for all of us and we have the knowledge and expertise to help you make the best decisions possible - we are here to help. That advice also includes how to factor in on-farm compliance needs and improvements required as part of health and safety and other legal regulations. While it may seem pedantic to keep reminding farmers of their obligations, at the end of the day we all want to keep everyone safe.
We all know how unpredictable the weather can be, and while we have had a outstanding spring so far, it is always prudent to prepare for all eventualities, including a dry summer and autumn. Many of you will be looking at your pasture and forage options for the coming seasons. We can help you make the best decisions to fit your budget and operation to ensure you survive whatever Mother Nature sends our way, so come in and talk to us.
The end of the year is fast approaching, which means Christmas is just around the corner. Our ‘Light Up Your Christmas’ shopping event on Thursday 1 December will be a great opportunity to take advantage of one-day cardholder specials at a variety of Ruralco supplier outlets, and at our three ATS Farm Supplies and Gift & Homeware stores. Keep an eye out for more information coming your way.
Also coming up is the ATS Annual General Meeting on 14 November. Shareholders will have already received their copy of the Annual Report in the post. Those who would like to read the full set of accounts can either pop in to Reception at ATS Ashburton to collect a copy, or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We look forward to seeing you soon.
Rob Sharkie, Group CEO
15 September 2016
Ashburton based farmer co-operative ATS has not had to look far afield when appointing its new Chief Executive Robert Sharkie.
His appointment comes three months after he took over as Acting Chief Executive following the departure of long-time executive Neal Shaw.
ATS Board Chairman Phil McKendry said Rob Sharkie’s appointment as permanent Chief Executive was one the board did not have to wrestle over before making it official this week. “We are delighted to appoint Rob into this position and have every confidence he is the right person for the job.”
“Rob brings a deep level of understanding about what makes our farmer shareholders tick and what it is that keeps ATS a relevant, competitive and service focused co-operative. This is at a time when the level of choice offered to farmers in the retail and service space has never been greater,” says McKendry.
Rob Sharkie’s appointment comes as ATS pushes on with the development of its Ruralco brand which is playing a key role in expanding the Canterbury based co-operative’s reach to farmers across the country.
This now has 20,000 active Ruralco Cardholder members throughout New Zealand, and is building an ever expanding network of approved suppliers where farmers can use the card.
ATS has also managed to develop and grow its individual branded business units in fuel, seed, energy and retail, keeping the focus firmly on farmer shareholders’ needs. Despite tough times in the retail service sector, ATS is also experiencing exceptionally strong turn over through its rural retail outlets.
Rob said his focus would remain on keeping the co-operative’s overheads as low as possible, to meet its key goal of making farmers lives easier, and keeping their costs as low as possible.
“We now have a very well formed, tight senior management team here, and we are all committed to that goal. The size of the team fits well with the ATS co-operative model, with myself as Chief Executive, Jono Pavey as Procurement Manager, Oliver O’Neill as Chief Financial Officer/GM Ruralco and now Sarah Green as our Group Manager for People and Capability,” says Rob Sharkie.
Phil McKendry particularly welcomed the appointment of Sarah Green from her long time position as Executive Assistant, bringing her experience in human resources to the top management table.
Rob Sharkie’s appointment comes after Phil McKendry was also recently awarded the outstanding co-operative contribution award by Co-operative New Zealand.
The award recognises an individual in a co-operative who has gone “above and beyond” to ensure their co-operative’s success.
18 August 2016
Canterbury's drought has helped the region's wheat growers produce a bumper crop.
Leeston arable farmer David Birkett is in line to break the wheat yield world record and said he was aware of neighbouring farms which had produced yields larger than normal.
The world record, held by a farmer in the United Kingdom, sits at 16.5 tonnes per hectare, but Mr Birkett's yield was estimated at 16.7t/ha.
"Once we get all the measurements in, we will know, but there will probably be a little bit more than that."
"Wheat is a deep rooted crop, so it's pretty hardy and it's able to retrieve water, so it probably likes a dry season and we have good moisture retention on the farm.''
The farm, which has previously received an average of 640mm rain a year, received 540mm in 2014, 400mm last year and 270mm so far this year. Despite the dry conditions, just 120mm of irrigation was applied to the crop.
The Foundation for Arable Research chairman also won the cup for first place in the feed wheat section in the ATS (Ashburton Trading Society) United Wheatgrowers Awards recently, for the second successive year and all three of this year's feed wheat finalists were from the Leeston-Southbridge area.
All of farm's wheat crop these days was feed wheat which was a high yield, but lower protein crop. Most of it was sold locally to chicken farmers. Some was supplied to dairy farms and for malting for craft beers, although he was having trouble selling it this season due to the high volume of wheat in the area.
There was no secret to growing a high-yielding wheat crop, he said.
"Across New Zealand generally there has been an increase in yields, partly due to irrigation, but really it's just about doing it well and getting the timings right and applying the nutrients when the crop needs it."
"There was nothing special done to it (the wheat) - just the season was right and our timing with inputs was good.
"The biggest challenge is the dry conditions and the biggest concern is the groundwater levels. If we don't get any major recharge before spring, some of those irrigation wells will be under pressure.''
The Birketts run a 10-crop to 12-crop rotation over about five years, with a mix of feed wheat, barley, small niche crops, processed peas and beans for Watties, clover and grass seeds for local farmers and vegetable seeds for European, Korean and American growers through South Pacific Seeds.
- David Hill of Central Rural Life
12 August 2016
ATS Chairman and Methven farmer Phil McKendry has claimed a first for the Ashburton based co-operative, being recognised for his contribution to the co-operative’s growth at the high profile Co-operative New Zealand awards this week.
The “outstanding co-operative contribution award” recognises an individual in a cooperative who has gone above and beyond to ensure the success of the cooperative model for their particular organisation.
ATS Acting Chief Executive Robert Sharkie said staff at ATS were ebullient at McKendry’s award.
He said it reflected the significant time, effort and commitment their chairman had made overseeing the co-operative during one of its greatest periods of change.
“Phil has always been very clear about ATS’s purpose, which is to lower costs for farmers and their families making everyday life easier for them.”
Rob Sharkie said the challenge for ATS in recent years has been to remain relevant to a new generation of farmers, while also retaining the co-operative’s core values.
“It has been no easy task, and Phil put the challenge to his executive a few years ago to embrace the changes happening in the rural retail sector and grow the business, without losing sight of what we were.”
A key part of that growth has come by taking the cooperative’s humble farmer ATS charge card, and turning it into a nation-wide farmer charge card backed by a portfolio of both large national chains, and locally owned rural service businesses.
“The challenge for us was to grow without the usual expense of ‘bricks and mortar’ overheads.
“ATS now trades nationally through Ruralco NZ, putting us in the same league as other farm service companies that may have started as co-operatives but have not managed to stay entirely so,” says Sharkie.
Phil McKendry’s work in the Canterbury sector has also extended beyond ATS, including founding chairman of Barhill Chertsey Irrigation and is a director of Electricity Ashburton.
Phil McKendry said the award had come out of the blue, and the only clue had been an unusually strong contingent of ATS staff at this year’s Co-operative New Zealand awards.
“But this is very much a team effort and always has been at ATS. I have always felt every day after I leave it has been a day well spent, with a good bunch of people committed to the ATS ethos,” he says.
He said the development of Ruralco, and ATS’s focus on building its presence in seeds, fuel, energy and retail had all helped keep the provincial based co-operative independent and sound when others had since merged or fallen away.
“I feel we are now in a very sustainable position that leverages off the strengths of our people and our co-operative ideals which still resonate strongly with farmer shareholders throughout the country.”
Updated Snow Forecast for Canterbury High Country and Plains
2 August 2016
A low pressure system is developing in the eastern Tasman Sea and will move across central New Zealand tomorrow. This will bring an easterly airflow onto Canterbury in already cold air, and the air will become even colder on Thursday as it swings southeast. Further pulses of cold air will arrive on Friday and Saturday, as an anticyclone develops in the south Tasman Sea.
Light snow falls should stay above 500m tomorrow, with accumulations of 3-5cm above 500m. Steady falls will lower on Thursday and Friday, with 5-10cm expected on each day, above 400m on Thursday but lowering late in the day, and down to 200m on Friday. A further 5-10cm is expected on Saturday above 200m, and some lighter falls under 200m on the Plains. Overall, accumulations from Wednesday to Saturday may reach 30-40cm above 400m, and 10-20cm above 200m. Later on Saturday a clearance is expected in South Canterbury, spreading to Mid Canterbury by early Sunday. At this stage, no periods of strong winds are expected in the Wednesday to Saturday timeframe but air temperatures will be very cold.
Very cold south to southeasterly airflow will remain on Sunday and Monday although strong winds are not expected, and while a few further snow showers may fall to below 200m, no significant accumulations are expected. Some days of heavy frost will follow later next week.
31 July 2016
A very mild winter with few cold outbreaks has meant few reasons to send out a snow forecast since early June. However, now we finally have something worth talking about.
A complex low pressure system with multiple depression centres is expected to move over New Zealand from later on Wednesday, and take several days to move over the country. As it leaves for the Pacific next weekend or early next week, a cold easterly or southeasterly airflow will wash over the South Island.
At this stage snow looks to be confined to moderate to higher levels from Wednesday through Saturday, although with a chance of some heavy falls and significant accumulations. From next Sunday onwards snow may fall to lower levels, including across the Plains, but we will deal with that nearer the time.
For now, expect snow to develop during the day on Wednesday, with falls initially to 400m, rising to 600m at night with some heavy falls possible, and rising further to 800m on Thursday. Expect 5-10cm above 400m on Wednesday, 20-30cm above 600m, and a chance of 30-40cm above 800m by the end of Thursday.
At this stage Friday looks set to be mostly dry, but a further fall of snow developing on Saturday with 5-10cm lowering to 300m late in the day. Temperatures will remain cold through the next 7-10 days. Winds are unlikely to be an issue through Friday, but from Saturday south to southeasterly winds may become strong and gusty.
This weather system is complex and will probably not be well handled by the computer models until much closer to its arrival – so be aware that the forecast could change during the week. Systems like this one only need to have small fluctuations in temperatures or location (1 or 2 degrees or 50-100km distance) to bring about potentially major differences in weather conditions, especially snow occurrence and accumulation.
27 July 2016
Results at a glance
Farm nutrient co-operative Ballance Agri-Nutrients is distributing a total of $30 million to farmers this week, returning 87 percent of its 2015/16 $35 million gross trading result to shareholders.
On 29 July Ballance will begin making rebate payments averaging $25 per tonne. Returns to shareholders vary with volumes and products purchased, but a shareholder buying 100 tonnes could expect to receive $2,500. Ballance will pay no dividend following a Board decision to acknowledge the loyalty of transacting shareholders through profit distributions.
Chairman David Peacocke said in recognition of tight farm budgets Ballance made the call to keep prices as low as possible, operating with lower profit margins throughout the year to support farmers looking to make the most of home-grown feed. Current nutrient prices are the lowest they have been for many years.
“We bought competitively and passed savings on to our shareholders, effectively giving them an early rebate.”
Mr Peacocke said that given tight farm budgets, the co-operative was unlikely to match its strong performance of previous years. However the main driver behind the rebate not being higher was an unforeseen trading loss recorded by the co-operative’s Kapuni ammonia urea plant.
“The Kapuni loss eroded what was a steady performance despite the difficult conditions. Kapuni has contributed positively to our trading results for many years, supporting us to deliver superior rebates to our shareholders. We hit a bump in the road this year and we expect to deliver more returns for our shareholders again next year. We’ve had a long history of success.”
CEO Mark Wynne said a catalytic converter break down at Kapuni near the start of the year led to lost profits and capital costs totalling $13 million. The break down meant that the plant was running at around 75 percent of normal production levels for most of the year. Cost recovery options are being explored.
“As you can imagine, a plant of this nature is incredibly complex. The repair required specialised replacement parts, custom-made in Europe, with a lead time of nine months from manufacture to installation. We simply couldn’t fix it any faster.”
Ballance is continuing to explore partnership options for a complete redevelopment of the Kapuni plant – the only one of its kind in New Zealand. A partial plant upgrade has been ruled out, reflected in a $5.5 million write-down for exploratory work.
“The plant is 30 years old and still ticks along nicely with regular maintenance, but she’s not as efficient as modern models. We’re looking very seriously at how we can continue to provide a sustainable supply which is globally competitive.”
Mr Wynne said the co-operative’s balance sheet remained very strong as a result of continued financial discipline, reflected in an equity ratio of 81 percent compared to last year’s 80.4 percent. Despite a tough year, the co-operative was sound, farming was a long game and a long-term perspective was important in agribusiness.
“Farmers want value beyond the rebate. We are making the best use of our knowledge of farming systems to help unlock farm potential and increase profits on farm in good years and the not-so-good. That includes continuing to build a strong portfolio of products best suited to local farming systems to lift production, and minimising nutrient losses through precision farming tools. This combination of competitive price, expert advice, smart products and precision technology ensures a sustainable co-op which can partner with our shareholders and customers over the long term.”
20 July 2016
Ballance Agri-Nutrients has formed a specialist Farm Sustainability Services team as it gears up to meet the growing need for nutrient budgeting services and farm environmental plans as farmers adjust to working within environmental limits.
Team leader, Alastair Taylor, says the move builds on Ballance’s nutrient budgeting services initiated in 2013 to support Canterbury farmers in meeting the compliance requirements of the Canterbury Regional Land and Water Plan.
Farm Sustainability Services folds in the contractual work Ballance currently does for dairy companies, irrigation schemes, levy boards and commercial partners to analyse and interpret nutrient loss data. It will also draw on products and technology developed through Ballance’s $19.5 million Clearview Innovations Primary Growth Partnership programme with the Ministry for Primary Industries. This includes N-Guru™, a model that more accurately predicts pasture responses to nitrogen, and MitAgator™, which takes data from OVERSEER® files and links them with farm mapping data to identify the areas on farm at risk of losing nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment and bacteria and determine which mitigation techniques will be most effective.
“We’re always aiming to stay one step ahead of what our farmers need and last year we identified environmental constraints as likely to be one of the largest impacts on their businesses. When we talked to our farmers they identified sustainability as being at the heart of this, with its environmental, economic and social aspects,” says Alastair.
The Farm Sustainability Services team will meet growing demand for analysis of year-end farm nutrient data for dairy companies and year-end nutrient budget reports for irrigation schemes, regional councils, and resource consents. It also expects to work with proactive farmers building up a database of their nutrient performance ahead of moves by their regional councils to impose nutrient limits. Having an on-farm database gives farmers and their primary industry groups like DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb New Zealand better information to work with when negotiating local limits.
Alastair says nutrient advice has been offered by Ballance for many years, and investing additional resources and time to developing the specialist Farm Sustainability Services team is a step up to providing better support for farmers to enable them to make sustainable and profitable decisions.
1 July 2016
ATS Group CEO, Neal Shaw has resigned his position with the co-op which has been his workplace for the last 23 years.
He leaves to take up a national role with a competitor firm and while it is a loss for ATS, it is an opportunity for Neal to extend his career beyond his current role and is an opportunity for him to develop further in an executive role on a national scale.
Neal has been a familiar face around the business in his various roles which included becoming CEO six years ago.
He leaves ATS well positioned in the market place, in great heart and with a strong management structure which will very ably lead the business during the recruitment of a new CEO. ATS General Manager, Robert Sharkie has been appointed interim Group CEO and the Board has every confidence Robert and the senior management team will continue the good work already being done. It will very much be a case of business as usual and members should notice no difference in the day-to-day operation of the co-op.
This will allow the Board to work through the important process of recruiting a new CEO and will allow Directors to focus on ensuring opportunities are maximised for future planning. Members will be informed of progress and any appointment as developments occur.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Neal for the huge input, dedication and the hard work he has put into ATS over his 23 years of service, and wish him the best for his future.
Phil McKendry, ATS Chairman
27 June 2016
Calving season just got a little bit easier thanks to a new series of online videos from SealesWinslow.
The 2 minute clips provide quick and relevant advice from SealesWinslow nutritionist and quality manager, Wendy Morgan, allowing calf rearers to refresh their knowledge and access useful information while on the go.
Wendy says that giving calves the best possible start is vital to setting up dairy cows for a long and productive life.
“It starts with having a good calving plan; ensuring calves get the right nutrition at the right time and making best use of farm facilities to provide the best calf housing.
“Well grown heifers make much more successful milking cows, and growing them well starts from the day they are born.”
A total of six videos feature on the SealesWinslow YouTube site https://www.youtube.com/user/SealesWinslow, starting with advice on setting up healthy and effective calf housing, and are available now.
The videos cover a range of topics from the best way to provide colostrum to newborn calves, to feeding strategies for optimal rumen development, as well as setting up outdoor shelter best practice for and hitting weight targets.
The full series is as follows:
2.Colostrum and Milk
3.Introducing Feed and Weaning
4.More on Feed
6.Weights and Targets
Wendy points out the information is based on the best practice, designed so that both first time and experienced rearers can benefit from the short, straight-to-the-point videos.
“We know how hectic life can get on the farm during calving time so we’ve presented the information in a way that gives rearers what they need at their fingertips, when they need it.”
24 June 2016
NZ farmer run co-operative ATS has appointed well known agri-business leader Rob Sharkie as its acting Group Chief Executive, following the departure of long serving executive Neal Shaw.
ATS Chairman Phil McKendry said Rob Sharkie was an obvious choice to take up the top position, having worked as General Manager in the co-operative for the past year.
“Rob is very well known within the rural community and a respected member of our team. He came to us just over a year ago with an unparalleled background in the rural service industry. He has a great understanding of farm businesses, and his personable approach to clients and staff means we are very fortunate to have someone so capable to step into Neal’s shoes.”
McKendry said Neal Shaw’s departure marked his closure of 23 years with the co-operative, with him working his way up to the top position six years ago.
“We are looking forward to taking the solid foundation we have established to the next level in what is proving to be a very demanding and competitive farm service and retail environment.”
“Rob has a team around him who remain very focused upon the businesses’ key principles that include getting the absolute best deal possible, delivered with the best service, to our farmers and their families” he said.
He said the co-operative has retained its core values rarely found in rural service companies today, putting its farmers firmly at the top of its focus, ensuring they, their families and their farm businesses benefit accordingly.
The wide range of advice, products and services through its retail, fuel, energy and seed sectors have connected even further with farmers’ needs with the Ruralco Card. “Ruralco has enabled the co-operative to expand into a nationwide offer.”
“Ruralco is growing strongly, delivering value and services to farmers without costing them through investment in “bricks and mortar” type expansion.”
The ability to stretch outside the region and obtain national reach while retaining a strong local following was proving an efficient, nimble business model with minimal overheads in a tough rural service market.
“It means farmers are enjoying the best of both worlds. They remain the key focus in a traditional farmer co-operative, while also leveraging off the cost benefit having national coverage brings to the price of goods and services we offer them.”
Rob Sharkie said he is well supported by an experienced, committed executive team who want to help their farmers perform at their best.
While it is a challenging time for farming, there were many success stories on the land.
“For me and the team here, it is great to be part of those success stories. We have a co-operative with the soul, and the smarts, to help keep the sector building the value it brings to our economy.”
Based in NZ’s co-operative capital, the Ashburton Trading Society (ATS) is a rural supplies co-operative with a growing membership of 3,000+ shareholders. Proudly the ‘real farmers’ co-op’, it operates outlets in Ashburton, Methven and Rakaia.
Formed in 1963, Ashburton Trading Society (ATS) was set up by Mid-Canterbury farmers seeking lower input costs for their farming businesses. This vision continues to drive the growing co-operative today.
ATS members have access to over 2,000 Ruralco suppliers covering their farming and personal needs including irrigation supplies, fuel, building supplies, farm machinery, supermarkets, restaurants, clothing, electrical appliances and electricity supply.
The co-op’s friendly and experienced staff take pride in their commitment to quality, service and choice, and their combined depth of knowledge and understanding of the farming community and its needs.
Getting free, independent advice on the complex area of electricity purchase and contracts is a key benefit to ATS members through the co-operative’s energy division, ATS Energy. Thanks to a deep level of experience in the sector and strong local knowledge, ATS Energy can negotiate closely with electricity retailers to obtain favourable electricity rates and contract terms for shareholders. The co-op can negotiate deals that recognise the seasonal variability farming clients face, in terms of power use and income generation.
The ATS Seed division was established in 2009 after continued demand from ATS members looking to get their seed supplies and independent product information from their trusted local farming co-operative. As an independent supplier, ATS Seed can recommend the best pasture seed, brassica, fodder beet and maize products at great prices.
The ATS Shop allows members to shop online for everything from agricultural chemicals to trough valves and pet care to footwear. For the personal touch, ATS has two arable and pastoral representatives travelling throughout Mid-Canterbury to look after farmers’ pasture and cropping requirements.
ATS is very much a part of local rural communities and has a long tradition of giving back through sponsorship and grants. Beneficiaries include the ATS Kids programme, a host of schools, charitable and sporting organisations, the EA Networks Sports Centre, the Ashburton A&P Show and the annual ATS Longbeach Coastal Challenge, pictured above right.
Philip McKendry, pictured, joined the ATS Board of Directors in 1998, became Deputy Chair in 2005 and has chaired the board since 2011. An agricultural science honours graduate from Lincoln, Philip has had a long involvement in community irrigation development and was founding Chairman of Barrhill Chertsey Irrigation.
He is also currently Deputy Chairman Electricity Ashburton Limited (EA Networks) and formerly a Trustee of the Advance Ashburton Community Foundation. With wife Judith, he farms a 200ha arable property near Methven.
When visiting NZ’s co-op capital recently, Cooperative Business NZ Chief Executive Craig Presland met Philip, an “inspirational champion of the co-operative business model”.
Craig reports “Apart from being impressed with ATS’s absolute commitment towards its core business of being an outstanding rural supplies provider, because their loyal Members simply deserved the best, I was very interested in ATS’s rapidly advancing technologies and capabilities with its customer card. This growing knowledge and IP in developing a truly world class e-transaction card could set ATS apart from its larger competitors and help ensure its survival in what is a highly competitive NZ rural supplies market.”
1 June 2016
ATS has recently revised its Drug and Alcohol Policy to ensure it is aligned to new legislation and while many could view this as a purely compliance based exercise there is a much more important reason behind the move.
Ultimately we want to ensure all of our employees, customers and visitors are safe and stay safe. We all have a responsibility to make sure those who work for ATS are not under the influence, potentially putting themselves and others at risk because of an unnecessary lapse in judgement.
This responsibility sits with all in the workplace. As an employer, ATS and its management are responsible, and on a personal level, individual staff are also accountable. This means if anyone has any concerns about other employees who may be suffering from overindulging the night before, or those they think are habitual users of drugs and/or alcohol, they should report it to the appropriate staff member and the necessary action should be taken.
Under new legislation, if a concern is reported, but not acted on and an accident ensues, the individual who failed to act could be liable and possibly prosecuted. This would be an extremely difficult burden to bear, as I imagine most would already be devastated that someone within their team has been hurt.
In an effort to prevent such outcomes, ATS’s new Drug and Alcohol Policy includes such practises as pre-employment and random drug testing. All staff have been advised of the new policy and our zero tolerance stance, and our managers have been fully trained to implement the policy and the necessary procedures. This also includes how to handle legitimate prescription drugs. Many may be safe, but some can come with impairment warnings.
Numerous businesses, especially those which involve the operation of heavy and dangerous machinery, will have similar practise in place. If you haven’t, or it has been a while since your policy has been reviewed, now is a good time to take another look at how you are keeping your staff and yourselves safe.
Some will only see more red tape, but it is important to look at the bigger picture. Everybody should be able to work or visit a safe environment and we have a moral and ethical responsibility to ensure this is the case.
Neal Shaw, ATS Group CEO
|Free on-property collection for these drum brands:|
|Free recycling for these container brands:|
Containers and drums must be empty, triple rinsed, and well drained. They must be free from residue and dirt, inside and out. Only containers and drums from participating brands are free to recycle. Terms and conditions apply.
Recent media coverage around Fonterra’s decision to push out its payment of suppliers to 90 days has created much negative feedback and discussion around the responsibility of large businesses and how they support their communities.
This is especially significant in tougher economic times, such as those currently being experienced. I believe this approach is irresponsible and possibly says more about the inherent issues that may be happening within a business and will need to be addressed at some stage.
While businesses like Fonterra have to look after their co-operative owners, they also have an obligation to their service providers to ensure they are being looked after as this also benefits their co-op members.
ATS could take a hard-line business approach to make money for its shareholders by pushing out payment dates for our suppliers, but it would be largely counter-productive. This is because our shareholders are also our customers and users of these services. Late payments would most likely be detrimental to the success and sustainability of our supplier businesses and would also slow the essential flow of money needed in difficult times.
ATS prides itself on its prompt payment of suppliers, and in turn it also expects prompt payment from its members. We look to our suppliers to create an environment where the co-op can offer meaningful discounts to members – that is our role, to lower farmer input costs. It seems only fair and reasonable that we pay in full and on time without drawing out the payment date so our suppliers can continue delivering these meaningful discounts to our members.
What would be the impact on our local community if we pushed out our payment structure to 90 days? I believe it would be significant and would negatively impact on the goodwill and financial viability of our community.
Ashburton relies heavily on its farming community and when farmers are struggling then so does the rest of the community. We all need the continued flow of money to keep our district working and to navigate these challenging times.
Neal Shaw, ATS Group CEO
After a tough season many dairy farmers may be considering extending the milking period of their cows to create more cashflow.
For farmers in a position to do so, keeping cows in milk for an extended period can make strong commercial sense. A dry cow by contrast still incurs feed and grazing costs but without a corresponding milk income.
SealesWinslow Consultant Animal Nutrition Specialist, Paul Sharp, says that farmers weighing the costs and benefits of extending the milking period have several things to consider.
“As the season draws to a close there are conflicting challenges of building up vital feed reserves for the winter ahead, increasing cow condition to target 5.0 condition scores at calving, while also feeding to keep the milk flowing and optimise days in milk.”
Paul acknowledges that optimising a farmer’s return on investment through extended lactation requires a thoughtful farming strategy, and providing the right balance of nutrients can be the key to success.
He points out that a late lactation pregnant cow, whose stomach capacity is severely reduced, can struggle with bulky silages and straws that are high in fibre but take up valuable rumen volume. The same cow will respond better to an energy-dense feed which occupies less stomach room while supplying her and the growing calf with the nutrients they need.
“A cost-effective option is SealesWinslow’s Home Run,” says Paul. “It provides optimal nutrition with less wastage, making more energy available for milk production.”
Alternatively, pasture still remains the most convenient and economical feed option. With a focus on grazing management, use of irrigation and regular nitrogen application, it will generally be of high quality affording excellent protein and fibre levels throughout autumn.
“However, to maximise milk production, you need to ensure the pasture has a proper balance of nutrients,” advises Paul who strongly recommends carrying out a herbage test.
“The test will determine the precise level of nutrients your animals are getting. Importantly, it will also allow you to formulate a balanced diet for your cows. And that’s an important step for achieving better productivity.”
The right nutrients fed strategically late in lactation will be key – particularly this season, for dairy farmers choosing to keep cows in milk and extend their cash flow.
“Ultimately it’s about increasing the efficiency of your herd and maintaining an income, by employing smart strategies to improve the cost-effectiveness of keeping cows in milk.”
Farmers interested in running through the numbers to see if extending milking could work for their farming situation can be put in touch with a SealesWinslow Specialist by calling 0800 287 325.
It’s been almost 12 months since ATS regained 100 per cent ownership of Ruralco. Originally set up as a joint venture almost three years ago, Ruralco is a separate brand responsible for your co-operative’s card business.
As we near another anniversary it is timely to take a look at why the old ATS charge card system was rebranded and what it means for shareholders today.
The ATS brand has always been strong in the Mid Canterbury region. We were mindful of the parochialism which exists in other parts of the country and asked ourselves how could we grow the business with something that was fundamentally recognised as being specific to Mid Canterbury? By rebranding the ATS Card as Ruralco we could expand into other rural areas while still staying true to our mission of lowering costs for farmers.
Under the Ruralco brand, ATS members are able to use what was their ATS charge card over a wider geographical area. On the back of this, there have been many benefits secured thanks to the growth of the card including a greater discount for fuel from Mobil who have strongly supported us in broadening our offer.
The change to Ruralco has grown the number suppliers both throughout the South Island and nationwide, making the Ruralco card convenient and versatile. We continue to apply the same criteria we have always had of only accepting high quality suppliers so our card holders can be assured they are dealing with reputable and reliable businesses willing to offer meaningful discounts to card holders.
Since the rebranding took place, we have seen steady growth in card usage by existing ATS members who are making use of the wider coverage offered, and by new Ruralco card holders signing up.
Ruralco has been operating profitably across all regions and this has assisted in cushioning the impact of a severe downturn in farming for ATS. These results show the steps taken over the last three years to establish a national card offer have proven to be the right ones.
Neal Shaw, ATS Group CEO
Farming is not always an easy life. The work is hard and physical, the hours are long and you’re exposed to the extremes of the weather – not to mention international commodity prices. You might even say that farming comes with more than its fair share of risks.
Some of those risks are to life and limb, and it is those risks that the new Health and Safety at Work Act is focused on.
At its heart the new law is all about identifying work risks and creating a culture of risk management. The requirement to manage risks at work is not new – there’s long been a legal duty to keep people safe at work. But with the new law coming into force on 4 April there has never been a better time to take stock of your approach to keeping everyone on farm safe and healthy.
So what do farmers need to know about the new law? Well, first up let’s dispel a couple of myths.
To be clear, the new law does not require the elimination of all risks at any cost. That’s not realistic and not what WorkSafe New Zealand expects. And it doesn’t have to mean a whole lot more paperwork. Health and safety is about identifying and managing risks – not a folder full of documents gathering dust.
To continue reading click here.
9 March 2016
Do you record exact hours worked by all staff? Do you need staff to be available to work just when they are needed or need to cancel shifts at short notice? Do you need to stop staff taking other jobs?
If you have answered “Yes” to any of the above then you need to understand the implications of the law changes – and you need to do so now.
The law introduces serious penalties for a breach of minimum standards (like up to $50,000 uninsurable penalty for an individual). And this is expected to apply to any employment agreement signed from 4 April.
Free Workshops (to explain your risks and required actions). All workshops run from 12:00 noon till 1:30, including questions:
Ashburton – 16 March 2016 – Grow Mid-Canterbury, 248 East Street
Methven – 23 March 2016 – the Blue Pub
Geraldine – 24 March 2016 – (Venue To Be Confirmed)
Click here for more information.
27 January 2016
The Advance Ashburton Community Foundation can help you, or someone you know, to achieve these dreams. There are several scholarships available right now!
The Jaycees Industry Training Scholarships ($1000 each) are for anyone doing an industry (eg AgITO, BCITO) or trades course in Mid Canterbury.
The Jaycees Outward Bound Scholarships ($2000) are for anyone who is keen to take on this challenge for their professional and personal development.
For further information, application criteria & forms go to: www.advanceashburton.co.nz
14 December 2015
Dairy farmers around the country can access free support to help them come to grips with their farm nitrogen reports and how to use them to support N-loss improvements, thanks to a partnership between Ballance Agri-Nutrients, Fonterra, Tatua and Dairy Women’s Network, and DairyNZ.
Timed to coincide with the release of the reports, experts including nutrient specialists, dairy industry experts and farmers, have just completed a series of workshops in Taranaki, Southland and Waikato following a national roadshow in autumn this year, but the learning doesn’t stop there.
Ballance Environmental Management Specialist Ian Power says it’s not possible for everyone to take time out for a workshop. The team has acted on feedback from the first round of roadshows to improve the programme and extend the learning online to help farmers everywhere turn their reports into action.
Anyone can access free resources including videos and workbooks from http://www.ballance.co.nz/Our-CoOp/Sustainability/Farm-Nitrogen-Reports
Facebook users can ‘like’ the Ballance Facebook page for frequent tips, and Ballance Nutrient Specialists are available to offer expert advice on 0800 222 090.
Reports going back to farmers provide nitrogen loss and nitrogen conversion efficiency performance information and benchmarks. We help farmers take things a step further by showing them what factors influence the nitrogen loss and nitrogen use efficiency values reported, and offer some really practical ways to change them for the better.
Options for improving nitrogen use efficiency span fertiliser use, effluent management, pasture, supplement use and stock management.
Ian says that if you don’t increase stocking rates, you can increase your production without increasing nitrogen inputs, or you can maintain production and decrease your nitrogen inputs. Both options will usually result in increased nitrogen conversion efficiency, and this is often accompanied by a decrease in nitrogen loss to water. The strategy you choose will depend on farm goals and the scope within the farm system to increase production, reduce nitrogen inputs or use them better.
“Improving nitrogen use efficiency is not only good for the environment, it’s good for business. Progressive farmers are using the annual reporting to fine-tune their strategies for using nitrogen more efficiently while maintaining or improving production.”
17 November 2015
· Net profit after tax of $877,000
· Strong growth in equity
· No term debt at year end
· Full ownership of Ruralco Card services
· Substantial improvements in business efficiency being realised
Ashburton based farm supplies co-operative ATS has reported solid earnings despite challenging market conditions for its 2,700 shareholding farmers.
ATS Chairman Philip McKendry said he was pleased about the co-operative’s results, and looked forward to seeing the full outcome of earlier initiatives fully reflected in returns, once the current year was completed.
ATS reported a $4.4 million increase in its turnover to $119.4 million and a turnaround in its nett profit figures, from a loss of $339,000 to $877,000 surplus after tax.
“You could really describe the year as one of two halves. For the first six months things were still quite buoyant, but from February the tide turned and dairy farmers closed their cheque books pretty quickly.”
However the co-operative still managed to maintain healthy sales per shareholder, averaging $44,200. This is a figure McKendry fully anticipates will increase strongly in the current year as the co-operative began to reap the benefits of its 100% stake in Ruralco Card business.
Formed two years ago Ruralco had initially been a joint venture between ATS and
Ravensdown, but last year the fertiliser co-operative decided to exit the relationship.
“It was a mutual decision, and both parties constructively negotiated an equitable exit from the JV. Full ownership of Ruralco now means ATS members fully benefit from the expansion of our regional base to national coverage, without the need for investment in bricks and mortar.”
With an expanding network of suppliers accredited to accept the card, Ruralco was also experiencing strong cardholder growth.
Returns from the card business are expected to grow in 2016 as ATS exploits the opportunities full ownership of Ruralco enables. Opportunities are being developed beyond its regional base in a manner which delivers value to the co-operatives members in terms of lower prices and a more extensive supplier network.
The 2016 year accounts will more fully reflect the strong growth experienced by Ruralco.
The co-operative had been well positioned to weather the rural downturn thanks to an early focus on its business efficiency.
This had included removing dairy representatives from the road; something McKendry said had raised some eyebrows in the industry at the time.
“However we have made a solid investment in our customer service centre, and this has proven very effective in replacing those positions. Farmer shareholders appreciate the contact with our knowledgeable and helpful customer services staff who are all based right here in Ashburton.”
The co-operative had also reviewed its “freight free” policy, putting some parameters around it to control what had become a significant cost centre.
Meantime profitability of its retail outlets had been lifted thanks to a management change
that had split up the operations role into a procurement role and a general manager’s role.
Sharper inventory management had been achieved with the appointment of long time ATS manager Jono Pavey as Procurement Manager. The GM role had been filled by Robert Sharkie, a familiar face to many in the Canterbury rural community.
“We initiated all these moves over 18 months ago and they proved timely, putting us in a
good position with regard to our core business efficiencies when things did get tighter.”
The Burnett Street property which had been vacated by head office staff due to structural issues has also since proven to have potential for re-development. A decision will be made soon regarding further investment which would enable all Ashburton staff to be based on one modern site.
“We ended the financial year in a good position debt wise, carrying no long term debt. While no commitment has yet being made, we are capable of developing the building, and with Ashburton being such a robust economy, we see it as an effective way to ensure equity in the co-operative is preserved” McKendry said.
Research by ATS has indicated the importance of having a co-operative that its members feel closely connected to, and that remains true to its core purpose of lowering farm input costs. McKendry explained that “ATS, combined with full ownership of Ruralco, gives us the means to do that, enabling our members to benefit from scale and influence in the Canterbury agricultural supplies market as well as offering a discount card with a national reach.