Alliance Group Chairman Murray Taggart

October 2015

A visit to Murray Taggart's North Canterbury property

Murray and Gina Taggart farm 666ha in North Canterbury, a sizeable portion irrigated from the Waimakariri Irrigation Scheme, with sheep, cattle and cropping. Murray was born and brought up on the farm and went farming on his own account from 1990 onwards, initially buying 193ha of dry land from members of the family. The first irrigation water was delivered in 1999 and that dictated a considerable change in farm policy towards intensive cropping.

A former meat and fibre national chairman of Federated Farmers, Murray has been a director of Alliance for 10 years, in two periods, and chairman for the past two. Murray and Gina have a son Roscoe, aged 24, working on the farm; and a daughter, Linda, 22, who works for Rabobank in the Invercargill office.

Murray Taggart is from a farming family in North Canterbury, attended Christchurch Boys High School and then Lincoln University, graduating in 1983 with a Bachelor of Agricultural Science. He worked for seven years with the ANZ Bank, initially in Christchurch, then Dunedin and finally in the Wellington head office from 1987 through the major deregulation of farming and credit squeeze.

Murray was a Nuffield Scholar in 1996 and reported on NZ meat marketing in European markets.

He was firstly North Canterbury Federated Farmers meat and fibre chairman and then national meat and fibre section chairman and national board member from 2000 to 2002.

Murray is also a director of Ballance Agri-Nutrients (since 2009) and was 15 years as a director of CRT Society. He was on the Alliance board as a farmer representative from 2002 to 2007, was voted off and stood again successfully in 2010, becoming chairman in 2013 on the retirement of Owen Poole former CEO and chairman.

In 1990, after Murray and Gina had tried unsuccessfully a number of times to purchase a stepping stone farm, the opportunity came to go farming on the home property. They lived frugally while saving a deposit with a goal to be farming before Murray was 30. His brother was on the family farm but he decided to go commercial fishing and so the opportunity to purchase 193ha from the family came up, plus leasehold land from the family, making 319ha in total.

They ran 2000 Corriedale ewes and replacements, for their ability to withstand the dry seasons, and grew two paddocks of barley. As a measure of the earning capacity, the Taggart’s combined gross income during their last year in Wellington was two-thirds of the farm in their first year. One month after beginning farming, the Wool Board stopped the minimum price scheme and prices crashed overnight.

In the 1988-89 drought, North Canterbury suffered badly and Rangiora dairy farmer and local politician Trevor Inch formed a committee to investigate irrigation, with delivery of water by the enhanced stock water race system. It took 10 years for company formation, fund raising and resource consents and from 1995, Murray’s father Roscoe Taggart was the chairman of the scheme committee. The $10 million scheme was officially opened in October 1999 and now includes 200 shareholders on 18,000ha of land capable of being irrigated. It has nearly 250km of irrigation race and water takes 48 hours to get from the intake at Browns Rock, on the north bank of the Waimakariri, about 3km downstream of the gorge bridge, to the furthest water user. The main race goes south west to north east from Browns about 35km, to end in the Ashley River, crossing the Eyre and Cust rivers on the way.

Because of regular low flows in the river, the reliability of the scheme is unfortunately lower than the design worst of 66% in March. The Waikamariri scheme has consent to abstract 10.5 cumecs and the river mean flow is 126 cumecs. It has flows that can exceed 4000 cumecs and the lowest flow recorded is 25 cumecs.

For the Taggarts, irrigation water is sprayed with a number of machines, including three Valley linears, a Roto-Rainer, a boom and gun and they are also installing a centre-pivot irrigator.

The Taggarts bought Waimakariri Irrigation Ltd (WIL) shares for every hectare of the farm, although the farm has expanded with some un-irrigated land since. They looked seriously at dairying and the alternative of cropping, as they had some arable machinery, but Murray was more interested in meat and wool and the dairying lifestyle didn’t appeal. They now grow cereals, grass seed and white clover, and a wide variety of vegetable seeds. They have a narrow range of machinery and contract in any specialised requirements from South Pacific Seeds.

The livestock consists of 1800 ewes and replacements; and between 1500 and 2000 store lambs during winter and 400 beef steers.

Murray’s motivation for public service came from parental encouragement to contribute to the community and given his background, Murray felt he was best-suited outside the farm gate. More involvement led to frustration that meat and wool industries weren’t more commercial. He became heavily involved in producer board reform and the wind-up of the Wool Board. “If boards had to ask farmers for money instead of just taking it, they would be far more responsive to farmers’ needs,” he says.

The Meat Board transitioned into Beef + Lamb New Zealand and came under the Commodity Levies Act, eventually pulling out of generic promotion in export markets. Murray did two years as FFNZ meat and fibre chairman and then stood for the Alliance board, and was successful. He believed it would be a conflict of interest to have both jobs, so he retired from the federation. In 2007, when there was a meat price downturn, Murray and Alliance chairman John Turner were voted off the board.

He was voted onto the board of Ballance and still had a CRT directorship. He was asked in 2010 to reconsider standing for Alliance and his passion for co-operatives in the meat industry was re-ignited. “I felt I had skills and background that still had something to offer.” When former CEO and chairman Owen Poole retired in 2013, Murray was elected chairman. By the end of this year, when long-serving board members Doug Brown and Murray Donald retire, Murray will be the only Alliance director with more than four years experience. The board also has three independent directors, along with six farmer-directors.