Spotlight on Governance

Our new report “Pathways to Governance: Enhancing Food and Fibre Sector Governance for Greater Impact.” highlights the need for strategic support at all stages of the governance journey.

With input from over 27 seasoned and emerging directors as well as key stakeholders, this report is not only a collection of insights but a call to action for groups to consider where and how they can collaborate in the development of governance talent to support more effective decision-making across the sector.

Full report here



Meet the future-focused textile designer who’s on a mission to create acoustic interior products with NZ strong wool


Photo credit: Enneke Vaags


If you ask textile designer Sophie Poelman what her superpower is, she’ll tell you: “I think of crazy things!” 

It’s that kind of thinking, that risk-taking spirit, and the ability to ask, “why not?” that led her into a textile degree in university when there was only one major job offer in New Zealand for all graduates.

It led her to snowboarding adventures in North America, and then onto designing ski clothing and functional fabrics for outdoor sports.

When she returned to New Zealand in 2014, Sophie worked extensively with merino, and as she did, she began thinking more about wool, specifically strong wool (29+ micron wool and 32+ micron coloured wool).

“Merino is premium, super valued in the industry,” she says. “But I was curious about strong wool – I couldn’t believe it’s not valued more.

I began asking questions, doing more research. The reality is, strong wool is an abundant, undervalued fibre in New Zealand – in fact more than 80% of our wool is strong wool. Yes, it’s great to make insulation and matting, but I think we can do more than that, where we celebrate it, touch it and use it – not hide it behind walls!”

Sophie also dreamed of a better relationship between farmers and designers. 

“Right now, strong wool is just shipped, classified, blended, and sold at auction to the highest bidder. There’s no provenance, no traceability, all the unique characteristics of the farm are lost. I believe we can do better.”

There’s also potential on the global scale: The global acoustic insulation market size was valued at USD 14.08 billion in 2021 and is projected to reach USD 17.07 billion by 2026, growing at a CAGR of 3.9% from 2021-2026*. This is due in part to growing concerns of noise pollution and its effect on wellbeing and productivity.

And so, an idea was born: to design an acoustic interior textile product by working directly with a farm partner to source wool, while building a team of experts who help her bring her brand (Lof)  – and a scalable business model – to life. 

It’s a product that will showcase the durability, strength and beauty of strong wool, and one she hopes will set a precedent for how New Zealand designers and farmers can work together, so farmers earn a premium for their wool.

While she can’t reveal the actual product quite yet, there’s nothing like it in the market.

Today, Sophie is partnered with Palliser Ridge farm for their wool, Woolyarns who are developing coarse wool into yarn, and Industrial Designer Alain Brideson, who brings years of expertise in product design and CAD modelling. (He also happens to be Sophie’s husband, which means lots of creative discussions under one roof!)

And, she has a team of people around her who, she says, help bring her wild ideas to life, but also push back when needed.

While the past the years have been a deep dive into wool for her, experimenting with digital felting, weaving, knitting, dyeing, it’s been the funding from both MPI and AGMARDT that have allowed her to focus on bringing her product to life in the next year.

“It’s so amazing that AGMARDT has supported me because they’ve allowed me to move into that next level of business. Wool is a large-scale operation… I can’t just buy a kilo of wool. I have to buy a 300-kilo bale and get it made into yarn.

The funding is allowing me to focus on the business, to experiment and find new solutions. It’s allowing me to do things properly, to get the IP in place, find the right manufacturers and build the right partnerships.

Without it, I would have to work on such a small-scale level – and it’d take me years and by that time it’d be irrelevant.”

Ultimately, as she develops her acoustic interior product, Sophie wants to be an example of a better way of innovating: 

“I’d like to inspire other brands to team up with farms and work with this ethical model, where everything is done as locally as possible, and we really showcase our wool, our people and our unique whenua.”

Her vision is inspiring, and her excitement contagious. We can’t wait to see what she and her partners produce in the coming year.


 *According to MarketandMarkets’ “Acoustic Insulation Market Analysis,” updated 31 January 2023 

Not-for-Profit Performance – an agri-sector perspective report released


Not-for-profits play a critical role in building a resilient and growing food and fibres sector in New Zealand.

Yet, we know through years of supporting agri-sector NfP initiatives, that sustainability is a real challenge for many.

We’ve been thrilled to support the Agri-Women’s Development Trust (AWDT) taking a lead in commissioning KPMG to complete this new report Not for profit performance – an agri-sector perspective

It highlights key traits of high performing NfPs and provides strategic models to benefit the sustainability and resilience of these essential organisations.

We anticipate this report supporting current and future agri NfPs’ strategic thinking – aligning with our own long-term outcomes of a resilient and growing food and fibres sector

Mana Kai Initiative launched


AGMARDT is a proud partner of The Aotearoa Circle, which today launched the Mana Kai national food roadmap at Fieldays.

We’ve supported this ambitious initiative over the last two years, focused on helping to shape and enhance the future of our food system.

“It’s been exciting and uplifting to be here are Fieldays this week, connecting with our food and fibres community and welcoming Mana Kai,” says our GM Lee-Ann Marsh, who is part of the Mana Kai Leadership Group.

“Kai plays a significant role here in Aotearoa, not only as the economic backbone to our nation, but it can also enable our communities to thrive.

“The Mana Kai Initiative aspires to strike a sustainable and fair balance within our food sector that enables economic prosperity whilst also ensuring community wellbeing/hauora and a thriving natural environment.”

AGMARDT has funded two years of deep and wide dialogue, engagement and development underpinning the roadmap. This process has confirmed a clear shared agreement that Aotearoa New Zealand has an exceptional opportunity to create a specifically Aotearoa food system that we are all proud of, with tīkanga, kaitiakitanga, and mātauranga Māori at the core.

Using a Te Ao Māori framework, Mana Kai seeks to build on the good will and hard work of our communities, iwi Māori and food sector experts, to collaborate and expand.

With agreement from growers, producers and eaters, we now have shared values, purpose, ambition and actions to enhance our food system for future generations. The Mana Kai initiative is the starting point. Next comes more kōrerorero, and commitment to eight initial actions that continue our journey towards a balanced and thriving food system.

“Mana Kai is strongly aligned with AGMARDT’s desired long-term outcomes for New Zealand’s food and fibres sector, namely a regenerating environment and a resilient and growing sector – and the critical enabler of cross-sector and cross-cultural collaboration.

“There is complexity in our food systems but working in silos is no longer possible. Mana Kai creates new ways of working with others, within and outside the food and fibres sector, through giving us a framework for collaboration that is grounded in a shared vision and values.

“It highlights both the good work the sector can continue to build upon and accelerate as well as areas for change.”

NZ Zero spearheads fossil fuel free growing


Innovative agribusiness company NZ Zero (NZ0) has its sights set on export of the world’s first certified zero emissions produced cherries during the 2022/23 season, following start up support from AGMARDT.

The company’s focus is on eliminating fossil fuel used in the growing and harvesting of produce and to eliminate or reduce its use across all other aspects of its supply chain. It is also aiming to achieve New Zealand’s first zero fossil fuel certification.

NZ0’s first grower, Forest Lodge Orchard, near Cromwell, was established in 2019 by Mike and Rebecca Casey, who co-founded NZ0, along with Angus Curry.

Initially the orchard, which has about 9,600 cherry trees, allowed for fossil fuel use but by September 2021 it had completely converted all day-to-day operations to the latest electric technology – the first New Zealand grower to do so. This includes irrigation, frost fighting fans and orchard vehicles. Extensive solar power has also been installed on site.

The first ‘fossil-free’ harvest in 2021/22 was sold into the New Zealand market but the upcoming harvest will also be exported.

An AGMARDT grant helped NZ0 through its establishment phase. This included incorporation with the NZ Company Office, approval of trademarks, launch of its website and building its social media presence. The funding also supported NZ0 in the creation of an open source certification for food production with zero emissions, through AsureQuality, a pre-sales marketing campaign and retail and consumer research.

Angus Curry said market trials had been highly successful, demonstrating that New Zealand consumers were willing to pay a premium for sustainable food, with data showing that electrification for growers was highly viable – they have also developed an electrification payback model.

Forest Lodge has attracted significant media interest, including for the introduction of its electric tractor and bespoke electric foliar sprayer. It was a finalist in the 2021 Sustainable Business Awards and has been used as a case study by the Sustainable Energy Association New Zealand.

“NZ0’s purpose is to become a catalyst for true, quantifiable change in the production methods of growers,” said Mr Curry. “As a brand, it will add value to both growers and consumers while acting as a point of difference for NZ from other global producers.”

Mr Curry said that, recognising that impactful change of New Zealand’s carbon footprint depends on scale, NZ0 is developing a conversion plan for other growers to model.

The company now aims to build on its initial market research and data by expanding product offerings from cherries to other important commercial crops. Next steps include finalising its zero fossil fuel certification, working towards on-boarding new growers and establishing new sales channels domestically and internationally.

“We believe the ‘NZ brand’ would benefit greatly from its next market catalyst, identifying with carbon conscious consumers both domestically and globally to regain our premium niche in the market,” said Mr Curry. “This is a sector in which NZ could become the sole true participant based on our government’s target of a 100% renewable grid by 2030, the only large scale food exporter to do so.”

E Tipu 2022: Boma NZ Agri Summit


AGMARDT helped fund world-class speakers for E Tipu 2022: the Boma NZ Agri Summit, New Zealand’s biggest food and fibre cross-sector event.

AGMARDT led a workshop session at the summit,  funded the digital event programme to share all international talks and showcase domestic speakers to a global audience, along with recording, live streaming and post production for all the international speakers’ talks. These professionally-edited talks can be viewed on the Boma Global YouTube channel.

Boma offers transformational learning experiences for leaders and changemakers. The event, held at Christchurch Town Hall in June, proved highly successful, with over 750 attendees, from 242 organisations, the largest number since E Tipu’s launch in 2019. It was hailed by attendees as a world class event, with a significant number of delegates booking immediately for E Tipu 2023.

It included 31 world class speakers and panellists, a series of interactive workshops, designed to ignite action, and extensive networking opportunities.

Jude Leferink, brand and marketing director for Boma New Zealand, said AGMARDT was a natural partner for E Tipu, which has become a critical platform for informed, thoughtful and future focused dialogue around the issues that really matter for our primary industries.

“As a national event with global reach, E Tipu connects Aotearoa’s food and fibre sector with the world – bringing thoughtful and future focused dialogue around the issues that really matter for our primary industries,” said Ms Leferink.

“E Tipu connects Aotearoa’s food and fibre sector with the world — bringing together remarkable speakers and changemakers to ignite vital conversations, share mind-blowing insights, and help shape the future of Aotearoa’s primary industries.

“E Tipu sits at the nexus of the practical and the radical, tackling major questions around how we can be more innovative, collaborative, sustainable and profitable — now and into the future.”

Ms Leferink said the event headlined current industry challenges and opportunities directly aligned to AGMARDT’s focus area.

“Critically, E Tipu is not a talk-fest. It’s about connecting, arming and inspiring changemakers from across Aotearoa’s primary industries and beyond for what comes next — so they can take specific, positive action the very next day. The summit sparks transformations.

“E Tipu 2022 was bigger and bolder than ever before — showcasing mind-blowing insights and igniting vital conversations to help shape the future of the sector.”

Te Hono Bootcamp

PHOTO: AGMARDT’s GM, Lee-Ann Marsh and Trustee, Ben Tosswill.

AGMARDT is a proud sponsor of the recently held 2022 Te Hono Bootcamp. Below are a few reflections from AGMARDT trustee Ben Tosswill who attended with our GM, Lee-Ann Marsh.

“What an amazing few days! It was a privilege to be part of Te Hono and meet so many incredible people in our sector. I went from one great conversation to the next with some of my thoughts and ideas validated, while also seeing new possibilities and hope for the future.   I was impressed with the vast array of organisations represented and the diversity of the attendees.

The venue was outstanding – being amongst the mountains at Aoraki/Mt Cook brought a sense of humility. Seeing evidence of climate change first hand was sobering. We learned how quickly the Tasman Glacier is retreating and the predator impact on kea numbers in the area.

I observed how biodiversity, climate change and the environment are at the forefront of many decision makers minds. This paradigm shift has come quickly and is influencing decisions today. Climate change is a human problem, not a planet problem and solutions are within our reach.

Te Ao Māori woven throughout Bootcamp was uplifting. From waiata (song) to acknowledge and thank speakers, to Tina Porou’s talk which challenged and inspired through to the spiritual elements and connectedness with the land and sea. Mātauranga Māori is key to helping us plan for the future.

The importance of storytelling and understanding how we can shift people’s mindsets was also powerful. What are the barriers to change and how can they be influenced? How do people think and what inspires change? From a farmer’s perspective, we need to own the narrative and become better at telling our story, not just for others but also to each other. Help people feel successful and create a path for them to embrace a new identity.

Balancing this will be the need for listening, especially when there are two conflicting points of view. Why do they have that view? Is there a third way of resolving the problem? Conscious listening will result in understanding.

There was this and so much more, but I’ll leave it here. I look forward to seeing how the seeds planted at this year’s Bootcamp grow. Out of challenge comes opportunity.”

AGMARDT seeking to support future leaders

Closing Date: EXTENDED to 9th October 2022!

AGMARDT will be opening applications for its 2023 Leadership Scholarships on Tuesday 6 September 2022.

The annual scholarship programme provides emerging leaders in the food and fibres sector with financial support to advance their governance and leadership skills to take up future roles within agribusiness.

It is aimed at mid-career professionals from a wide range of backgrounds across the supply chain from farmers and growers through to agribusiness and industry bodies.

“We’re looking for innovative, future-focused thinkers who want to change the world for the better and are already having a positive influence through their work and leadership,” says AGMARDT Chair Nick Pyke.

“They will have a clear and distinctive plan for their ongoing growth and development toward taking up influential roles in the sector – not just a course or two, but a diverse programme of activity that will build their capability across a range of areas.”

For example, 2022 AGMARDT Leadership Scholar Alex Worker is advancing his vision of New Zealand as the eco valley of the world, producing ethical, technology enabled food to help feed Asia Pacific more sustainably.

As the founding Chair of Future Food Aotearoa, a collective of food entrepreneurs committed to growing New Zealand’s foodtech industry, Alex is using his scholarship to complete the Harvard Kennedy School’s Public Leadership Credential programme.

“With the Harvard programme, my aim is to significantly upgrade my governance, public good thinking and leadership skills to have a greater impact on the betterment of Aotearoa New Zealand.

“I’m really grateful for AGMARDT’s support. It’s a progressive signal to take a risk on my type of profile. In turn I hope to de-risk their investment and use the opportunity to drive real, collective impact across New Zealand’s food and fibre sector.”

The scholarships, up to a maximum of $15,000 (incl GST) per scholar, are available annually and successful scholarship applicants will have the opportunity to:

  • Achieve their potential as identified through their own comprehensive, personalised development plan
  • Develop and advance their management, leadership and governance skills
  • Explore their personal development beyond New Zealand’s borders, and
  • Participate in programmes that make a positive difference to New Zealand’s food and fibre sectors and are aligned with AGMARDT’s strategic interests and purpose.

Applicants must be New Zealand citizens or permanent residents, living here, who intend to maintain a career in the country’s food and fibre sectors and want to advance their leadership potential and skills and create impact.

Preference will be given, but not limited to: applicants who have not previously received AGMARDT assistance, who are involved in the agricultural, horticultural and/or forestry sectors and who are seeking new and innovative approaches to development.

They will show strong potential as a future leader and demonstrate, through a comprehensive plan, their intention to undertake a broad range of study/development.

For full details of criteria and the application process see,  Applications should be submitted via the online portal (


Farmer appointed as new trustee to AGMARDT


Photo – Ben Tosswill.

Hawkes Bay farmer Ben Tosswill has been appointed as a new Trustee to the AGMARDT Board of Trustees.

Ben is owner/operator of Birch Hill Station with his wife Libby in the Hawkes Bay. He is also Chair of the Beef+Lamb NZ Eastern North Island Farmer Council and a member of the Beef+Lamb NZ Farmer Council National Executive.

AGMARDT Chair Nick Pyke says Ben brings a valuable mix of skills, experience, and perspectives to the Board, says Chair Nick Pyke.

“We are really thrilled to welcome Ben to the table. As a farmer, he brings an understanding of the industry, a strong focus on what will benefit it going forward, and his networks and connections in the sector.

“With his significant experience in the finance industry globally and locally, he also brings a keen interest and eye for future investment trends, innovation and new technology.”

Prior to farming Ben worked as a rural bank manager before travelling throughout Africa, South America, and Europe. He lived in London for three years, where he worked as an analyst in corporate and investment banking.

Ben says he is excited to be appointed as an AGMARDT Trustee and looking forward to being part of a team that helps shape the future.

“We are living in an exponential era where the speed of technological change is accelerating, and people are adopting modern technology rapidly.

“AGMARDT plays a crucial role in fostering innovation, enabling emerging leaders to develop their capabilities, and driving positive change in the food and fibres sector.

“I want to see our sector leading the world in terms of reputation, opportunity, and innovation. Collaboration will be a key driver of this, something that AGMARDT helps to facilitate.”

Nick says AGMARDT is also farewelling Richard Green, who has stepped down from the board having fulfilled the role of both a Trustee and the Chair over his six years with AGMARDT.

“We want to say a huge thank you to Richard who has provided his time and significant expertise to help AGMARDT and the industry,” says Nick.

“We have valued his knowledge and understanding of the food and fibres industry and his guidance across the range of projects, as well as his business and financial acumen. This has helped ensure our fund is more secure in these volatile times.”


For more information contact

Alice Taylor 021 02785648

Taranaki Rural Energy Project


Photos – Property of Venture Taranaki and Taranaki Catchment Community.

A pilot project in Taranaki is trailblazing initiatives to help farmers improve on-farm energy-efficiency, energy resilience and reduce on-farm emissions.

The Taranaki Rural Energy Project is a collaboration between Federated Farmers, Taranaki Catchment Communities, Taranaki Regional Council and regional development agency Venture Taranaki – working closely with farmers, energy companies, equipment suppliers, programme partners, and agencies.

AGMARDT funding has enabled the project to take its first steps, undertaking initial pilot trials in farmer education and advice for energy efficiency.

Anne Probert, Venture Taranaki GM Regional Strategy and Sectors says on-farm energy use presents an area of opportunity, and farmers are keen to be more sustainable, identify efficiencies, and advance low emission energy options.

“To be able to do this and to capture these gains, they need help to understand their on-farm energy profile and how they can improve low-emission productivity. They also need to know what the best low-emission investment options are and have confidence about making those investments.

“We’re really grateful to AGMARDT for coming on board and making it possible for our Taranaki collective to design and trial such a farmer-led rural energy advisory service”

This involved engaging two people to visit a cross-section of farms, undertake on-farm energy audits and identify some ‘quick wins’ as well as longer-term energy solutions. Outcomes were also collated for the project team along with practical feedback on the value and potential extension of such a service and how it could be used to foster sharing of rural energy information and best practice.

Learnings from this pilot are being used as a foundation for potentially establishing a farm energy adviser role, which could serve as a blueprint for similar programmes throughout Aotearoa New Zealand.

Future plans could also include the possibility of farm visits, events, and information sharing on rural energy to support initiatives within the programme focus areas.

Funding from AGMARDT has enabled the project to develop a business plan and launch a centralised hub online where farmers can engage and access the programme.

Leveraging the collaborative nature of the project, core focus areas include working with partners to develop data systems that enable farmers to make the required energy-related investment decisions to support the project goals.

Another area is working to identify local resource capacities such as solar and river flows for renewable energies and the feasible technologies to support these.

The project is also supporting collaboration between energy infrastructure companies and the Taranaki rural community to increase supply resilience and support transitions to new technologies.

“Ultimately, the big focus of this project is creating a collaborative and farmer-led approach that fosters practical advice and support and closes the information gap farmers currently face in relation to the rollout of cost-effective, technically feasible, and readily available energy solutions.

“Learnings, case studies, and resources from the project will be available to all farmers in New Zealand. Over time, this will help to future-proof farms in terms of meeting their energy supply needs and also place them at the forefront concerning trialling, testing, and utilising new energy technologies and low emission options.”