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Current as of 26/12/14 07:40PM NZST

Helen Twose

Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Drive to clean up farming earns scholarship

MP's daughter Natasha King wants to be the country's first woman minister of agriculture. But first she wants to solve dairying's effluent problems. Photo / Supplied
MP's daughter Natasha King wants to be the country's first woman minister of agriculture. But first she wants to solve dairying's effluent problems. Photo / Supplied

Natasha King has already written her own obituary. Although it was only part of a management course run by her employer, Meridian Energy, it crystallised the 39-year-old's ambitions for the future.

"I realised if I could do anything before I die, it's solving the effluent problems for dairy farmers in New Zealand," says King, Meridian Energy's national agribusiness manager. "I'm obsessively passionate about that."

As one of five local recipients of the international Nuffield Farming Scholarship, King will take that passion around the world, spending five months this year researching a workable solution to effluent and energy problems on New Zealand dairy farms.

"I know it's a big one but I made the decision that there's some opportunities out there around effluent management and in this country we're asking for that solution."

Past recipients of the prestigious Nuffield scholarship, which focuses on developing leadership and innovation in the rural sector, include Fonterra chairman elect John Wilson, Fonterra director Jim van der Poel and Air New Zealand chairman John Palmer.

King will travel part of the time with other international scholars. The rest of the trip she'll be on her own, leaving behind her partner and two teenage daughters to visit farms and effluent and water management systems in the United States, Uruguay, Israel, Philippines, India and Europe.

King will have a "bible" of past Nuffield scholar contacts she can tap for anything from industry connections to a bed for the night.

King's employer, Meridian, is supporting her while she's away and can also link her with farms to test out any innovative ideas she discovers.

It's the perfect amalgam of her enthusiasm for farming and leadership drive.

King's working life began as an 11-year-old in King Country woolsheds helping her dad, Colin King, back then a shearing contractor, now National MP for Kaikoura.

She married at just 19, with her first child born before her first wedding anniversary, but King says she wanted to be more than a farmer's wife.

Study towards a diploma in agri-business management was fitted around Playcentre and farm work and by the time her eldest started school King was working off the farm for rural services firm PGG.

It was the start of a career working for Dairy Meats NZ, Ambreed New Zealand and Fonterra before she was shoulder-tapped in 2008 to set up Meridian's agribusiness team.

King says her career has been shaped by bosses who had faith in her abilities and rounded off some of the edges, including current manager at Meridian, former Yellow Pages chief executive Dudley Enoka.

"It's not been easy along the way for me but I've had some great mentors. I know that anybody in the industry can achieve anything they want to but they sometimes need somebody to ask questions [of] or bounce off. In the future that's probably where I see my leadership going."

King says she is passionate about mentoring others, especially women. She would like to see more women in senior and directors' positions in business, saying women not only bring a different perspective, but as partners, mothers and friends are adept at opening up discussion.

"I don't believe in tokenism but I think the boards that don't have women are actually missing out," she says. "You can regulate, great, you can change behaviour, but it doesn't actually mean you get that buy-in."

King says change will come when male-only boards realise their mixed-gender counterparts are outperforming them.

She wants to follow her father into politics and become the first woman to hold the agriculture portfolio, although she suspects she'll be beaten to the post by National MP for Selwyn and Canterbury farmer Amy Adams.

- NZ Herald

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