Innovator plugs agri tech careers

By Ben Chapman-Smith

Electric fence maker Gallagher says sector offers well-paid jobs but is often overlooked by young people.

Matt Macfie says urban New Zealand does not recognise the depth of agriculture. Photo / Christine Cornege
Matt Macfie says urban New Zealand does not recognise the depth of agriculture. Photo / Christine Cornege

Young people need to start considering New Zealand's thriving but often overlooked agricultural technology sector as a viable, well-paid career option, says Waikato-based innovator Gallagher.

The animal management company has long been one of New Zealand's most well-known brands among farmers and has ranked in the top 10 of the TIN100 survey of New Zealand's leading technology companies for the past three years.

Currently celebrating its 75th year, the firm's electric fence, animal weighing, and electronic identification systems can be found on farms all over the world.

Yet many Kiwis failed to recognise the importance of agri-tech to the national economy, both as a creator of jobs and an improver of farm efficiency, said Matt Macfie, international business development manager.

"I see how big the sector is and how important it is for our country - when the farmers are doing well the country is doing well," he said.

"But I think residential New Zealand doesn't recognise the depth and width of the ag industry and what it can offer to the country."

Gallagher employs about 700 staff in Hamilton, depending on seasonal demand for products, and about 100 of those are solely dedicated to research and development. The company has another 300 staff globally.

Other companies like Tru-Test and Livestock Improvement Corporation were also significant employers, Macfie said.

And although Gallagher "works pretty hard" to take on graduates, very few young people seem to be considering the agri-tech industry when entering tertiary education, he said.

"Uni students don't even look at it, they don't even seem aware of it, but there are so many opportunities.

"I want to see young people starting to see this as a viable career option."

Macfie said the sector had given him "a brilliant career".

"People are coming straight out of uni and earning $70,000 with a company car after three years."

Established in 1938, the Gallagher Group is family owned and has grown into a multimillion-dollar business with distribution channels in more than 130 countries.

Originally known as a leading developer of electric fence systems, the group has expanded into other areas such as animal weighing technology, security systems and retail fuel pumps. It supplies more than half of the fuel pumps in the Pacific region.

Macfie said Gallagher had chosen to keep its manufacturing base at home, rather than going for cheaper options overseas.

"We make everything here in Hamilton - it gives us great control over quality.

"There was a year where we pushed steel gate manufacturing to China but the quality was just not up to scratch."

Although the company was committed to building its global presence, with a focus on regions like South America, its priority was still New Zealand.

"The electric fencing market here in New Zealand is still key and we have to make sure we don't take our eye off the ball," Macfie said.

One of the group's latest innovations is an electric fence system which divides a farm into zones, allowing a farmer to quickly isolate any disruption in the voltage flow.

"It will text you, outlining what the performance in each zone is and you'll know pretty quickly which part of the farm a problem's in."

This year's National Fieldays, being held at Mystery Creek in June, would be a massive event for the Gallagher Group, he said.

"The theme will definitely be around the 75th celebrations. We'll be there showcasing our weighing and EID (electronic identification systems) and a number of one-off products."

Gallagher's total sales last year were close to $200 million, with a forecast of about $212 million this year.

Its biggest markets outside New Zealand are Australia and North America.

Between 70 and 80 per cent of its sales are made overseas.


Gallagher

• Waikato-based agri-tech company.
• Products include electric fences and animal weighing.
• 700 staff in Hamilton and about 300 overseas.
• $212 million of sales forecast for this year.
• 70-80 per cent of sales made overseas.

- NZ Herald

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