Timing pays off for farmer

By Patrick O'Sullivan

Progressive Meats managing director Craig Hickson has been named 2012 Allflex/Federated Farmers Agribusiness Person of the Year.

At the recent award ceremony in Auckland, Federated Farmers national and Hawke's Bay president Bruce Wills said Mr Hickson was also a hands-on farmer ''but the name of his company pretty much sums up his philosophy''.

''Craig runs a mixed 1200ha sheep, deer and beef farm in Hawke's Bay and in addition to Progressive  meats, is a member of the Meat Board. Craig is also a director of Ovation New Zealand and a number of other meat companies. Somehow he finds the time to sit on the Boards of both Beef+Lamb New Zealand Ltd and Ovita Limited.''

Mr Hickson started his main business, Progressive in 1980 with his wife Penny.

''I resigned my job at the New Zealand Meat Producers Board in Wellington and moved back to Hastings,'' he said.

''I saw an opportunity for an independent contract packing house to cut frozen lamb on behalf of owner- exporters for a service fee.'' It took three proposals before it got started in 1981.

Within six months the business grew from six to 45 employees - today it employs 350.

It has only laid off staff twice, when Hawke's Bay was struck with drought.

''We were in the forefront of the new wave of smaller lamb plants, in the order of three carcasses per minute,  which was less than half the rate of conventional lamb-slaughter chains at the time.

''That was in 1987, when there were six plants built in the space of two years, three of which went broke, so being small in itself was not a panacea.''

Another innovation was the introduction of shift work at the venison slaughter and boning facility in 1982.

''It allowed small plants to have an equivalent throughput per line.

''We were the first plant to get shift work provisions for lamb slaughter and boning around 1987 and the second plant to introduce it.''

Progressive's location was unusual - it is located in the heavy industrial area around Omahu Rd in Hastings. Most plants were in semi-rural settings because of the perceived negative affect to neighbours of noise and smell, but Progressive has no unpleasant smells.

''We were in the forefront of introducing Just In Time for animals - stock deliveries are made by appointment.''

Another efficiency is a focus on carcass yield, uniting interests of all parties involved, not least the farmers who can earn above schedule by supplying lambs at specific weights.

He has stuck with just three main clients since 1990. The innovation continues, Progressive currently building a beef facility that will have a common boning room with the venison plant, venison numbers having ''dropped substantially''.


He said there will be further opportunities in the future. ''We try to live up to our name - our catchcry is, progressive by name and by nature.''

- Hawkes Bay Today

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