There was never much doubt Warren Parker would follow an agricultural career.

Born in the Northland town of Kawakawa, he was raised on a mixed dairy, sheep and beef cattle farm in a small rural district bordered by the Waipoua and Mataraua forests.

"I started milking cows and rearing calves at a very young age and learned all the skills of being on a farm, including a lot of land-clearing in those days," said Dr Parker, who now heads Rotorua-based research institute Scion, which works with the forest industry nationally as well as across the Bay of Plenty.

Those skills stood him in good stead when, after initially completing a Bachelor of Agricultural Science with Honours at Massey University, he went out for a year as an agricultural contractor, fencing, shearing and scrub-cutting in the Bay of Plenty.

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But he was soon invited back to Massey to teach part-time, initially still contracting and also supervising a university farm in the Wairarapa, which was going through large-scale development. He eventually completed his Masters in farm management and a PhD in animal science part-time and stayed at Massey until 1998, the last six years as professor and head of the Department of Agribusiness and Resource Management.

"I was always involved with industry because agribusiness was such a large part of what we did at Massey," he said.

He left the university to join AgResearch where he spent five years, which included serving as chief operating officer for all of its science business. He then crossed the Tasman to spend a year at the Institute of Molecular Biosciences Commercialisation at the University of Queensland, Brisbane before returning to take up the role of chief executive at crown research institute, Landcare Research (Manaaki Whenua), based in Christchurch.

In March 2011, after five-and-a-half years at Landcare, he took on the role as chief executive of Scion.

"I always thought the forest industry was a strategically significant sector given the challenges that are confronting the world and domestically of climate change, resource constraints and regional development," said Dr Parker.

"The other factor for myself and Scion was the significance of the forest industry to Maori and to their future."

Dr Parker said that his experience at Scion had confirmed his belief in the importance of working closely with industry to find out their needs.

"Science is not an ivory tower," he said.

"Science is working with the people who are going to use the outputs of your science. The most critical thing is building strong relationships with the sector so there's mutual trust and agreement on priorities and direction. I think we're seeing the benefits of that at Scion."

He cited the ongoing challenge of communicating the benefits of forestry to the economy compared to other agricultural sectors.

"We do tend to have food-dominated, dairy-dominated economy," he said. "But sectors like forestry are really important for a number of reasons."

The sector generated a lot of jobs through manufacturing and also provided economic resilience, he said, noting that recent work by Scion showed forestry was less volatile than the dairy industry.

"And there is enormous diversification that can occur through wood processing and wood fibre products," he said.

"That's really where we are going to see accelerated change, both in the construction sector with more prefabricated engineered products, and in the biomaterials area where you're getting replacements for fossil fuels with blended mixes."

Coupled with the international drivers, forestry had a strong future, he said, noting that large multinationals were leading some of the change.

"Big businesses are moving to 100 per cent procurement of renewables," he said. "They are all very conscious about their environmental footprint and that is now starting to be manifested in their supply chains. So they are shaping the agenda even more in terms of what products get onto shelves and into retail distribution chains."

Throughout the central North Island there was investment by companies that saw a good future in forestry, he said.

"There is enormous new technology developments taking place quietly within companies and positioning for this very different future. Companies are responding to clear global market signals, particularly around renewable materials, renewable packaging, more efficient and environmentally sound building systems."

Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick described Scion as an iconic organisation that contributed on a local, national and global science and innovation platform.

"Warren's passion for grasping opportunities for the Rotorua district always impresses me," she said. "He's a valuable advocate for science and innovation. His real strength is his ability to add an economist's expert view to opportunities that can contribute to our community's aspirations."

Regenerating with native plantings

Warren Parker lives on a lifestyle block on the outskirts of Rotorua, where his goals include restoring a gully.

"I'm replanting in natives and putting in place some manuka," said Dr Parker. "There's a bit of irony there - when I was younger I cut down tea tree scrub, and now I'm replanting it. But I think regenerating an area of native plantings is a great thing."

Dr Parker also serves as chairman of the New Zealand Conservation Authority. "It's a real privilege to look after New Zealand's conservation estate, which is one third of our national land area, as well as marine resources," he said. "It's very significant for New Zealand's future."

He and his wife Vivienne have three children and four grandchildren, with gardening, bushwalking and reading high on his list of recreations.

Dr Warren Parker

Role - Chief executive, Scion

Age - 60

Born - Kawakawa, New Zealand

First job - agricultural contractor