New Year Honours: John Luxton, Companion of the New Zealand order of Merit

John Luxton, former Dairy NZ chairman and one-time agriculture minister, says his honour is for his fellow farmers.

"I think it's not so much me I think it's the farmers - they've gone through a couple of tough years and recognition of their efforts rather than my efforts is hopefully what this award is all about"

Now 70, Luxton retired from politics in 2002 and oversaw the development of DairyNZ, an "industry-good organisation" that was created with the merger of Dexcel and Dairy Insight, and was the first dairy industry body of its kind.

DairyNZ has a staff of around 350 people mainly funded by dairy farmers. Among this team are some of New Zealand's leading scientists.

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The citaiton says Luxton played a key role in significant policy and legislative changes in New Zealand, including the foundation policy work that led to the formation of Fonterra and the deregulation of producer boards.

He led the dairy industry through a significant growth phase, with jobs in the industry peaking at 42,240 employees while contributing $13.2 billion to export revenue for 2014/2015.

He told the Herald that dairying in New Zealand leads the world because of the commitment to research and innovation, seen in equipment used in the industry all around the world.

"Dairying today focuses on using the best science and economics to meet the challenges of ensuring our dairy production remains sustainable. This is alongside the continuing innovation on farm, in processing and in marketing," he said.

"Thousands of sophisticated NZ dairy products are a now a key ingredient in international supply chains particularly in the food sector, but also in pharmaceuticals and other sectors."

It was important for young people to realise that agriculture and dairy in particular offered great career opportunities," said Luxton, who still has extensive farming interests around his home base near Morrinsville.

His son is a sharemilker and they discuss what's going on frequently.

"I'm not so much in the gumboots, but I do get out on farm. I keep an eye on exactly what's happening."

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He said the industry still had work to do cleaning up the environment but there was misunderstanding around the impact of dairy on the country's waterways.

"It does get a bad rap. Pictures tends to show beef cattle in the high country, There are significant gaps between rural and urban and that's one of the challenges that the dairy sector has."

Luxton said the dairy export product mix was constantly evolving.

"As an industry it's continued to respond to the challenges in the market place."

Luxton entered Parliament in 1987 and went on to hold Cabinet portfolios including energy, housing police, commerce trade and agriculture.

Though he says he didn't "bend the ear" of ministers in the current Government over dairy issues he met the Agriculture Minister a few times a year to discuss issues.

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According to the citation he has represented the industry as part of the Trade Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations, helped launch a new strategy for sustainable dairy farming and a new water accord in 2013, championed research and development and education within the industry.

He established the Waikato Dairy Leaders Group and chaired the Industry Leaders Forum. He is a former chairman of the Tatua Co-op and a founder of Open Country Dairies and Kaimai Cheese companies.

Luxton is co-Chair of the Waikato River Authority, Chair of the Asia New Zealand Foundation and Hauraki iwi-owned Pouarua Farm Partnership.

He was made a Companion of the Queen's Service Order for Public Services, in the Queen's Birthday in 2003.