Business leaders discuss the year just gone and what will affect them in 2018. Today: Synlait Milk founder and chief executive John Penno.

What is 2018 looking like for your business?

2017 was very busy - after opening a new infant formula blending and packaging facility in Auckland, and nearing capacity at our Dunsandel site, we are entering 2018 looking to build an infant formula manufacturing site somewhere in the upper North Island.

We'll also be constructing a $125 million world-class milk packaging plant in Dunsandel to supply fresh milk and cream to South Island families through our new partnership with Foodstuffs South Island.


On farm, our Lead With Pride programme is starting to build momentum.

It rewards our farmers for working for the better of the industry by having best practice people systems in place, achieving leading animal welfare standards, being environment stewards and producing high milk quality.

This system sets the highest dairy farming standard in the industry and we are proud that by the end of 2018 we expect to have certified 25 per cent of our near 200 dairy farms.

How is that different to 2017? How has the last year been for your business?

A long period of low international commodity prices meant the farm gate milk price was very low and many have been losing money.

It was nice to see international prices, and farm gate milk prices, coming up to more sensible levels through 2017.

For us it was rapid growth to keep up with demand for our highest value products.

We commissioned a new Wetmix kitchen in Dunsandel (making it one of the largest infant formula manufacturing sites in the world), opened our new infant formula blending and consumer packaging facility in Auckland, and invested in a new research and development centre in partnership with Massey University and FoodPilot in Palmerston North.


What are the issues affecting your industry in the next 12 months?

To sustain success, dairy farming needs to look after our land and water, it needs to look after our animals and most importantly it needs to look after our people and communities.

Farmers understand this and they have always held tight to the value of leaving the land better than they found it.

At the same time they understand that they need to do more and more to improve environmental outcomes in particular.

That said, they have been doing an enormous amount for years; most dairy effluent is now captured and spread back to land to keep the water clean and recycle the valuable nutrients it contains.

Most waterways through dairy farms have been fenced off and many are planted to protect the streams and the rivers they feed.

Fertiliser is applied according to carefully calculated nutrient budgets placing as much emphasis on minimising losses to groundwater.

There are unfortunate exceptions and everyone agrees it's unacceptable and they need to be dealt with.

What is the biggest issue you would like the new Government to champion in 2018?

We need to find a balance between economic, social and environmental outcomes.

We need a vibrant economy that has lots of high paying jobs for families, and we need every child to have the same opportunities to make a great life for themselves.

I worry about how many kids don't live to their potential because of the circumstances they are born to.

I don't think it's the Kiwi way to let circumstance limit people's future.

We need to keep New Zealand beautiful. Beautiful people in a beautiful place we can all enjoy.

I acknowledge the importance of the Government's leadership role, but firmly believe that keeping New Zealand great is our job not theirs. It's up to all of us. In the long run will get the New Zealand we deserve.

Do you get a break this summer? What's your favourite way to relax?

Yes, I'll be taking time off between Christmas and New Year with my extended family camping at Waitangi on the shore of Lake Aviemore.

Mum and Dad took us there with a tent and a trailer sailor when we were kids.

We learnt to swim and sail and water ski and it got Dad away from the farm for a few days (although he would sneak back to shift the irrigators when it was too dry).

Now we all go back each year with our kids. Mum and Dad still make it along too. Same deal – camping and sailing, water skiing and enjoying Mum's home baking. Very simple but wonderful family time we all look forward to each year.