Steward of the Land: Mark Leslie
Pāmu draws inspiration from its name, the Māori word ‘to farm’, which captures the concept of caring for the environment. CEO Mark Leslie is promoting stewardship on its portfolio of farms across New Zealand as it confronts the climate crisis and environmental challenges.
The Māori word Pāmu represents more than just a brand for Landcorp Farming, a state-owned enterprise with a portfolio of farms across New Zealand. The word, which translates as the verb ‘to farm’, captures the Māori concept of stewardship and care for the environment.
Those concepts guide CEO Mark Leslie as he prepares the agricultural company for challenges such as climate change, and protecting freshwater quality and biodiversity while still producing sustainably to meet growing global demand.
"We’re continuing to optimize our core business, which is our livestock, our sheep and beef and deer, and our dairy units," Leslie tells The CEO Magazine. "We’ll continue to be focused on excellence with those farming operations, but into those farms we’ll be looking to work through how we can incorporate technologies that mitigate climate change or mitigate methane production."
Agriculture underpins the New Zealand economy, representing roughly five percent of gross domestic product. Its farms export US$34.7 billion in food and fiber – much of that dairy and meat, which has conquered markets around the world.
Founded in 1886, Pāmu – the brand name for Landcorp Farming – has played an important role in developing and supporting New Zealand’s agricultural sector. It has created more than 20,000 farms since its inception – approximately half of all farms in the country – according to management.
Its 137 years of experience has helped it develop a reputation for pioneering new practices and producing best in class products. That know-how benefits the industry as a whole, according to Leslie.
We’ll be looking at trying to grow how we use technology and automation to make farming easier.
"We’re in a really unique position that we can actually demonstrate some technologies or solutions that work on our farms, but actually have some really good applicability for the whole of the agriculture sector," he explains.
"We can trial things and then share that with the rest of the community."
Pāmu is best-known for its lamb, beef and deer products, but it is also growing in the premium milk products space, including grass fed, A2 beta casein, organics, sheep and deer milks. Crops such as avocados have also been introduced in suitable locations.
"We’re looking at how we can expand our land use or diversify the land use we’ve currently got," Leslie reveals.
Along with diversifying its products, Pāmu is also innovating with new technologies. "We’ll be looking at trying to grow how we use technology and automation to make farming easier," he says, explaining that the data generated through digitization improves productivity, helps with regulatory compliance and provides trust to customers.
Solving farming challenges
Agricultural innovation has advanced enormously since when Leslie was growing up on a dairy farm in Reporoa on the North Island.
He joined Pāmu as CEO in March 2022 after spending more than two decades with Fonterra, the country’s mammoth dairy co-operative and exporter, and later serving as COO of Silver Fern Farms, New Zealand’s largest livestock processing and marketing company.
This position gave me the privilege of being in the unique position to help solve some of the challenges that farming families face here in New Zealand.
"I had the opportunity to run Fonterra’s global supply chain business including its manufacturing business in New Zealand here with all of its processing sites and milk collection businesses," Leslie recalls.
"This position gave me the privilege of being in the unique position to help solve some of the challenges that farming families face here in New Zealand, and all over the world."
Four key values
One of the challenges Leslie is currently facing at Pāmu is recruiting. "How do we attract great talent and people into the business to allow us to run those 110 farms?" he reflects.
People are the lifeblood of Pāmu, and Leslie lists four values that have allowed them to thrive: working shoulder-to-shoulder, being genuine, being grounded and being bold.
"That’s really about our teams on farm working together, shoulder-to-shoulder, but equally it’s about our connection to the community," he says of the first value.
I’m proud that our people are wanting to come on that journey and say, actually, how are we going to adapt to some of these climate change challenges.
"Let’s be really genuine in terms of what we’re trying to achieve. We need to be grounded in terms of the decisions we make and remember that the things we’re trying to drive have got to make sense for people out on the land."
The fourth and final value, being bold and trying new things will prove imperative as Pāmu adapts to challenges such as climate change and increasing food production.
"I’m proud that our people are wanting to come on that journey and say, actually, how are we going to adapt to some of these climate change, freshwater, biodiversity and animal welfare challenges," Leslie says.
"It’s going to be a bit scary at times because we are going to be trialing some things that are a little bit out there, but actually that’s pretty neat if we can prove some of these things have that broader applicability beyond our farms."