From Wellington to wellies: Keith Woodford talks mentors, best memories & modern farming

From Wellington to wellies: Keith Woodford talks mentors, best memories & modern farming

Keith Woodford has educated Kiwis on a huge range of topics - A2 milk, bovis and when it came to using pine trees as a way to offset emissions, he was one of the first to see trouble brewing.  

In July he won the Primary Industries Outstanding Contribution Award for 2023, which he said was an unexpected but proud achievement.

Woodford, who grew up in Wellington City told REX hosts Hamish McKay and Rebecca Greaves he always had a passion for the outdoors.

"By the time I got to the sixth form I had it very firmly fixed in my mind that I was going to be a farmer," he said.

"I knew nothing about it but that was where I was going."

Although he never got to fulfil his childhood 'dream', the Honorary Professor of Agri-food Systems at Lincoln University has given him the chance to work alongside a lot of farmers, which Woodford said are some of the most enjoyable memories from his illustrious career.

"Sometimes it's just listening to farmers. There's actually a lot of wisdom from just listening to farmers.

"I've enjoyed anything that involved working with farmers."

Parts of his job, particularly investigating topics like A1 versus A2 milk, he described as more satisfying than enjoyable, noting a key distinction between the two feelings.

"There have been things like the A1 and the A2 milk issue where that's always been controversial. 

"That's been satisfying, although at times quite stressful so not necessarily enjoyable but I've never looked back and said 'I wish I didn't do that' rather I've always looked at what's the new opportunity."

Talking about some of the most influential people that have inspired his career, Woodford said his Farm Management lecturer at Lincoln University Sir James (Jim) Stewart was his biggest mentor, particularly as he was being introduced to the business of farming.

"He took farm management, which had been a little bit recipe based, and he put a sound theoretical basis to it.

"Jim was a huge influence at Lincoln back in those days at putting farm management onto a really sound basis."

He wasn't able to pick just one person in the agribusiness sector who specifically impacted him more than anyone else, but there was a group of people who realised that a stronger link between agribusiness and farm management were desperately needed.

"Most of the big changes on the farm come from things beyond the farm gate but by the same token if you're going to be successful in marketing agricultural products you've got to understand something about the underlying biology."

Woodford holds a lot of praise for modern farmers but believes a lot of the media surrounding farming and agribusiness is tied back to a greater ideological belief or stance that uses selective evidence to reinforce, instead of using face value data and statistics to come to an impartial conclusion.

"An awful lot of the media is misinformation and if people are misinformed then they are not going to make good decisions.

"We have too many situations where people have a solution, which they are trying to push through the media, and then they organise the evidence to suit that particular outcome.

"I'd like to see more people who are genuinely independent and presenting sound information."

Listen to the full chat between Honorary Professor of Agri-food Systems at Lincoln University Keith Woodford, Rebecca Greaves and Hamish McKay above.

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