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Self-taught seed man's vision for NZ
Why should we care what cows
eat? Dr Philip Yates ONZM says
our economy depends on it and
has spent his career driving
Catherine Healy met the
81-year-old at his Shortland St
Family tradition: Dr Philip Seabrook Yates was recognised in the New Year honours list
for services to agribusiness.
Photo: JASON OXENHAM
Go to aucklandcityharbournews.
co.nz to see a video featuring a
farmer who uses maize.
It was a teacher at Kohimarama
School who sparked Philip Seabrook
Yates' interest in plants back in 1941.
We had to pick leaves and press
I have a lot to thank that school
for,'' he says.
He was born into a family famous for
its association with plants. The Yates
family first entered the seed industry
I'm the sixth generation. It wasn't
expected [that I would join the busi-
ness] but the opportunity was there
and I grabbed it.''
Born in Orakei on March 3, 1932, Dr
Yates believes he was one of the first
Pakeha children born in the area.
There were only two houses in Ora-
kei in those days, apart from the
Growing up during the war was a
I had a friend at school who was a
refugee from the blitz in London.''
Later Dr Yates attended Kings Col-
lege but never went on to earn a uni-
My father said I should get out in
the real world and find out what work
is all about. I've spent the last 60 years
It's a regret I've got, that I have no
degree, but it was rare in those days
unless you were a doctor or a lawyer.''
His doctorate is an honorary degree
from Massey University.
He spent 36 years in the family com-
pany and rose from being an awkward
17-year-old junior to chief executive.
He was widowed at age 37 and left
with three children aged 11, 8 and 4.
Raising them while dealing with
his grief and working long hours was
very difficult'', he says.
After Equiticorp raided the com-
pany's shares in 1985 he was tipped
out of his seat as chief executive.
Finding himself unemployed at age
53, he decided his best option was to
start his own business and founded
Genetic Technologies Ltd with the aim
of building up the Pioneer seed brand
in New Zealand.
Dr Yates and his company have had
a huge influence on cow nutrition over
the past 24 years by encouraging far-
mers to grow and use maize.
He says if farmers feed their cows
the right balance of maize silage, grass
and other supplements such as palm
kernel they can drastically increase
their milk production.
The problem with New Zealand's
traditional all-grass system is that
cows are grossly underfed, he says.
There's such a lot of water in grass.
They get bloated and can't eat
He say farmers who use an energy
dense food like maize get incredible
Imagine if our dairy export dou-
These days Dr Yates divides his
time between his Remuera home, his
Shortland St office and a coastal prop-
erty in the Bay of Islands where he is
restoring the native rainforest.
His other interests are aviation and
sailing. He spent 25 years involved in
yacht racing and completed the Syd-
ney to Hobart race.
He'd like to see more farmers
increase their production by getting
He says New Zealand spends half a
billion dollars a year importing feed
It's not necessary to export that
wealth offshore. Imagine keeping that
half billion in the country.
That's a lot of money.''
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