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6 October 2021

Robbie Lash making the most of the Coast

Bringing past experience to bear in sole charge of a large territory.

Robbie Lash covers a fair amount of country: 415 kilometres from Westport in the north of his patch to Haast in the south, plus all points in between, which puts between 70,000 and 80,000 clicks on the clock of his Hyundai Santa Fe every year.

Robbie has been PGG Wrightson Livestock representative for the West Coast since February 2019: a role that includes sheep and beef plus dairy and also incorporates the genetics side of the business. Having sole charge of such a large territory, covering so many different aspects of farming has its challenges, though Robbie is right at home in a paddock or a pen of livestock, and has called the Coast home since he was ten years old.

“Mum and Dad had an Angus stud and deer breeding herd in Whataroa, and I’ve worked in farming since I left school in 1999, in various roles: farm managing, share milking, leasing a farm, some of it in Tasman, though mostly on the Coast,” he says.

Robbie has taken the good with the bad in his farming career. His tenure as a dairy farmer coincided with the prolonged period of below par Westland Dairy Company payouts, and share milking also had its ups and downs: “I made some decisions based on emotion rather than commercial financial reality, but you learn from your mistakes,” he says.

Since he started with PGG Wrightson though, it’s gone well for him and for the company: he has more than doubled turnover in the territory in the two and a half years since he took over his home patch.

He puts that growth down to local farmers appreciating dealing with a fellow Coaster.

“When I first started going down driveways, I’d get ‘Who is this guy, and where is he from?’ I’d say ‘Hang on, I’m from Whataroa,’ which was a good way to start the conversation.

“If you’ve been through tough times in farming and taken a few knock backs, when they know that, people respond well. I feel like I have a more empathetic, mature outlook on life as a result of overcoming those difficulties, which has helped win my clients’ respect. As a rep, they need you to be up front, honest, and as straight as possible.

“It’s also important to stay educated on all the information you need to provide. Being in such a large region and operating so much by myself, I have to work hard on staying in touch with others in a way that most reps elsewhere take for granted. For example seeing others at the sale yards every week isn’t an option. I need to actively make a point of staying in touch with colleagues, by networking and phone calls, to stay fully on top of what the market is doing,” says Robbie.

Loving the Coast has other drawbacks: up to ten metres per annum of rain being one of the challenges.

“One beautiful clear day makes up for all those wet days, though and at least 90 per cent of my clients are surrounded by national parks, which you can never get sick of. Whataroa and Fox Glacier are probably the two most beautiful parts of the region, or even the whole country, to live in or to farm in,” he says.

Covering a cross section of land uses, Robbie says West Coast dairy farmers have had it tough in recent years.

“Westland Dairy’s situation is well known, and local shareholders selling the company two years ago has eased stress levels for them. Our dairy farmers are noticeably more relaxed to deal with since then, whereas before that, they were suffering. West Coast sheep and beef farmers, on the other hand, are savvy with the current market, wanting the best dollar for their stock, and the best stock for their dollar,” he says.

Outside work Robbie likes to spend his time making the most of the Coast: jet boating and hunting, while also keeping his hand in farming on his own account, with 150 breeding ewes.

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