Scion boss: "Forestry is strategically significant"

25 July 2015

Scion chief executive Warren Parker says he has always thought of the forest industry as strategically significant to New Zealand, but there is an ongoing challenge communicating its benefits to the economy compared to other agricultural sectors.

"We do tend to have a food-dominated, dairy-dominated economy. But sectors like forestry are really important," he said in an interview with the Bay of Plenty Times.
He cites climate change, resource constraints and regional development as areas where forestry play an important role.

The sector generated a lot of jobs through manufacturing and also provided economic resilience, he said, noting that recent work by Scion showed forestry was less volatile than the dairy industry.

"And there is enormous diversification that can occur through wood processing and wood fibre products," he said.

"The other factor for myself and Scion was the significance of the forest industry to Maori and to their future."

There was never much doubt Warren Parker would follow a career in the primary sector. Born in the Northland town of Kawakawa, he was raised on a mixed dairy, sheep and beef cattle farm in a small rural district bordered by the Waipoua and Mataraua forests.

"I started milking cows and rearing calves at a very young age and learned all the skills of being on a farm, including a lot of land-clearing in those days," said Dr Parker.

Those skills stood him in good stead when, after initially completing a Bachelor of Agricultural Science with Honours at Massey University, he went out for a year as an agricultural contractor, fencing, shearing and scrub-cutting in the Bay of Plenty.

But he was soon invited back to Massey to teach part-time, initially still contracting and also supervising a university farm in the Wairarapa, which was going through large-scale development. He eventually completed his Masters in farm management and a PhD in animal science part-time and stayed at Massey until 1998, the last six years as professor and head of the Department of Agribusiness and Resource Management.

He left the university to join AgResearch where he spent five years, which included serving as chief operating officer for all of its science business. He then crossed the Tasman to spend a year at the Institute of Molecular Biosciences Commercialisation at the University of Queensland, Brisbane before returning to take up the role of chief executive at crown research institute, Landcare Research (Manaaki Whenua), based in Christchurch.

In March 2011, after five-and-a-half years at Landcare, he took on the role as chief executive of Scion. Dr Parker said that his experience at Scion had confirmed his belief in the importance of working closely with industry to find out their needs.

"Science is working with the people who are going to use the outputs of your science. The most critical thing is building strong relationships with the sector so there's mutual trust and agreement on priorities and direction."

Forestry had a strong future, he said, noting that large multinationals were leading some of the change.

"Big businesses are moving to 100 per cent procurement of renewables," he said. "They are all very conscious about their environmental footprint and that is now starting to be manifested in their supply chains. So they are shaping the agenda even more in terms of what products get onto shelves and into retail distribution chains."

Throughout the central North Island there was investment by companies that saw a good future in forestry, he said.

"There is enormous new technology developments taking place quietly within companies and positioning for this very different future. Companies are responding to clear global market signals, particularly around renewable materials, renewable packaging, more efficient and environmentally sound building systems."

Source: Bay of Plenty Times feature by David Porter. To read the full story >>