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Kangaroo Island potato producer takes out prestigious industry award

Kangaroo Island potato producer Peter Cooper has been named the 2016 Rabobank Potatoes South Australia and Ruralco Industry Award winner.

Recognised as a future leader in the potato industry, Mr Cooper took out the prestigious award which includes a scholarship to attend Rabobank’s Executive Development Program – an intensive business management program for Australia and New Zealand’s most progressive farmers.

Presenting the award on behalf of Potatoes South Australia, Rabobank and Ruralco, Potatoes South Australia CEO Robbie Davis said Mr Cooper was highly deserving of the industry accolade.

“Peter is highly regarded as a potato producer not only on Kangaroo Island, but across the industry,” she said,” as a young farmer who has gone out on his own to start up their own seed potato business.”

Under his management, Ms Davis said, Mr Cooper had transformed the family sheep enterprise into a more diversified operation, which now produces 12 seed potato varieties for the mainland.

“The foresight Peter has shown at just 30 years of age is extraordinary, and we are delighted to formalise his role as an ambassador for the industry,” she said. “As someone with a collaborative approach, who openly shares his successes and failures with other producers, the whole industry is set to benefit from his attendance on the Executive Development Program as he shares learnings and innovative ideas.”

The third recipient to receive the annual industry scholarship, Mr Cooper said he was looking forward to starting the program in August, to help develop the strategic direction for his business, and to interact and learn from other like-minded farmers.

Often coined the ‘mini MBA’ for farmers, the Rabobank Executive Development Program covers all aspects of business management including strategic goal setting, negotiation, risk management, leadership and technology.

With the course designed for the key decision maker in the business, Mr Cooper said the opportunity to attend the program had come at the optimal time, as he had recently taken full ownership of the family business and was exploring opportunities for expansion.

“I have a lot of goals I want to achieve, but there may be better or more efficient ways to achieve them, and I hope the course will give me some insights into how I can work smarter, rather than just harder,” he said.

Raised on Kangaroo Island, Mr Cooper runs “Parnlee” near Parndana with his wife, Meg. To establish the seed potato arm of the business in 2009, Mr Cooper initially leased land from his parents. Now producing around 800 tonnes of seed potatoes per year, Mr Cooper complements the business with a prime lamb and merino sheep operation.

A relatively new seed potato production region, Kangaroo Island had “emerged as a hub for next-generation production” over the past decade, Mr Cooper said.

“Due to the Island’s geographic isolation and strict quarantine measures, we don’t seem to get the diseases and viruses that producers on the mainland contend with, as it restricts the potential flights of aphids,” he said. “However, we do face the challenge of higher freight costs, due to the shipping involved, so we need to focus on high value commodities, which is another reason the seed potato industry is well suited to the Island.”

One of only a handful of seed potato producers on Kangaroo Island, Mr Cooper said he was looking forward to sharing his learnings from the Executive Development Program with fellow producers.

“In particular, I am looking to upskill in the area of financial management, as well as how to manage staff,” he said.

In addition to a small number of regular part-time staff, Mr Cooper employs around 10 to 12 seasonal worker at peak times throughout the year.

Holding a Bachelor of Agricultural Science degree from the University of Adelaide, Mr Cooper said he had done no formal training since he graduated in 2006, but had been interested in applying for the Executive Development Program for some time.

“I recently went to a potato conference in Mount Gambier and heard from a young farmer who had done the Rabobank program and, after hearing what it did for him and his enterprise, it really resonated with me,” he said, “and I know this program will pay dividends not only for me, but the industry, for years to come.”

Rabobank Australia & New Zealand Group is a part of the international Rabobank Group, the world’s leading specialist in food and agribusiness banking. Rabobank has more than 115 years’ experience providing customised banking and finance solutions to businesses involved in all aspects of food and agribusiness. Rabobank is structured as a cooperative and operates in 40 countries, servicing the needs of approximately 8.6 million clients worldwide through a network of more than 1000 offices and branches. Rabobank Australia & New Zealand Group is one of Australasia’s leading rural lenders and a significant provider of business and corporate banking and financial services to the region’s food and agribusiness sector. The bank has 94 branches throughout Australia and New Zealand.

Media contacts:

Denise Shaw
Head of Media Relations 
Rabobank Australia & New Zealand 
Phone: 02 8115 2744 or 0439 603 525 

Skye Ward
Media Relations Manager
Rabobank Australia & New Zealand
Phone: 02 4855 1111 or 0418 216 103