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Manawatū - it's Hard to Beat!


From small town Wānaka to the big cities of Wellington and Hamilton - Erica Van Reenen has lived all over New Zealand, but it's Manawatū she's found a thriving life as a business owner, farmer and mum.

"I grew up in Wānaka, and first came to Manawatū in 2003 to study at Massey University. I've always been really passionate about agriculture and the environment, and I wanted a career along those lines."

Erica graduated with a Master of Science, majoring in Agricultural Science - something which Massey University's Manawatū campus is world renown for. She then spent the next few years bouncing around the North Island, working for the Government and Beef + Lamb New Zealand, doing everything from policy work to helping farms implement environmental practices. During that time she also 're-met' a friend from her young farmer days - William, her now-husband.

“We were long distance for a little while, between Hamilton and Hunterville. That wore thin pretty quickly! I could still do my work with Beef + Lamb here, so in 2013 I was happy to get back to the region.” It was a few years later that Erica launched her farm consultancy, the Manawatū branch of AgFirst. “Each office is owned independently, so you can put your own spin on it. While there is a good focus on local clients, we also have clients around the country, from Wānaka to Gisborne!”

Their growth hasn’t just been on the client side either - when she started, she was a one-woman band, but eight years on, Erica leads a team of seven. “We're dealing with challenging stuff - helping people with farm succession or climate change policy and often connecting to international markets.

Ag first x2

“I'm pretty stoked, because we've been able to do something a bit different. In the beginning there were a few doubters, they weren’t sure that you could have profitable businesses with a focus on the environment. It’s a lot more common now but that was our approach from the very start and that's a point of pride.”

Even with their success, Erica is upfront that starting her own business did cause some nerves.

"It was daunting, but I chose 'Friendly Feilding' for a reason! I looked at all the options, but it was the right fit. Here you can pop out and grab a coffee and bump into three or four stakeholders, and chew the fat with them. It's really the heart of rural New Zealand."

“Plus, there's some incredible innovations happening in Feilding. Proliant is doing amazing stuff in their factory - people might see big buildings but don’t realise what’s going on inside. You’ve got everything from the longstanding traditional farms to really innovative ones like Honest Wolf and Kiwi Quinoa, who are smashing glass ceilings and doing great things.

“Even the research that comes out of Massey University - it’s getting tested on farms here to improve environmental outcomes, profitability and sustainability. We've got a really cool mix of capital coming in here and it’s growing, because there’s a great blend of science, tech, farming, innovation and everything that goes into that.”

ag first image

Given the enthusiasm, it’s no surprise to hear Erica loves getting back to their own farm. “Oh, it’s a really cracking day when I get to be out on the farm! It’s sheep and beef and has been in my husband’s family since the early 1860s. Our daughter Tui is the seventh generation to live on it, which is awesome.”

“On the weekends we're often on the farm or catching up with friends around the region. Tui gets a great mix of town and country - swimming at Makino pools or going out and about on adventures with mum and dad. There’s so much to do. Two Locals is my favourite coffee hit up, and even things like the Rewa Art Gallery on the Stormy Point Route, between Cheltenham and Vinegar Hill? - you’re driving along and don’t expect to see a gallery, but it’s so cool!

“You don't realise it when you first come here, but the connection to the outdoors is so close - you can have a fancy lunch then be hiking up a hill in half an hour enjoying the native bird song. I'm really excited about taking Tui tramping in the Tararua Ranges when she's older.”

Even the little stuff is a win. “We live 30 minutes from my office, but that’s actually a lovely time with my daughter each day, coming back and forth. I just look up, and it’s this beautiful landscape all around us. It’s hard to beat!”

World class & Well connected

Palmerston North and Manawatū is the home to some of the brightest minds in Aotearoa, world-class research and educational institutions and an established business ecosystem that is connected to the world. 


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