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People of Lincoln Agritech

Allister Holmes

Precision Agriculture Agronomist Allister Holmes started working in the primary sector when he was 12, with a holiday job on an orchard. He hasn’t looked back. 

As a child I was fascinated by seeds, and how much potential they have stored in them. Taking a dry, brown, dead-looking radish seed, putting it on some tissue, adding some water and watching it swell, germinate, and grow seemed mystical! It still does!

I started working in the primary industries when I was 12, working school holidays on a local orchard.

When I left school, I went travelling for a year and then, because of how much I enjoyed that orchard work, enrolled in a B. Hort at Massey University. In my third and fourth years I added some papers that allowed me to complete a Postgraduate Diploma in Agricultural Science in seed technology, as I thought this knowledge would be applicable anywhere in the world.

How did you get to have this job?

My first fulltime job after I left university was as a research agronomist with Corson Grain in Gisborne. This gave me an excellent grounding in the practical aspects of growing crops, and I went on to work as an agronomist with Heinz-Wattie’s and Cedenco in Gisborne. I also had a small farm and undertook contract precision planting and direct drilling, which made me critically aware of the challenge of taking what can be done with technology and applying it on the farm.

From around 2014 I worked for the Foundation for Arable Research (FAR) and did some joint projects with Lincoln Agritech. I liked how Lincoln Agritech operated and asked Armin (Group Manager, Precision Agriculture) if there was a chance to join the team, in about 2018. In 2020, we made it happen!

What does your job involve?

Most of my current work is aimed at working with farmers, growers, and industry to help them realise the benefits that technology offers. There’s often a disconnect between what is known at the academic or high-tech level, and what actually happens on farm. I like to think I help bridge this gap.

My job has a great mix of working with farmers, growers, and industry in the field. As an “agronomist” I specialise in the science and practice of crop production.

For example, I’ve collected, processed, and analysed combine harvester data from several years for a paddock, and then developed geospatial profit and loss maps from it. Using these maps, the grower could then make strategic decisions on changing their cropping practice to maximise profitability while minimising their inputs.

Another project was assessing how evenly lime was being spread on paddocks and then producing practical recommendations for how to spread it more evenly. This led into a current project to develop practical guidelines for spreading blended fertiliser uniformly.

In horticulture, I’ve measured and analysed the time it takes to do various on-orchard activities in the kiwifruit industry through the growing cycle. The aim was to help growers and managers better understand and manage the labour needed.

What motivates you?

At work, what motivates me is helping farmers and growers get practical benefits from technologies. It’s important that we are realistic about what we can achieve, and always check to make sure we are delivering real benefits for farmers and growers.

In life, the outdoors motivates me. I regularly get into the mountains of the North Island, the Southern Alps and Fiordland to enjoy the wide-open spaces, and hunt deer, pigs and tahr. I also love bikepacking, and have completed the Tour Aotearoa (3,200 km) Kopiko Aotearoa (1,100 km) in New Zealand, and just recently completed the Munda Biddi Trail in Western Australia (1,110 km)

What is the best thing that’s ever happened to you?

I could be cheesy, and say my wife, Meagan – it’s true! She’s a gem and we’ve had some great adventures together in New Zealand, the Pacific, North America, and Europe. She also doesn’t get too upset when I head off on my bike for a month away!

If I could change one, well actually, two things about the world, I would stop conflict and population growth.