Glass more than half full for Waikato dairy farmer


Christmas Day 2019 won’t be one that the family of dairy farming stalwart Tony Wilding will forget in a hurry.

As they sat down for Christmas breakfast, Tony’s daughter Lizzy had an announcement, sharing the news that Tony had been recognised in the New Year’s Honours list, being made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Tony, who already knew, having received a letter in September, said it was a special moment to share with his nearest and dearest.

"Lizzy read the letter out to the family and there were hoots and tears of delight. When I first found out I was really chuffed, so it was great to be able to share it with my family, who have been my greatest supporters over the years."

Amongst the list of great New Zealanders honoured this year, Tony was the only farmer to be recognised, testament to the second to none dedication he has given to the dairy industry and his community.

Dairy farming in Okoroire, South Waikato, Tony has had a busy career on and off the farm. Away from farming, close to his heart is his community work, including with the Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust and Leukaemia and Blood Cancer New Zealand, which he is currently a Trustee and previously a chair of.  

“The community and voluntary work has been personally rewarding,” says Tony who is actively involved with Okoroire School and Tirau Golf Club as well.

Tony’s commitment and governance skills have also contributed greatly to the dairy industry, with six years on the New Zealand Dairy Board, while he was also one of a team instrumental in the creation of our Co-op. He had 14 years’ experience as a Director and prior to forming Fonterra Deputy chair of the New Zealand Dairy Group.

Perhaps one of his greatest contributions is as a positive force in building a fair and productive sharemilking industry. Tony has spent years championing the rights of sharemilkers, and is currently chairing the Federated Farmers sharemilker farm owner’s group, which looks after the interest of farmers who employ sharemilkers on their farm.

Tony says a successful sharemilking industry is built on two parties both having success while building capable talent to run farms in the future, something that is beneficial for farm owners and the wider sector.

“To me it’s a step process, if you don’t have sharemilkers then you don’t have sound steps to farm ownership.

You need to have a good succession of capable people firstly working on and then buying and operating New Zealand farms.”

Tony knows first-hand how valuable that process is. Passionate about agri-education from a young age he was a part of the farmer cadet scheme. Going on to join Young Farmers he talks fondly of the encouragement he received during his early years as a sharemilker.

“It was a time that I really enjoyed. For me it was all about the continuous support and that is the driving force behind my passion for mentoring young people in the industry now. It’s nice to give back what I received and seeing young people getting ahead and hearing their feedback – nothing beats it.”

Tony’s positivity extends to the future of dairy in New Zealand too.

“I feel encouraged about it. We will keep reinventing ourselves, we have a huge depth of knowledge and for me I’ve always seen the glass half full.”