Taking local seed to the world

With a new brand, ambitious growth plans and an expanding research programme, Cates continues to position itself as a key player in the world’s grain and seed market.

Established in 1973 by Peter and Jocelyn Cates, the company has become a household name in the Canterbury region. Its field team has developed strong relationships with farming families, some dating back generations.

“We’re country people working with country people. Over the better part of 50 years, we’ve developed a business that is now global. Through international relationships we’ve forged deals for our farmers that have enabled us to take their cereals, pasture seeds and pulses to the world,” says Cates General Manager Stuart Begg.

“Some of the best seed in the world comes from just down the road. We’re about multiplying the returns for every farmer we work with and being a guiding force for their success. We are committed to forging new markets and opportunities, while remaining a trusted advisor and partner to our farming community.”

Cates, which is headquartered on Kermode Street in Ashburton, already supplies locally-grown cereals, pasture seeds and pulses to international markets including Europe, the United Kingdom, America, Canada, Japan and Australia. It also specialises in seed multiplication, domestic supply and onsite crop advice.

“Building a bigger Cates is about expanding everything we’re good at so that we can do even more for the farmers who depend on us. It’s about telling a bigger story than we have ever told,” says Stuart.

“The first part of that is the new brand identity and tagline. The new Cates logo includes our seeds symbol, which references the life cycle of a seed and talks to the four things we look to achieve for every farmer we work with: growth; multiplying returns; success; and relationships.

“Our new tagline, ‘Best in your field’, acknowledges the world-class skills of our growers and our wish to help them reap the rewards of what they do through their relationship with us.”

But while Cates may be expanding its ambitions to meet global demand, Begg says they remain fiercely proud of where they are located and the relationships they have built over generations.

“We are not a big corporate. If a farmer wants to talk to us, we’re there. They can talk to the person who makes the decisions. We strive to add value for customers, that’s what our people are about.

“Everyone we work with in the area knows us by name. Mid-Canterbury is home, and our people drive down hundreds of rural driveways every year. These on-the-ground connections are what makes our international partnerships so strong – they know we work directly with the farmer and provide access to high-quality seed.”

Research and innovation are key drivers for Cates. The company is the principal shareholder in Plant Research NZ Ltd, based at Innovation Park in Canterbury.

Plant Research NZ develops innovative field pea, wheat, triticale and oat varieties that offer arable farmers and international clients a competitive advantage due to specific traits such as disease resistance and increased yield. State-of-the-art breeding methods and cutting-edge molecular marker technology is used to develop leading varieties that dominate international markets.

Cates Director Corey Hastie says, “We are one of the few grain and seed companies in New Zealand with its own research arm, which allows us to reinvest in new agricultural developments.

“We see plant breeding as the future of the industry, and we are very keen to increase our research and development capabilities.”

In addition, Cates introduced AgWorld to the New Zealand market in 2012 – a cloud-based data management system for the agricultural sector. The technology provides farmers with an intuitive platform for planning, budgeting, tracking and managing product inputs, compliance and much more. In essence, it allows farmers to collect data about their on-farm expenditure, easily track operational costs and profitability. Cates provides this information to farmers at no cost, as part of its commitment to help maximise their clients’ returns.

“The company is more than just a supplier or producer” says Corey.

“We are regarded by farmers as an important business partner and a strategic link to the global seed trade.

“We are committed to helping farmers get the best returns they can from their land. We provide access to all pasture and seed varieties sold in New Zealand, and we are not limited to specific wholesalers. Our international and domestic partnerships give farmers valuable access to world-leading varieties – we have local knowledge, with global reach.”

Fellow Cates Director Nick Williams says a key focus is supporting farmers to manage new environmental regulations.

“Our field team has the experience to help farmers manage their crops and their farming systems to fit in with regulatory requirements, including in-depth knowledge of seeds, agrichemicals and fertilisers. We all know how hard farmers work. It is our role to provide advice and solutions to help them remain profitable while meeting their environmental obligations.

“We differentiate ourselves on our relationships. Our field team has been with Cates for many years, some nearing 30 years, which means most of our farming customers have dealt with the same person who understands their specific property needs and business operation.”

Cates has also constructed a new seed processing plant and cool store facility in Rakaia, enabling the company to increase domestic production.

Demand for Canterbury seed continues to grow, with Nick referring to the region as the “seed bowl of the world”.

“Our customers know that if it’s out of Canterbury the seed will result in a successful outcome.”

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