Turk's Poultry | Rabobank New Zealand Client
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Turk's Poultry

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Ron Turk loves a good project, and he has ambitious plans to continue growing his family’s Foxton-based poultry business, Turk’s Poultry. Celebrating 50 years in business this year, Turk’s was started by Ron’s father back in 1966 as an egg farm.

From small beginnings as an egg producer, the business has evolved to farming chickens for meat and now processes 125,000 chickens each week for domestic and overseas markets. They produce 5.7 million chickens in a year, about 8% of New Zealand’s chicken meat needs. They also have 94,000 layers, producing 80,000 eggs each day.

Managing director, Ron Turk, is passionate about the business and operates a vertically integrated supply chain. The emphasis is on a high quality product and he likes to control as many facets of the business as possible from making their own feed and running their own transport to contracting growers to grow the maize that goes into their feed.

If Turk’s can do it themselves, they will. They even started employing their own mechanics, which mushroomed into a business of its own, and they now take on outside work as well. In fact, Ron says the only aspect of the supply chain they currently don’t control is the hatchery, but he has plans to change that and build his own.

While Turk’s still produce and sell eggs, they recently sold the marketing of the eggs and have plans to exit eggs altogether and concentrate on meat production.

“We saw it was time to get out of eggs and concentrate on growing the meat business." 

"The rules changed and it didn’t stack up financially to get out of cages and stay with eggs. With meat, we have three main competitors, we are the fourth largest. With eggs, there are so many people in the industry and everyone’s a marketer. Long term, I saw meat as a far better option,” Ron says.

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“Chicken meat consumption goes up 3-5% annually, and with population growth as well, chicken is the protein of choice in most developed countries and it has the lowest cost of production."

“I see a big future in chicken, it’s exciting. I just love walking through the stock. I love being with the stock.”

Ron is always striving to lift the bar higher when it comes to management and care of his chickens. They are now growing chickens to 3kg in 42 days, with no hormones, just good nutrition, good housing and good management, he says. They are working towards being antibiotic free too.

Turk’s has 230 employees, including truck drivers, salespeople, merchandisers and five full-time mechanics.

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Seizing opportunities to grow

If Ron sees an opportunity, he seizes on it, and he’s not afraid to diversify his business. “We had a problem with offal from the killing plant. About eight years ago we re-located the factory to an old Feltex site and set up a rendering plant."

"We diversify when the opportunity comes along.”

All Turk’s chickens are grown under contract and many of the farms have family connections. They have plans to build two new farms in the next two years – Ron and his son will build one, and Ron’s brother (who is also a Turk’s director) will build the other one.

They have just finished their five-year strategic plan, and Ron has no plans to slow down. As well as the two new farms, he also plans to build the hatchery in the next five years, as well as upgrading the plant and the feed mill. The plan is to make the company sustainable, from both an environmental and financial point of view.

“There’s a lot happening. We’re doing a lot of re-investment into the processing plant and have capital expenditure of $3.5 million this year on new gear, health and safety and being able to present the product the way the consumer wants it."

“We have always had big plans – we are always expanding.” Ron says the wants and needs of their consumers have changed over the years, and the business has to adapt. They supply businesses like Wishbone and My Food Bag, as well as supermarkets. “Now, we hardly freeze any product, we cut it up and wrap it the way they want it. It’s quite involved – it’s very exciting.”

Turk’s has been producing chicken for meat for about 20 years and is 65% free-range. Ron’s goal is to eventually be 100% free-range – and that will mean doubling the size of the business.

Ron was 10 when his family moved from Wellington to Foxton and started the egg farm, he followed his father into the business. “You always look up to your father I guess…I left school after School C and never looked back.”

These days, Ron is more involved in the corporate management side of the business and, although they are a family business, they run a professional management team, including independent directors. “I consider we have a very good structure as far as board governance goes,” he says.

“I like projects. The last farm we built, I was really involved. I don’t do it to make money, I like to see a plan done right – and if you do it right, you make money."
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“I go to work to see people doing what they want to do, seeing it all happen, that excites me. Passion, pride and if I’m doing something, I’m not doing it to come second, I want to be the best. But that goes for the whole team. I bounce out of bed and I can’t wait to go to work."

“Last year was our best financial year ever. Productivity has been going up and cost of production going down, we are on track for a good year financially this year too, even though prices have gone down. We do a lot of reporting and have KPIs to make sure we hit targets, and we try to get buy in from the whole company. It’s not them and us, it’s a whole team approach, regardless of your position.”

The days of Ron working 80 hours plus a week are gone, but he now channels more energy into the community. Turk’s has an agreement to sponsor the local rugby club and Ron is on the Horowhenua Economic Development Board, which aims to encourage businesses into the region. Turk’s also sponsors the local Electra Business Awards, of which they have previously been the overall winner.

A valued relationship with Rabobank

Ron’s Rabobank Regional Manager is Hayden Higgins, based out of Hastings. “He’s been my contact for four or five years and we get on really well, it’s a good relationship. Everything the bank wants, we want to do for ourselves anyway."

“We’ve never had a big issue we couldn’t talk about and resolve. We have a great relationship with Rabobank and I value the bank like I value my customers. Without customers and without the bank, we haven’t got a business. They (Rabobank) have been happy with what we’re doing and the way we’re doing it. It’s a mind-set.”
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"I operate on a no surprises basis, I like them to know what’s happening with the whole company,” he says. “If we’re doing a project it nearly always involves the bank. We do a plan and a budget and I’m fussy about it going to plan. I want them thinking ‘if Ron’s organising it, it’s going to work’.

Ron is chairman of the Manawatu-Taranaki Rabobank client council and one of their big projects has been mental health. “We have been working on mental health for farmers, trying to connect people with people and we’re starting to get some good stuff happening. I also enjoy meeting different people and different types of farmers.”

He has also been involved in a project to encourage children into robotics. Rabobank has come on board to sponsor children to attend a programme at Feilding Ag and there are now 150 children aged 8-12 working in teams on robotics projects for the agricultural industry. “It’s so positive to see, it’s kids teaching kids and they get really excited about it, it’s great. I enjoy being part of that.” Another project Ron has got Rabobank involved with is sponsoring a food trail event where 10 Horowhenua businesses open their doors, including Turk’s. “Last year we hooked up with one of the wineries and cooked a whole lot of chicken. Rabobank is going to sponsor it this year and we expect about 2000 people,” he says.

“I enjoy Rabobank and being part of it. I like the idea of profit staying in the country where it’s earned, I think that’s marvellous – a big plus.”

Turk’s Poultry recently featured on Rural Delivery and you can watch the programme here

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