Across Regions, Most viewed stories, New Zealand, Australia, News March 2024

Celebrating women in the potato industry: The inspirational stories of New Zealand’s Michelle Pye and Tracey McKay

On the occasion of International Women’s Day on March 8, it’s essential to recognize and celebrate the contributions of women in various sectors. In the potato industry of New Zealand, two women stand out for their remarkable work and dedication – Michelle Pye of Pye Group and Tracey McKay of Alps Seeds Ltd.

Their stories, highlighted on the Potatoes News Zealand website, are not just about their success in the field but also about the challenges they’ve overcome and the inspiration they provide to others, especially women, in the industry.

Michelle Pye: A Multifaceted Leader in the Potato Industry

Michelle Pye, along with her husband Leighton, runs Pye Group Ltd, a diverse agricultural business. Her journey in the potato industry is multifaceted; she is the Chair of Potato Seed Co-op, a Director at Potatoes New Zealand, and a Timaru District Councillor. With nearly 22 years in farming alongside her husband, Michelle brings a wealth of experience to the table.

What sets Michelle apart is her love for the variety and flexibility her roles offer. She finds joy in learning from different positions and applying her insights to improve their organization. Her involvement in the potato industry began in 2017 with the establishment of the Potato Seed Co-op, a testament to her commitment to collaborative success within the industry.

Michelle’s journey hasn’t been without challenges, particularly in balancing family, work, and industry roles. However, her strong support network and seeing challenges as opportunities for learning have been crucial to her success. She takes pride in the establishment of a purpose-built storage facility in Ashburton, a significant achievement for the McCain process growers’ group.

Inclusivity and diversity are at the core of Pye Group’s ethos. Their team comprises various nationalities and genders, with flexible working arrangements to accommodate employees with school-aged children. Remarkably, they have also supported women in obtaining heavy vehicle licenses, breaking stereotypes in the industry.

Michelle draws inspiration from the next generation, admiring their inclusiveness, compassion, and willingness to challenge ideas. Her advice to women entering the industry is to embrace the opportunities it offers, whether in hands-on farming or office-based roles.

Tracey McKay: Innovating in Potato Seed Production

Tracey McKay. Credit Potatoes New Zealand (PNZ)

Tracey McKay, co-owner of Alps Seeds Ltd with her husband Andy, has been a pivotal figure in the seed potato business in Canterbury.

Since establishing the company in 2005, Tracey has managed their tissue culture laboratory and tunnel house facilities, producing potato plantlets and minitubers.

Tracey’s work is driven by the relationships she builds with customers and industry personnel. She finds immense satisfaction in contributing to their success, especially with challenging potato varieties.

Like Michelle, Tracey has faced her fair share of challenges, especially in growing certain potato varieties and keeping them virus-free. Her enthusiasm and a ‘no plan B’ approach have been key to navigating these challenges.

Her parents, with their relentless positive attitude and support despite no background in horticulture, have been her greatest inspiration. This support has been instrumental in overcoming the demanding nature of potato cultivation.

For women interested in the primary industries, Tracey’s message is one of encouragement. She emphasizes the vast opportunities in horticulture, a field ripe with innovation and driven by people doing remarkable things. Her advice is to engage with the industry, connect, and surround oneself with positive influences.

A Clarion Call for Empowerment

The experiences of Michelle and Tracey articulate a vital message to women eyeing the potato industry or the broader primary sectors: a realm of boundless possibilities awaits those eager to embark on this journey. The industry’s demand for a diverse array of skills and perspectives ensures there is a place for everyone, be it in the field or behind a desk. Their stories emphasize the significance of carving out one’s niche, viewing challenges as opportunities for learning and growth, and the strength found in a supportive community.

As we commemorate International Women’s Day, let us celebrate and acknowledge the invaluable contributions of trailblazers like Michelle and Tracey. They are not only instrumental in sculpting the future of New Zealand’s potato industry but are also laying the groundwork for future generations of women in agriculture. Their unwavering commitment, leadership, and innovative spirit stand as a testament to the idea that through passion and perseverance, women can excel in any facet of the primary industries.

Michelle Pye and Tracey McKay’s stories are shining examples of the pivotal role women play in the global potato industry. Their journeys underscore the importance of passion, resilience, and innovation in driving success. Their stories are not just about their achievements in the potato industry but also about inspiring the next generation of women to break barriers and thrive in whichever field they choose.

Source: Thanks to Potatoes New Zealand (PNZ). Read the original PNZ interview with Michelle Pye here, and the interview with Tracey McKay here
Cover photo: Michelle Pye. Credit PNZ

Editor & Publisher: Lukie Pieterse


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