The dairy farmer, who farms at Okoroire in South Waikato, was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his work in the dairy industry and the community.
He said his initial reaction when he found out was disbelief. Once it sunk in, he began to realise how special it was.
“I”m pretty delighted and particularly my family who have seen me doing such a lot of stuff that was unpaid for in a lot of areas.”
His daughter Lizzy told the rest of the family about the honour during their morning meal on Christmas Day.
“She read the letter out to the family, they were all there – and the hoots and the shrieks and there were tears- it was lovely.
“They were absolutely thrilled as they saw the hours and the time that I took.”
Wilding chairs Federated Farmers’ sharemilker farm owners group, which looks after the interest of farmers who have employed sharemilkers on their farm.
During his tenure he sought to improve the at times frosty relations with the organisation’s sharemilkers group, to one where both groups saw it as a business where they had a shared stake in.
While sharemilking had always been a path to farm ownership, Wilding said he could see that model being squeezed as traditional family farmers who empathised with sharemilking were bought out or changed to more corporate investor-style farms.
This new model saw many farmers rack up large amounts of debt. It squeezed their margins and sharemilkers were the group that got squeezed.
“They needed a champion,” he said.
That stance let to criticism from some farm owners who said he was standing up for sharemilkers rights and not the rights of farm owners. Wilding said he always told them that if the industry did not have successful sharemilking, then the pathway it provided to farm ownership would end.
“I support the model and if that means I support sharemilkers at times, then that’s what I do.”
That relationship between sharemilkers and farm owners was in a different place now. There were a lot more young, successful farmers going down other pathways to get to farm ownership and the most notable of these was equity partnerships.
While farm ownership was still difficult, he believed the immediate future was exciting for young people.
“They have been born into an environment looking at all the stuff whereas some people my age didn’t have to think about that stuff and they are finding it hard to think about it. They are feeling threatened and let down that they can’t keep carrying on doing what they are doing. Sorry – you can’t.”
Wilding also chaired the Agricultural Industry Training Organisation for nine years, and has mentored young people in the dairy sector and promoted agricultural education.
He was the first community/landowner co-chair of the Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust and was Leukaemia and Blood Cancer New Zealand chairman until he stepped down in August. He had a family member die of leukaemia some years ago and said it was always on his mind. He said became involved with the organisation after he and 26 others raised $76,000 when they held a fund raising golf marathon.