Monday, 30 May 2011

A boomer for Fonterra's farmers!

# Big Farming Story of the Week: A boomer for Fonterra’s farmers!

A record payout for the current season and a cracking opening forecast for 2011-12 should have dairy farmers hooraying in their herring-bones, rejoicing in their rotaries! And it’s not only farmers who should be popping open the bubbly. A $12 billion dairy contribution to an economy running a $17 billion deficit has to be music to the ears of John Key and Bill English. National Bank chief economist Cameron Bagrie called it a “game changer”. I don’t know about that but Dr Allan Bollard can surely feel confident he’s blown the whistle for half time and we’re now going to play with the elements at our back in the second spell.

# Big Political Story of the Week: Farming – the election year whipping boy.

It’s now abundantly clear the dodgy Dom Post beat-up was a softening-up process ahead of Labour’s attack on farming at its annual conference. The politics of envy is alive and kicking (farmers in the groin). It’s a shame some in the Beehive don’t take a moment to reflect on agriculture’s contribution to society and the economy, rather than being hell-bent on making it a divisive election issue, pitting town against country. Rich farmers are not the problem. Rich farmers are the solution.

# Big Sporting Story of the Week: Hail Richie and the second coming within a week!

Last week it was Dan Carter. This week it's Richie McCaw. The two crown jewels in the NZRU's playing ranks are now safely under lock and key until 2015. All of which raises the question of how the NZRU is going to pay for these expensive contracts?

For years we’ve been told the All Blacks jersey is not for sale to the highest bidder, that the All Blacks brand stands alone. Eden Park has maintained its autonomy but look at the other main centres where Westpac, AMI and Forsythe Barr have taken naming rights of the major stadia. Who would bet against the Fonterra All Blacks lining up for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in protein-hungry Asia?

And am I a cynic or what? No sooner was the ink dry on Carter’s contract than he was out there against the Chiefs attempting dropped goals - left, right and centre. I wonder if, in World Cup year, Carter's new employment contract includes a compulsory dropped goal clause?

# Brickbat: Phil Goff.

Sorry Phil, you might be a good bloke and you might have some farming sympathies because of your hobby lifestyle block in Clevedon, but you and your party have now firmly played your hand by putting your boot into farming. From a political perspective it’s probably a smart move to champion the cause of your constituents and good on you for sticking up for the poor buggers on the minimum wage because it beggars belief anyone can survive on $13 per hour. Besides you were never going to get any farmer votes, nor any from the 10% of tax payers who pay the lion’s share of income tax in this country. Robbing from the rich to give to the poor worked a treat in Sherwood Forest but in a cash-strapped modern economy Phil, I think you’re struggling to see the forest for the trees.

# Bouquet: Maori Television.
I was not alone in being against the state funding of Maori television when it was launched in 2004. However credit where credit’s due. I tip my hat to the Iwi TV for some really innovative and energetic programming. Its Anzac Day coverage and excellent sports show, Code, are but two fine examples. It is also to be congratulated for being brave enough to go where the major networks feared to tread by running a telethon for the Canterbury Earthquake, raising $2.5 million in the process. Of that, Fonterra contributed $1 million, or roughly $90 per dairy farmer. The remainder of New Zealand contributed $1.5 million, or roughly 35 cents per man, woman and child. And the Dom Post says dairy farmers are not paying their fair share?

Footnote: Jamie Mackay is the host of the Farming Show which airs on Radio Sport and Newstalk ZB. In a past life a Southland sheep farmer, these days he comments on farming, politics and sport for a living from the relative safety and comfort of his radio studio in Dunedin.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Taxing times for dairy farmers

# Big Farming Story of the Week: Taxing times for dairy farmers.

It was open season last week on dairy farmers when Labour’s Stuart Nash (who?) trawled out some out-of-date figures from the 2009 financial year to suggest dairy farmers only paid, on average, $1500 tax on an income in excess of $500,000 while the average wage earner forked out $8000 for their $50,000 income.

Wednesday’s Dominion Post headline screamed out “Is This Fair?” Perhaps more pertinently, it should have asked if its own reporting was fair. I don’t wish to sound like an apologist or patsy for the dairy industry, because the same tax rules apply to all businesses, but to quote gross incomes rather than taxable profits was misleading at best and downright mischievous at worst.

It would seem that the Great Clobbering Machine has singled out farming. The politics of envy is ugly, never more so than in election year, when the last thing this country needs is a widening rural-urban divide.

# Big Political Story of the Week: A Black Budget to get us back in the black.

While it was hardly a budget to match Arnold Nordmeyer’s 1958 effort or Ruthless Ruth Richardson’s 1991 “Mother of All Budgets” , it was none-the-less a parsimonious piece of oratory from Black Bill English. After the credit-fuelled splurge of 2002-2007, saving is now sexy and reckless spending is so last decade! And that’s the way it should be. Our Presbyterian forebears would be proud. My only gripe is John Key refusing to budge on the age of entitlement for old age pension.

# Big Sporting Story of the Week: Dan Carter signs up for another four years in black.

Now all we need to do is get Richie to do likewise and we’ll be happiness-filled right through to the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England. Here’s hoping the dynamic duo will still be up for it at 33 and 34 respectively. While they’ll hardly be old age pensioners, their coach could well be if we’re to believe the rumour mill surrounding Graham Henry’s desire to do a Sir Alex Ferguson!

# Brickbat: Hone gets a week off in favour of Palmerston North airport.

Unlike the ungracious John Cleese, I think Palmy North’s a great place with a bustling rural economy, a seat of learning, in Massey University, for our future agricultural innovators and windmills on the hill.

My only gripe with Palmy is, that after a wonderful evening in Fielding at the Steak of Origin competition, I had to pay a $5 “domestic departure development levy” to depart turbine territory. And when I went to pay this usurious fee, the bloke at the payment counter did not accept eftpos. So I say to Palmerston North, this is bollocks! Air New Zealand has already had its pound of flesh, don’t expect me to pay for your failed international airport status.

# Bouquet: For the second week running, goes to Beef + Lamb New Zealand.
Meaty Mike Petersen, the chairman of the fine aforementioned organization, was a bit miffed with my comments last week that maybe his beloved Red Meat Sector Strategy contained well-intentioned platitudes we’d all heard before. So just to prove I’m a fair and reasonable man, and not the bitter cynic Meaty Mike suggested, I’m going to once again sing the praises of B+LNZ.

Chief executive Rod Slater, the man who set up the Mad Butcher chain with Sir Peter Leitch, knows a thing or two about red meat. And he knows a thing or two about how to promote it. There can be no finer example than the B+LNZ stable of Iron Maidens. The Evers-Swindell twins, the two Sarahs (Ulmer and Walker) and Commonwealth Games golden girl Allison Shanks are pure marketing gold and worth every sirloin steak and lamb chop B+LNZ sends their way.

Footnote: Jamie Mackay is the host of the Farming Show which airs on Radio Sport and Newstalk ZB. In a past life a Southland sheep farmer, these days he comments on farming, politics and sport for a living from the relative safety and comfort of his radio studio in Dunedin.

Monday, 16 May 2011

The Red Meat Sector Strategy launch

# Big Farming Story of the Week: The Red Meat Sector Strategy launch.

People in black ties gathered to talk about red meat in Wellington. King Keith Cooper of Silver Fern Farms was right on the money with his proclamation the report contained “no silver bullet”, rather it was laying out where a panacea could be. There were lots of well-intentioned platitudes but haven’t we heard it all before?

From an outsider looking in, it would appear there’s a fundamental flaw in the structure of the red meat industry. Until the meat companies stop fighting each other for stock at the farm gate, stop competing to sell meat to the same customers off shore, and until farmers are prepared to show absolute loyalty and invest in their cooperatives, the industry will remain fractured.

The dairy industry structure is not perfect. But it’s less flawed than its sheep and beef counterparts.

# Big Political Story of the Week: The Budget.

On Thursday Bill English will deliver the third Budget of the first John Key government. Unlike the stealth attacks of Rob Muldoon’s beer and ‘baccy budgets, most of the significant announcements have been well signaled. We are borrowing a whopping $380 million a week to keep the country afloat. Either we spend less or earn more. Farmers are doing their bit to make the latter happen but severe spending cuts will be the order of the day for whoever gets the Treasury benches on November 26. This week’s Budget could be a stroll in the park compared to next year’s when election promises about KiwiSaver, student loans, tax cuts and the sale of state-owned assets no longer have to be adhered to.

# Big Sporting Story of the Week: The injury toll in Super rugby.

A lot of old-timers, myself included, have often the lamented how easy the modern rugby player gets it compared to “our day”. Don’t fool yourself. Rugby is now a brutal gladiatorial physical contest. In the good old days skinny blokes could play on the wing, fat guys could prop, little chaps could play halfback and those shy on the tackle could be hidden at first five-eighth. Nowadays there’s nowhere to hide. I’m glad I played when there was somewhere for the faint-hearted!

# Brickbat: Hone has a first, second and third mortgage on this title.

Here’s a great e-mail I received this week from well known Canterbury farmer Stu Loe:

As a rule, I don't pass along these "add your name" lists that appear in e-mails, BUT this one is important. It has been circulating for months and has been sent to over 22 million people. We don't want to lose any names on the list so just hit forward and send it on. Please keep it going! To show your support for the MP, Hone Harawira, and the job he is doing, please go to the end of the list and add your name...

1. Titiwhai Harawira

# Bouquet: Beef and Lamb New Zealand.
It’s always difficult to quantify the effectiveness of industry-good organizations such as the aforementioned. When you’re spending farmer levy-payer money it’s doubly difficult to please all of the people all of the time. For what it’s worth I reckon Beef and Lamb New Zealand do a sterling job promoting red meat with their two marquee events – the Glammies (at the Wanaka Show) for lamb and the Steak of Origin for beef.

Tomorrow night in Fielding at the Beef Expo the most tender and tasty sirloin steak in the land will be decided from twelve farmer finalists, seven from the North Island, five from the South. Judges include the beauty and the beast, Allison Shanks and Richard Loe, chef Graham Hawkes, food writer Julie Biuso and yours truly.

It sounds like an easy job but swallowing twenty mouthfuls of steak (there are also eight entries in the Best of Brand section) and picking the best from the best of the 400 original entries, is anything but.

# Bugger: The weather.

Some townies reckon you can never please a cocky. To the uninitiated that might seem to have some validity but my experience of farmers and farming is that you’re at the mercy of three elements you have no control over, whatsoever. International commodity prices, the exchange rate and the bloody weather!

Footnote: Jamie Mackay is the host of the Farming Show which airs on Radio Sport and Newstalk ZB. In a past life a Southland sheep farmer, these days he comments on farming, politics and sport for a living from the relative safety and comfort of his radio studio in Dunedin.

Monday, 9 May 2011

The weather gods and Osama Bin Laden

# Big Farming Story of the Week: The weather gods and Osama Bin Laden.

While large tracts of the South Island have been enjoying a relatively golden spell of late autumn weather, farmers on the wrong side of the Cook Strait have had a hammering. None more so than the bunch of cockies in a small band of coastal Hawkes Bay who were on the receiving end of six month’s rain in two days. This isolated weather bomb has wreaked havoc on the scale of 1988’s Cyclone Bola but because of the relative few affected the story has been shunted to back pages by the likes of the Royal Wedding, the Auckland tornado and Bin Laden.

Speaking of whom, even though the world is a much better place bereft of its most-wanted terrorist there was a little silver lining for farmers in the land of the long white cloud with an associated strengthening of the greenback following his demise.

Now we only need to sort out Gaddafi, Mugabe, Castro and Co. and the dollar will be back to US70 cents!

# Big Political Story of the Week: Far Out! The Far Left, the Far Right.

The Act Party are an odd bunch. Their brand is built around minimum government expenditure, reducing bureaucratic waste, and perk-busting yet their hitherto leader milked the system for all it was worth. Their new leader was not even a member of the party when he declared his leadership aspirations. The fate of the party was effectively decided by their newest MP, who’d been in parliament for two minutes and only because she took the place of someone who took the name of a dead baby. Confused? How do you think the voters will feel?

As for Hone Harawira, if he holds the country to electoral ransom by forcing an expensive by-election then he deserves every bit of vitriol and scorn poured upon him. Pull your head in Hone and think of what that $600,000 could do for some of your struggling constituents.

I never thought I’d write this but compared to the Act and Mana parties, the Greens look decidedly sensible and stable.

# Big Sporting Story of the Week: Duckshooting.

Some call it a sport. Some a blood sport. Others label it a religion. For many farming folk the first Saturday in May is sacrosanct. So important in some regions, the other rural religion, rugby, is postponed for the day. Say no more.

# Brickbat: No Milk Mondays. Who are these Mothers?

A bunch of well-intentioned but misguided mums have started a “No Milk Mondays” campaign against Fonterra which they accuse of profiteering and being “a bully in the playground”.

Yes, milk has increased in price by 10% in the past year but what about petrol, meat and bread? By my reckoning all have superseded milk in the price-rise department.
Fonterra has put in place a voluntary freeze on the price of milk domestically. While they’re tilting at windmills, the no-milk Monday mums might be better served petitioning the fuel companies for a price freeze.

# Bouquet: The Royal Family.

I tip my hat to Queen Elizabeth II who ascended to the throne in 1953 and has not put a foot wrong since. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for her offspring who have all been, at times, accident prone. Despite the foibles of Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward the cavalry is on its way in the form of William who appears to be an incredibly well-rounded and grounded individual. He has a regal aura mixed with a down to earth demeanour. His beautiful Princess bride also appears to be born to the job even though she’s a commoner. William’s cause is also not harmed by his good looks and the fact that he hasn’t fallen into his father’s trap of talking to plants and expressing a desire, on occasion, to be a tampon.

# Bugger: Off Hone. This country has no place for your divisive, separatist nonsense.

Footnote: Jamie Mackay is the host of the Farming Show which airs on Radio Sport and Newstalk ZB. In a past life a Southland sheep farmer, these days he comments on farming, politics and sport for a living from the relative safety and comfort of his radio studio in Dunedin.

Monday, 2 May 2011

I write this column, racked with guilt, on Anzac Day

I write this column, racked with guilt, on Anzac Day. For this is the first time in 18 years, with the exception of two overseas sojourns, I’ve not actively paid tribute to those brave and selfless souls who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

Some friends asked us to join them at Dawn Parade but the weather looked a bit dodgy and I’d stayed up late the evening previous watching the latest Bruce Willis movie. There’s a rather sad irony in the fact I’d chosen the comfort of a sleep-in off the back of a corny action flick rather than reflect on the plight of those who’d seen real action.

I can’t plead ignorance, only apathy, because my family has a real Anzac connection. My grandfather cut his teeth at Gallipoli, later having the misfortune to serve on the Western Front in one of the bloodiest battles of them all, the Somme.

My uncle saw action in World War II in Italy, including the battle at Cassino. Family folklore famously had him being quoted during a Southland snow storm at lambing as saying “Cassino was luxury compared to this. The only bastard I had to worry about over there was myself!”

The greatest disappointment of my father’s life was the war ended when he was 17 before he could enlist. For young farm boys war was a great adventure and a chance to see the world.

The Anzac connection does not end there. A third generation has taken up the reigns in the form of my brother, who had a mid-life change of direction from farming to academia when he completed a doctorate in history based around Gallipoli.

There’s one more war connection. I owe a lot of what little knowledge I’ve accrued over the years to Alan Young, a wonderfully inspiring headmaster I had at Riversdale primary school 40 years ago. He, too, was a veteran of Cassino and I can recall being enthralled when he regaled us with the good bits of his wartime experience, albeit a much watered-down version for young and impressionable ears.

I remember, in panic, doing the sums on the probable timing of a likely World War III. There was a 25-year interval (1914 to 1939) between the beginning of the Great War and World War II. Logic therefore suggested 1964 was the year for another all-in scrap. The Cuban missile crisis of 1962 had seen the world narrowly avert World War III, so I figured, sitting in my classroom in the late 1960s that we were well overdue for the big one. So much so, I hoped we’d get World War III out of the way before I got to the age of conscription!

As it transpired, my fears were groundless. Mercifully, unlike my Anzac predecessors, I didn’t have to put my courage to the test. And mercifully, unlike my Anzac predecessors, age has wearied me and the years have condemned. As a result I’d probably be as much use in the heat of battle as Don Brash at a nuclear-free rally.

As a final aside, the other memory that sticks in my mind from primary school days was Alan Young’s assertion that it was a matter of when, not if, Foot and Mouth Disease arrived in New Zealand and the disastrous ramifications it would have for our economy (remembering that these were the Holyoake years of milk and honey, when our economy was almost entirely dependent on agriculture).

Thankfully like World War III, Foot and Mouth has yet to eventuate. The prospect of either doesn’t bear thinking about. And I can’t think of a time since the 1960s when agriculture was more important to the New Zealand economy. Lest we forget. ENDS>

Footnote: Jamie Mackay is the host of the Farming Show which airs on Radio Sport and Newstalk ZB. In a past life a Southland sheep farmer, these days he comments on farming, politics and sport for a living from the relative safety and comfort of his radio studio in Dunedin.