Monday, 26 September 2011

'Trouble at Mill' at both ends of the country!

# Big Farming Story of the Week: ‘Trouble at Mill’ at both ends of the country!

The unfolding kiwifruit crisis is becoming more widely reported in mainstream media and the numbers do not stack up well. Respected rural financier Don Fraser told me Zespri’s 30 million tray production will halve to 15 million trays this season. The crisis affects 2,000 growers farming 12,000 hectares employing 10,000 full time workers and 8,000 part-timers. The $1.2 billion export industry has a downstream economic multiplier of six. Kiwifruit is 10% of the Bay of Plenty’s GDP. As much as 1,500 hectares has been picked for the last time. Whichever way you do the sums, it makes for awful reading.

Flying under the radar, though, is the story of the lamb losses in the deep south following a week of cold, wet, stormy weather. Mind you, as one of my West Otago sheep farming mates said the other day, it’s just as well the bleeding-heart, urban-based media have not picked up on the lamb losses, as he reckoned the last thing we wanted the gathered world RWC press to see was piles of dead lambs at the farm gate. The only suffering we want to see is 15 Australian lambs going to the slaughter!

# Big Political Story of the Week: The Crafar Farms and Farmer Fay.

When Alan Crafar’s family set about building a dairy empire a decade or more ago, I’m sure they had no idea of the political storm they would subsequently cause. Crafar has now become a poster boy for the debate surrounding foreign ownership of New Zealand farms. With the threat of the Chinese yellow peril hovering on the horizon, New Zealand’s farm ownership fate could rest in the hands of the great white knight, Sir Michael Fay, alongside a holy alliance of Iwi and leading dairy farmers.

Fay made a fortune from the deregulation of the 1980s, selling New Zealand assets to offshore owners. But as he is at pains to point out, he’s never sold farm land to foreigners and he’s been “farming” since 1977. Selling banks and telecommunication companies was one thing, he said piously, because they’re still making them. Not so, farm land.

Yet sizeable tracts of New Zealand farm land are now owned by Americans (through the likes of the Harvard fund) and Germans (whose superannuation funds have taken a real liking to Southland dairy farms). I’ve only heard muted opposition to that. The Chinese will soon overtake Australia as our biggest trading partner. We are bending over backwards to secure a Free Trade Agreement with Beijing. Yet we shun their advances to invest in our country while Fonterra freely sets up shop in theirs.

If Michael Fay is the answer, then what is the question? Personally, I’d like to see Landcorp up the ante and buy the Crafar farms for the future benefit of us all rather than see the land go to a select and privileged few.

# Big Sporting Story of the Week: The First Fifteen?

Will the three wise men let the rest of the country in on the secret?

# Brickbat: The English rugby team.

The Poms are the only outfit at the RWC who can make the Auckland public transport system look quick. The only minnows they haven’t struggled against thus far are the dwarfs they tossed aside at the Altitude Bar in Queenstown.

# Bouquet: Provincial New Zealand.

While the Rugby World Cup has been a runaway success the length and breadth of the country, with the unfortunate exception of Christchurch, there can be no denying the provincial heartland has truly taken the RWC to its bosom. The likes of Whangarei, Rotorua, New Plymouth, Napier, Palmerston North, Nelson and Invercargill have been a welcoming haven for the likes of Russia, USA, Canada, Namibia, Romania, Georgia, Japan and Tonga. Smaller centres such as Gisborne, Masterton and Blenheim have adopted the lesser lights of world rugby and welcomed them like prodigal sons, even though they’re not hosting games. They say the RWC will never return to New Zealand again in our lifetime. I say bollocks! We were born to host it.

Jamie Mackay is the host of the Ballance Agri-Nutrients Farming Show which airs on Radio Sport and Newstalk ZB.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Sir Henry's Hair

# Big Farming Story of the Week: Sir Henry’s Hair.

The chairman of Fonterra’s remaining thatch must be thinning on a daily basis as he pulls his hair out over that hoary old chestnut – capital structure. Everyone agrees Fonterra must remain a cooperative under 100% farmer control. But now it would appear some farmers have decided Trading Among Farmers (TAF) is putting a cat among the pigeons due to changes within the TAF proposal that might put farmers’ ownership and control at risk. This week Fonterra announces it annual result and next week it hits the road to update shareholders on TAF. Personally, as a small shareholder, I’m all for TAF and would happily increase my shareholding given the opportunity because I reckon Fonterra’s a good bet.

# Big Political Story of the Week: Len the Loser.

The Rugby World Cup is supposedly an apolitical event. Pull the other one! If Dan Carter’s boot is as good as the one the National Party put into Len Brown, then we’ll have no problems with drop kicks at the RWC (apart from the obvious ones on the Auckland City Council).

# Big Sporting Story of the Week: The Three Unwise Men.

I write without knowing the score of the Japan RWC game. Rest assured the All Blacks will have run up a score more akin to cricket than rugby. But what will Messrs Henry, Hansen and Smith have learned from the exercise? A predictably strong performance against weak opposition from the likes of an Andy Ellis will only further confuse a confused selection process.

Despite having had eight years to figure it out, it appears the three wise men can’t make up their minds about their top fifteen. So I’m going to freely bestow upon them my four decades of experience in selecting the All Blacks. Trust me Ted, this team will win the RWC, if only you’d stick with it:

Dagg, Jane, Smith, Nonu, Kahui, Carter, Cowan, Read, McCaw, Kaino, Whitelock, Williams, O Franks, Hore and Woodcock. Reserves: Mealamu, B Franks, Thorn, Thomson, Weepu, Slade and Muliaina.

# Brickbat: Flash Mob Haka.

If, like Dancing Dave Currie the chef de mission, you hanker for haka at the drop of a hat, then you’re going to love the Rugby World Cup. Less than a week into the tournament though, I have to admit to haka fatigue. We’re in danger of overdoing a good thing and that’s before we start counting the latest dance craze – the flash mob haka – when a group of people assemble suddenly in a public place and perform a surprise routine which has usually been organized via social media. An organized surprise routine! Go figure?

An honourable mention goes to Happy Feet and Clayton Weatherston, both of whom have needlessly cost the country a fortune.

# Bouquet: TVNZ 7.

Even though the commercial-free, free-to-air 24-hour news and information channel is going to be chopped in June next year due to poor ratings, I for one will miss it, having only just switched on to some of its excellent programming.
Last week I watched a superb documentary on how the food industry makes billions from breakfast cereals. The story started back at the turn of the 20th century when two brothers, John and Will Kellogg, started making breakfast cereals from the excess corn that abounded in Battle Creek, Michigan. They later argued over the recipe for the cereals, with the younger brother Will wanting to add sugar to the corn flakes so they would be palatable to the masses. In 1906 Will formed his own company, the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company, which eventually became the Kellogg’s company.

Meanwhile older brother John, a devout Seventh Day Adventist, teetotaler and Doctor of Medicine set about righting the wrongs of the world by running a sanitarium (that name rings a bell) with a particular focus on vegetarian nutrition, exercise, painful anal enemas and the rehabilitation of masturbators.

One can only wonder what he might have made of English referee Wayne Barnes?

Jamie Mackay is the host of the Ballance Agri-Nutrients Farming Show which airs on Radio Sport and Newstalk ZB.

Monday, 12 September 2011

The Payout!

# Big Farming Story of the Week: The Payout!

I know this is soooo last week, but combined with this week’s Global Dairy Trade Event (down 1.4%), Fonterra’s recent announcement holding the forecast payment for the 2012 season at $7.15 to $7.25 (before retentions) is a great news story. There are a whole lot of reasons, not the least of which the exchange rate, for a forecast payout beginning with a six rather than a seven. However, someone deep in the bowels of the Fonterra trading room has done his or her homework and cow cockies should be rejoicing! While it doesn’t quite contain the cream-on-top content of this season’s expected $8-15, it will be the third-highest in Fonterra’s 11 year history and sure beats the hell out of the $3-16 of 2002-03.

# Big Political Story of the Week: The relevance, or otherwise, of the Act party.

By including former Federated Farmers president Don Nicolson at number four on its party list, Act is making an undeniable play for farmers’ votes. Act is the most farmer-friendly of all parties. That said, I suspect the Greens, rightly or wrongly, might get more farmer votes.

# Big Sporting Story of the Week: The Rugby World Cup.

There is no other story! It’s taken a while but Rugby World Cup Fever is finally here. Yes, the tickets are over-priced! Yes, there will be tickets unsold! Yes, we are being ripped off by hotels and airlines. And yes, Graham Henry is testing our loyalty with his “Claytons” rotation policy (the kind of rotation policy you have when you’re not really having one).

But putting all those minor impediments to one side, it’s finally here. This is a six week festival over seven weekends, the likes of which we will never see again in New Zealand, let alone in our lifetimes. The early rounds do not come at an ideal time for farmers, with the small matter of lambing, calving and the sowing of crops to contend with. However, once we get to the business end of the competition, October 8-23, for the quarter-finals and beyond, it’s game on for young and old. The late evening kick-off of many games makes it possible for most of you to take in all the action (free to air) and still squeeze in a full day’s toil on the land.

# Brickbat: Mad Margaret Mutu.

If Margaret Mutu was white, the Race Relations Conciliator would run the harebrained Maori academic out of town. Ngapuhi leader David Rankin was right to label her the "Robert Mugabe of New Zealand politics" after the wayward professor said there should be a cap on the number of white people migrating to New Zealand because they bring attitudes of white supremacy and are destructive to Maori. The Rugby World Cup presents a grand opportunity for all Kiwis to bat on the same team for a common cause. Mad Margaret is divisive and she represents the ugly face of inverse racism. She needs to be treated with all the disdain of a specialist winger in the All Blacks RWC squad. Banished!

An honourable mention must be accorded Chris Carter who departed Godzone for the war zone of Kabul. Although he’s got 250,000 tax paid reasons to go, there’s an absolute irony that a man who milked the foreign travel system for all it’s worth has traveled to a foreign land to fight corruption!

# Bouquet: Richie McCaw.
At the time of writing it appears McCaw will have the privilege of being the first All Black to play 100 tests for his country. While Sir Colin Meads will always be our most iconic and favourtie All Black, McCaw has his shot at glory over the next six weeks to become statistically our greatest All Black. I’m sure Pinetree would gladly pass on the mantle in exchange for the Webb Ellis Trophy.

Jamie Mackay is the host of the Ballance Agri-Nutrients Farming Show which airs on Radio Sport and Newstalk ZB.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Spring has sprung. Or has it?

# Big Farming Story of the Week: Spring has sprung. Or has it?

Depending on which school of thought you belong to, September 1 signifies the beginning of the spring season. The meteorologists will tell you you’ve got to wait until the spring equinox of September 22/23 but I reckon there are enough frolicking lambs and calves and blooming plants around to declare Mother Nature’s most dynamic season upon us. No month is more important in the farming calendar than September. The most lambs are born in September, the most crops are put in the ground in September and the dairy season is set up by the pasture growth rates in September. Please farming gods, let September be fine!

# Big Political Story of the Week: The Earthquake Blowout.

Just when you thought it was safe to dip your frugal toes back into the fiscal waters, the government announces a $4 billion dollar blowout in the cost of the Canterbury Earthquakes. Finance Minister Bill English is urging calm but he did make the telling comment, “we’re as vulnerable as we’ve ever been”. Just how vulnerable we are, will become self-evident upon paying our insurance premiums in the coming years.

# Big Sporting Story of the Week: The All Blacks Blowout.

Just when you thought it was safe to believe the Great Redeemer Graham Henry was going to lead us to the Rugby World Cup Promised Land, we have a blowout in the two Tri-nations tests leading into the most important tournament in our sporting history. Most fans were accepting of dropping the Springboks in Port Elizabeth because it allowed us to cosset the crown jewels, Richie and Dan, in cotton wool. What was much less palatable was a 40 minute walloping at the hands of the Wallabies. I still believe we are the best team in the world, albeit one too dependent on key individuals, and I still believe the fortress that is Eden Park will see us home. However the three wise men face some interesting selection dilemmas around a depleted loose forward combination with no specialist cover for our most special player and a back three that is top heavy on fullbacks and light on power and size.

# Brickbat: Sonny Bill Williams.

He might be a god-given athlete but he’s not God. From day one the NZRU got off on the wrong foot when Henry subserviently acted as personal chauffeur for SBW’s dodgy manager. In the good old days the then All Blacks coach Fred Allen put the fear of God into our greatest All Black, Colin Meads. The coach called the shots. Now we have the tail wagging the dog. Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith are a world-class combination in the midfield. If one of them falls over I’ve got a lot of faith in Richard Kahui. Carter can play 12 just as effectively as 10. Bugger off offshore SBW. We will survive quite nicely, thanks, without you.

# Bouquet: The Green Party

Dr Russel (only the Greens could spell Russel with one l and have co-leaders) Norman and his eco-warriors are usually more likely to be the recipients of a brickbat rather than a bouquet in this column, but credit where credit’s due. The Greens’ idea of an earthquake levy/tax has some merit. I’m sure the government will argue the tax will stymie productivity but we’re one big natural disaster away from going broke as a country. Christchurch is too big a player in the economy not to fix properly. It’s a case of all shoulders to the wheel. You never know when we might need Canterbury’s help.

And a final thought on the Greens. With Labour under Phil Goff self-destructing, the Greens will make up a powerful voting bloc in the next parliament. I wonder if they’re smart enough to get inside the tent and pee out?

Jamie Mackay is the host of the Ballance Agri-Nutrients Farming Show which airs on Radio Sport and Newstalk ZB.