Monday, 30 January 2012

A nightmare for a knight!

# Big Farming Story of the Week: A nightmare for a knight!

Sir Henry van der Heyden is none too pleased with the government’s proposed changes to raw milk regulations. The canny Dutchman reckons if the mega-cooperative has to supply more milk to its competitors at a subsidized price then the resultant profits will head off shore and hinder, rather than help, access to affordable milk on the domestic market.

Minister of Agriculture David Carter, on the other hand, reckons Sir Henry is bleating and hasn’t done his homework on the numbers. It’s a complex argument, with merit on both sides, but I can’t help but feel Fonterra has been left holding the baby while its competitors get to sell the baby formula.

# Big Political Story of the Week: A nightmare of a knight!

Another knight, in the form of 80s asset-stripper Sir Michael Fay, is leading a consortium that somehow thinks it has a God-given right to acquire the Crafar Farms at a bargain basement price. While they’re penny-pinching on the price they’re prepared to pay for New Zealand’s largest individual grouping of dairy farms, this well-heeled group of gents is certainly not skimping on legal fees and public relations costs as they challenge a likely Overseas Investment Office decision to sell to the Chinese consortium.

Fay knows a bargain when he sees one and his track record would certainly suggest he knows how to extract his proverbial pound of flesh from any business transaction he’s involved in. However, a word of advice in your ear Sir Michael! Sack your PR company! Whoever advised you to front the consortium, and bleat on about keeping New Zealand assets in New Zealand hands, offered you poor advice. You reek of double standards.

By all means Sir Michael, use your bloated bank balance to keep Kiwi farms in Kiwi hands. But pay the going rate and get one of your farmer mates to front the campaign. Fair dinkum Kiwis don’t like seeing fat cats getting fatter wallets at their expense.

# Big Sporting Story of the Week: Oh to be in Oz!

They might have snakes, poisonous spiders, locusts, flies in biblical proportions and Julia Gillard but there can be no denying Australia is the home of sport at the moment. Admittedly the much-anticipated Indian cricket test series has been more one-sided than a Canterbury crowd but, oh, the tennis in Melbourne has been to die for.

# Brickbat: Shoot the Mongrels!

I love dogs. I spent the first 32 years of my life living, breathing and working with them. When I became a townie I decided, quite rightly, big dogs belong on farms or in the country where they can roam freely and be sworn at (in the case of farm dogs) in relative isolation. I’ve never really understood why you’d want a large dog in a large town or city, let alone a large vicious dog.

I have real sympathy for the families of the six children who have been savaged in the past month by vicious dogs. No parent, no matter how incompetent, would ever knowingly inflict that upon their child. Yet it happens because parents make dumb decisions. They knowingly allow (in most of the above cases) their children into an environment where the likes of Staffordshire and Pit Bull terriers, Rottweilers and Dobermans roam.

Last year ACC received almost 10,000 claims for dog attacks, costing about $4 million. That money would be better spent in our hospitals rather than on an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. Labour’s agriculture spokesman Damien O’Connor, a man prone to making common sense, was bang-on (no pun intended) when he said all vicious breeds of dogs should be shot. Problem solved.

# Bouquet: China.

David Shearer says we shouldn’t be putting too many eggs in a Chinese basket but BNZ chief economist Tony Alexander has a completely contrary view and he has the numbers to prove it. Within the next decade China will overtake Australia as our largest export market and, more interestingly, he says China is returning to its natural order in the world economy. Two centuries ago China was responsible for 25-33% of the world’s GDP. That fell to 2% under the insular communist reign of Mao Tse-tung. Today it is 13% and climbing. It’s a bandwagon we need to be on.

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

Monday, 23 January 2012

Something to Occupy your mind …

A couple of weeks ago I went to see the new Steven Spielberg movie, War Horse. I thoroughly recommend this epic tale of a thoroughbred horse named Joey. Reared on a Devon farm, it follows the horse’s journey through the horrors of World War One and the people he touched along the way. It culminates when he eventually reunites with Albert, the young farm boy who trained him (and who ultimately followed him to war in search of his beloved horse).

As I was walking through Dunedin’s picturesque Octagon to the movie theatre, I couldn’t help but notice the dead grass courtesy of our friends from the Occupy movement who had spent the best part of the previous three months camped there, smoking dubious substances, peeing on the grass and protesting about our capitalist system.

Because I was on my way to see a movie about, amongst other things, the rat-infested trenches and the atrocities of the Great War, I got to thinking about my grandfather Hugh.
He served at Gallipoli and on the Western Front and returned a bitter, not better, man for the experience. But he served his country because he was fighting, like all those brave souls, for democracy. As I wandered, I couldn’t help wondering what Hughie would have made of the Occupy movement?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not such a red-neck, right winger that I can’t see protesting has its place. It was indeed right to protest against the Vietnam War. In hindsight it was totally right to protest against the 1981 Springbok tour and it’s right to protest against such wrongs as starvation, sweated-labour and the lack of democracy in the likes of North Korea, Zimbabwe and Libya. Where I struggle with the Occupy movement is what they’re actually protesting about.

They claim to be protesting for a resource-based and sharing economy where capitalism is abolished. Yet, if Dunedin is anything to go by, they’re happy to take their tax-payer funded three statutory breaks for Xmas and accept the dole or sickness benefit funded by a capitalist system. My grandfather spent months marooned on the beaches at Anzac Cove. I doubt those blokes took three weeks off at the height of summer to go the beach! They were stuck on theirs.

On the Tuesday morning of last week I went for a coffee, funded I might add by selfish capitalist ways, and the Occupy protestors, who had reappeared the day before following their Christmas sabbatical, were gone from the Octagon. In a city where some short-sighted souls moan about the cost of the magnificent Forsythe Barr Stadium, there seems to have been barely a whimper about the $4000 the ratepayers have had to fork out to re-grass the Octagon. Don’t even start me on the fact that this most public of public spaces, was unavailable to the public for nigh on three months.

Maybe I’m missing the point and maybe the Occupiers have a point. But we live in a tough world. A world, whether you like it or not, where you have to pay your way, as Greece and much of the debt-ridden Euro zone is finding out.

Capitalism is far from perfect and a lot of greedy people are ripping off the system. But I’m damn sure it’s a better bet than the communal, hippy, happy-clapping, group-hugging, resource-sharing model proposed by the Occupiers.

Finally, while I’m reminiscing about family, I can’t help but think of my late father Alec. He was old school, hard-arse even. He didn’t like Vietnam war protestors in the 1960s - called them “hairy mongrels”. He couldn’t even abide All Blacks, the likes of Bob Burgess, with long hair. What would he have made of Occupiers?

“Get a haircut and get a real job” springs to mind. ENDS>

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

Monday, 16 January 2012

A long time between drinks!

# Big Farming Story of the Week: A long time between drinks!

They say a week is a long time in politics. Well a month is certainly a long time in farming, especially when it hasn’t rained for over a month. Last month (Dec 5) in this very column I wrote “The top of the country has been on the lookout for rain. The bottom end has had it in bucketfuls. And the bits in the middle are looking an absolute picture!”

Six weeks later and the weather gods have done a complete about face. The bits in the middle are still looking a picture, the top has been inundated with rain while Southland and Otago have gone from a wet November to a screaming January drought. Rain is forecast for the region as I write. I hope when you read this the drought is past tense.

# Big Political Story of the Week: The US Presidential Primaries.

While John Key holidays in Hawaii, the man with the name to warm the heart of Kiwi sheep farmers, Mitt Romney, has done the business in Iowa and New Hampshire. But is America ready to elect a Mormon money man accused of being a former corporate raider? They elected a black man but he had substance and charisma. The jury is out as to whether Romney has either of those qualities.

# Big Sporting Story of the Week: SBW refuses to go away.

When our attention should be focused on the Australia/India test in Perth, two wonderful Manchester soccer sides, the tennis in Auckland and the domestic twenty/20 competition, we’re being sidetracked yet again by the Sonny Bill sideshow. The NZRU is acting like a lovesick puppy and SBW is wagging the dog. With the likes of McCaw, Carter, Smith and cockies Hore and Woodcock, the All Blacks have some wonderful role models and ambassadors. The Sydney Roosters are welcome to SBW.

# Brickbat: The Auckland Wharfies.

Good on Fonterra for taking its business elsewhere. The rhetoric coming from the union leaders reeks of that dreadful period in industrial relations, the 1970s and 80s, when New Zealand ground to a halt on occasions because of the bloody-minded attitude of unions. Farming was especially hard hit with the meat industry bordering on the farcical at times.
Been there, done that. No thanks this time round.

# Bouquet: My Mum.

Santa brought me some brand-spanking new Taylor Made golf clubs. This should have made for a merry Christmas with plenty of golf and the prospect of a happy new year (inflicting yet more defeat and embarrassment upon Steve Wyn-Harris on some golf course somewhere around the country). But it wasn’t a happy new year because my mum passed away on January 2.

I lost my father 33 years ago and that was tough because I was just a pup. But nothing prepares you for losing your mother. I guess it’s the maternal bond. She brought you into the world and you have to sit around helplessly watching while she departs it. Mum was born at the height of the Great Depression and spent her formative years in the dark shadow of World War II. Mum was tough. She had to be. Her father deserted the family and her mother tragically died when she was young. She made it her life’s work to make sure we never endured the same fate.

Her last days were spent in an under resourced health system that seems to think sickness takes a break on statutory holidays. Thankfully she was surrounded by her four children because doctors were few and far between. This is not an indictment of the wonderful health professionals who staff our hospitals, rather it’s a sad commentary on their lack of numbers.

My resolution for 2012, other than beating Wyn-Harris, is to use every publicity resource at my disposal to hold the government to account for a health system that needs more money, not less. Austerity is the buzz word for 2012 and we can all expect belt-tightening to be the order of the day, with government leading the way. But health spending is like eyeballs and the other balls on the rugby paddock. Sacrosanct! Not to be touched. Watch out John and Bill. Me and mum are on your case.

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