Monday, 19 March 2012

Big Farming Story of the Week

# Big Farming Story of the Week: The Payout.

The 15 cent drop in the Fonterra forecast payout was no surprise, the inevitable result of falling commodity prices and a high dollar. What was more surprising was it was only 15 cents. I thought the dairy giant only made announcements when the payout moved by 30 cents or more? Maybe Sir Henry wants us to be like his Anchor easy-spread butter and he’s just trying to soften us up?

# Big Political Story of the Week: David Shearer – decisive, deliberate or ditherer?

That was the question I posed to the personable Labour leader on the Farming Show last week following accusations from some quarters that he’s been less than decisive, thus far, in his new role. It solicited the following angry response from a listener who thundered: What a surprise you don't support ordinary working people [in this case the striking watersiders] trying to preserve an eight hour working day so they can be with their families and you're asking the Labour leader an extremely insulting question. No wonder you’re sponsored by a fertilizer company. How appropriate!

My response: What I don’t support is workers being paid for a 40 hour week and only working 26 hours. That's unproductive. My understanding is that the port workers have been asked to work (and sign contracts) for 160 hours per month - hardly unreasonable I would have thought? Most workers I know work longer hours and often the hours are irregular depending on work availability. We live in a 24/7 world. The days of the inflexible 8 to 5 work day are gone. As for asking the Labour leader an "extremely insulting question", I am merely asking what many in the media have already asked and what many in the public are wondering. Plus I gave him the courtesy of pre-warning him about the question. For what it's worth, I like the guy and think he’s a man of substance and honour. To be the next PM though, he will need to be more decisive and quicker on his feet than he has been thus far.

# Big Sporting Story of the Week: Match-fixing.

Chris Cairns used to hit a big ball. Now he’s proving he’s got a pair of them by taking an Indian billionaire to court. Win, lose or draw the case, I suspect he’ll end up the legal equivalent of running himself out going for a cheeky single.

# Brickbat: Food Nazis.
A recent long-running US study of more than 120,000 people suggested eating a daily portion of processed red meat, such as a hot dog or two slices of bacon, can increase a person's risk of dying by up to 20 per cent. What’s more, those who ate a card deck-sized serving of unprocessed red meat each day on average saw a 13 per cent higher risk of dying than those who did not eat red meat as frequently.
A separate study, published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, found that men who drank sugar-sweetened beverages daily, faced a 20 per cent higher risk of heart disease than men who did not.
So that’s beer, wine, coffee and steak off the menu. A life of lettuce-munching might prolong your life. Or more likely, it would feel that way!

# Bouquet: M J B (Jock) Hobbs.

I don’t know that they award knighthoods posthumously, but if they do there can be no more deserving recipient then Jock Hobbs. Very few, if any, All Blacks captains are more famous for their work off the paddock than on it, but Hobbs was the exception to the rule. Not once, but twice, he rescued rugby from the abyss.

Cancer, and in Jock’s case leukemia, are indiscriminate killers and 52 years is too short a time on Earth for a good man. I once played age-group rugby against Hobbs, which makes me his age, but I’m not ready to go yet. Trouble is, I can’t decide whether to go home and have a salad for longevity’s sake or enjoy a beer while I still can?

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

Monday, 12 March 2012

Big Farming Story of the Week

# Big Farming Story of the Week: The Summer of 2012.

What summer? Rain is good in the summer months because it grows grass. Livestock convert grass to protein to cash for a cash-strapped country. That’s fine and dandy but livestock make protein better and more quickly with a bit of sun on their back. Crops cannot ripen or be harvested without a bit of sun on their back. I heard an anecdotal tale of one farmer heading grain at 30% moisture. That’s unheard of! Seeing a Kiwi summer’s now officially of the radar, here’s hoping for an Indian one.

# Big Political Story of the Week: The Auckland Wharfies get the sack.

It’s not quite the Waterfront Dispute of 1951 when 1,157,390 working days were lost in an ultimately senseless strike, but could this be the catalyst for another period of industrial unrest, the likes of which we have not seen since the dark old days of the ‘seventies and ‘eighties?

I do get concerned when I hear striking watersiders referring to each other as comrades. That vernacular belongs back in 1951 with communism and the Cold War. My view is the world has moved on in the past 61 years. Workers are now protected by legislation – minimum wage, four weeks annual leave, ACC, you name it.

Are unions an outmoded anachronism? A hark back to the days of Victorian sweat shops when workers really did need protection from abusive employers? I think there’s a still place for collective bargaining, especially in lower paid jobs. However the reality is good workers are valuable assets and the market ultimately decides their value, not some tub-thumping unionist with a British accent shouting “come on brothers, we’re out!”

# Big Sporting Story of the Week: The Highlanders.

Superbly led by a couple of front row farmers in the form of Jamie Mackintosh and Andrew Hore, the Highlanders (at the time of writing) have been the darlings of the Super 15. There’s an earthy honesty about the Highlanders that the nation is definitely warming to. They are a team in the truest sense - some great players - but no prima donna superstars. There’s no sideshow circus boxing distractions, when a player hops off a plane from Japan he jumps straight on to the paddock and heaven help any player who turned up to a Jamie Joseph training after too much Christmas pudding.

# Brickbat: The National Government.

Everyone agrees we live in tough times. There can be no arguing the government needs to tighten the purse strings when it comes to its own spending. Goodness knows there’s been enough fat in the system in the past. But Brutal Bill English is doing a sterling hatchet job. Providing, of course, you’re not a faceless Wellington bureaucrat in a meaningless policy analyst job.

Social welfare, quite rightly, will feel the brunt of the government’s spending reforms. That is where we waste the most money in this country. The cost of pandering to political correctness is a close second, followed closely by the political system itself where politicians enjoy nothing more than racking up air points at our expense. Education has been gutted but I’d still question some of the inane and worthless course qualifications young people are undertaking.

I once met Anne Tolley at the Gisborne A&P Show and she seemed charming and personable. If you didn’t know her though, you’d think she was the Devil reincarnate! She’s arguably been the most unpopular Minister of Education ever and now she’s been given the poison chalice of Minister of Police, having to oversee what are effectively spending cuts for the Boys in Blue. All she needs is the Minister of Health’s job and she would have the trifecta of hospital passes.

By all means John and Bill, cut the fat and the freeloaders from the system. But cut the health and police budgets at your peril.

# Bouquet: Black humour.

Goes to the wag who declared the Crusaders v Highlanders game to be Liquefaction v Liquidation. Sometimes laughing at oneself truly is the best medicine.

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

Monday, 5 March 2012

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

All the best lines are borrowed from someone else. Charles Dickens may have written those immortal words in 1859 but more than a century and half later they still ring true. So I’ve flogged them for this column to describe the plight of Otago rugby.

Fans barely had time to catch their breath after a gutsy Highlanders victory over the Chiefs when the news broke that Otago rugby was broke! The news sent the alarm bells ringing around the rest of provincial New Zealand as everyone asked who’s next?

Due to uncharitable selectors, genetic shortcomings and a healthy helping of cowardice under fire, I never got to play provincial rugby for Southland. I got to provincial B level and some of my former team mates cruelly suggest I did so with the aid of a tail wind and a wet sail.

That I never got to play provincial rugby was never due to a lack of desire or effort. I just wasn’t good enough! Truth be known, if I could have, I would have paid for the pleasure of playing provincial rugby. So would many from my generation. We were raised to aspire to represent our province for the love of it. The glory was payment enough.

Several mates, who did go on to play provincial rugby, tell the same story. They counted themselves lucky to get a few free beers, a petrol voucher at the end of the season, a trip to the North Island and, if they were really lucky, a crack at a touring team such as the Springboks, the Lions or Australia.

They lived in simpler times back then. Most were farmers’ sons or worked for rugby-friendly businesses. Time off work was not such a big deal. Weekend work was the exception, not the rule. Employers were proud to hire a rugby player. They were good for business.

The advent of professionalism in the mid 1990s changed all that. Almost overnight, players were being paid, even at club level. Loyalty went out the door and in came the nomadic rugby mercenaries. Having a day job and playing for the love of the game became as unfashionable as a Bee Gees CD, MC Hammer pants or a Billy Ray Cyrus mullet.

And therein lies the problem for New Zealand rugby, especially for the bigger provinces in the supposedly “semi-professional” ITM Cup. There are just too many players being paid too much money to play too much rugby in front of too few fans. It’s Economics 101. Supply has outstripped demand. Not just for rugby but also for rugby players.

The global financial crisis has blunted a previously insatiable offshore appetite for any half-decent kiwi footy player. Now you’ve got to be worth your salt to get a meaningful overseas contract. Being an average provincial player no longer cuts the mustard.

So what’s the solution? Is it too simplistic to say all rugby below Super 15 level should be strictly amateur? Should we go back to the future and play God’s game at provincial level simply because we love it? Greater rugby minds than mine, such as Mike Brewer, think so and I think he’s right. I don’t buy into the argument there will be a mass exodus of young players to Europe, Japan and rugby league. Where will they all go?

Forget the Black Caps, the Silvers Ferns, the Warriors, the Breakers, the Phoenix or the Black Sticks. Rugby owns the heart and soul of provincial New Zealand. We love the All Blacks and, sure, Super 15 provides razzle-dazzle, week in, week out, with the world’s best players on display. But when push comes to shove, provincial rugby is tribalism at its very best. Readers of this publication know that because they reside in heartland New Zealand.

Forewarned is forearmed. We can’t let the demise of Otago be the forerunner of the systemic failure of provincial rugby. It’s our heritage. It must not be history.

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