Monday, 30 April 2012

The Last of Summer Wine

# Big Farming Story of the Week: The last of the summer wine?The latest Fonterra Global Dairy Trade Event dropped 10%. Lamb is taking a caning off the back of the exchange rate and wool is on the slide, heading back in the direction of the dark old days when it was little more than a by-product of meat production.

Similarly, other agricultural commodities are feeling the heat from the exchange rate and a recession that appears to be in no hurry to recede, especially in Europe.
It would be easy to take a ‘glass half empty’ approach to the future but there’s no need to panic because the numbers stack up so well for a food exporting nation like us. Global food demand will double by 2060 as the world population approaches 10 billion. And ponder this! The average daily consumption of milk per capita for the more than quarter-billion Indonesians is, wait for it, two drops! Imagine if they lifted that to 100mls, a 1000-fold increase?

# Big Political Story of the Week: Take your pick.

There’s the sale of the Crafar farms or Fonterra’s decision to have a second vote on Trading Among Farmers.
Let’s start with the Crafar Farms. I can sympathize with those who don’t want New Zealand farm land to go to foreign ownership but, equally, let’s make sure we treat all foreign investment equally. Where was the hue and cry when the Harvard Superannuation Fund purchased New Zealand’s biggest dairy farm in the Maniototo? Similarly where was the outrage when Shania Twain got her manicured nails into Motatapu Station? Or what about the Germans buying a dozen dairy farms in Southland? The Chinese have had to jump through considerably more hoops than any of the aforementioned to buy Kiwi land.
Very shortly China will be our biggest trading partner so why get offside with the world’s emerging super power? It’s called biting the hand that feeds you. The Chinese are not buying New Zealand farms to land bank them. They want to bank on the security and tenure of safe food supply. To understand China you need to understand the one child rule. Six people (two parents and four grandparents) are focusing all their efforts on one child. And if that means paying a huge premium for 100% safe infant formula, then so be it!
As for Trading Among Farmers? I think the second vote is PR exercise by the canny Dutch duo of Sir Henry van der Claus (aka Heyden) and Theo Spierings. Sure there might be some minor tweaking of TAF but the fact remains Fonterra needs more capital and can’t afford a redemption run on shares in tougher times. That’s why TAF will be endorsed on June 25.

# Big Sporting Story of the Week: The Breakers and the Crusaders.

The Breakers have now done (twice) what no other New Zealand sporting franchise has managed - to win an Australian-based competition. Basketball never really cashed in on the magnificent effort of the Tall Blacks in reaching semi-finals of the World Champs in 2002. It will be interesting to see if Breakers fever can do the trick. And as much as I’d love my beloved Highlanders to win the Super 15, I can see the Red ‘n Blacks rolling relentlessly on to Super rugby title number eight.

# Bouquet: China.

I’ve just returned from a fleeting visit. Wow! What a country! Everything about China is big, especially the numbers. It’s the world’s most populous nation (more than 1.3 billion people), with Shanghai alone having more than five times New Zealand’s population. Only the USA has more billionaires. The world’s second largest country by land area, China is now the world’s biggest energy user and dubiously lays claim to 20 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities. Most importantly its middle-class with real disposable income now numbers in excess of 100 million. They all crave New Zealand protein. Bring it on. And send it over!

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

Monday, 16 April 2012

Last week the Farming Show celebrated its 18th birthday

Last week the Farming Show celebrated its 18th birthday.

It seems only like yesterday two young blokes from Gore took a huge punt by purchasing 4ZG, the first, and only Radio New Zealand station sold to private enterprise. Even our landlord to be, a delightful old farmer by the name of Bert Horrell, thought we were mad. But once we’d convinced him of our conviction to see this through, he gave us his blessing and some advice I’ve never forgotten. You don’t regret the things you do, you regret the things you don’t do.

What started as a five minute rural segment on a fledgling private radio station way back in 1994, has today grown to a one hour programme broadcast nationwide on a national network. Of that I’m very proud. From the early days of the rebranded Hokonui Gold, we could see the potential in rural broadcasting. Farmers are very savvy radio listeners. They are often all-day listeners in their farm utes, tractors, four-wheelers, milking sheds, woolsheds or workshops.

Most importantly, farmers are big-ticket purchasers, often making spending decisions that involve tens (or sometimes hundreds) of thousands of dollars. We quickly figured if you could communicate effectively with farmers you had a good business model. Smart operators such as Ballance Agri-Nutrients and Rabobank were quick to figure it out too.

Often in business you don’t have to be the best but it’s best to be the first cab off the rank. I could’ve named a dozen radio broadcasters who were more talented and better qualified to host a nationwide farming programme than yours truly but it was a case of the early bird getting the worm. We were first-in and subsequently best-dressed.

I’m also proud that the Farming Show has spawned the advent of a similar format on a competing network. Imitation is the best form of flattery (though I’d be too scared to mention that in the presence of Richard Loe!) Others such as Steve Wyn-Harris and 1996 Young Farmer of the Year Phil Reid are also doing a sterling job on their respective radio stations, Central FM and Hokonui Gold. But what I’m most proud of is the fact the penny has dropped and commercial radio has finally seen the true value of rural broadcasting. And that in turn gets the good news story, farming, to urban New Zealand.

# Writing a weekly column in a national farming publication is a privilege that gives you access to every farmer’s mailbox. Two weeks ago in this fine publication I wrote about my cousin Kev and his battle with cancer. I was subsequently inundated with kind words about his story. Sadly Kev lost his fight on Easter Monday. 2012 has been a bugger of a year for those near and dear to me. I lost my mother and my best mate from university on the same day early in the year. Now Kev’s gone.

As a result, my new year’s resolution is to take advantage of every opportunity afforded me. I’ve put my money where my mouth is. As you read this I’ll be making my way from Beijing to the see the Great Wall of China. That’s one more ticked off the bucket list.

It was also the catalyst for organizing a Farming Show 14 day tour to South America to see the All Blacks play the Pumas in La Plata on September 29 while taking in some of Argentina and Chile’s best dairy, beef, sheep, salmon and vineyard operations. To that end, we enlisted the services of one of New Zealand’s leading dairy farmers and former Fonterra director, Mark Townshend, to arrange the farm visits. He and his wife Diane have considerable farming interests in Chile so were a natural fit to handle that side of things on tour.

What Bert Horrell said prophetically 18 years ago, still rings true today. You don’t regret the things you do, you regret the things you don’t do. It’s not a bad motto by which to live your life. See you in South America!

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

Monday, 9 April 2012

Platinum Primary Producers Conference

# Big Farming Story of the Week: Platinum Primary Producers Conference.

Imagine two million stock units sitting in one room in Masterton (metaphorically not literally). Imagine 12 million hectares in the Wairarapa for three days. That is the scale and sheer farming grunt of the PPP Club, an annual gathering of 40 or so of Australasia’s biggest famers. If you’re a mover and shaker in agriculture, you’re in that room. I’m glad I’m in the media these days because it would be easy to get farming penis-envy. My former 160 hectare sheep farm somehow just doesn’t stack up against Zanda McDonald’s multi-million hectare Queensland operation (he owns 1% of the state)!

# Big Political Story of the Week: DIRA. Oh Dear!

The Dairy Industry Restructuring Act passed its first reading in Parliament last week. This piece of proposed legislation is second only to the Emissions Trading Scheme for its ability to confuse. In the course of my job as a rural radio broadcaster, I get all the press releases and talk to the industry leaders about such matters. As a small Fonterra shareholder, I also have a vested interest in getting my head around what’s happening with the cooperative’s capital structure and the regulations surrounding milk pricing. Admittedly, I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, but I’m confused. How a head-down, bum-up cow cocky working 12 hour days gets his head around it is beyond me.

# Big Sporting Story of the Week: Ted lets his hair down in Wedderburn.

I had the good fortune to MC a rugby club function in Ranfurly where Graham Henry, at the behest of the Hore clan, fronted at a fundraiser for the mighty Maniototo Maggots. I was a bit hesitant to take on the gig, having been a critic of Henry’s reappointment after the World Cup debacle in Cardiff in 2007. Initially I felt like a scolded schoolboy fronting up to a grumpy headmaster. But as the day wore on into the night, and Ted showed an increasing appreciation for some of Central Otago’s finest pinot noir at the wonderfully welcoming Wedderburn Tavern, I discovered his bark was much worse than his bite. Just goes to prove, you should never judge folk until you meet them.

P.S. I managed to coerce him into naming the top fifteen of his eight year tenure: Mils Muliaina, Doug Howlett, Conrad Smith, Tana Umaga, Cory Jane/Richard Kahui (bracketed), Dan Carter, Piri Weepu, Kieran Reid, Richie McCaw, Jerome Kaino, Ali Williams, Brad Thorn, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore and Tony Woodcock.

# Bouquet: Farm Utes.

I learned to drive in an old Series 1 1950s Landrover. Like most kids growing up on a farm (OSH didn’t exist in those days), that involved chugging along behind the sheep whilst droving on the road or going round and round in the paddock while dad fed out hay. Flat-tack on the open road it would go 40 miles per hour (65 km/h). We eventually traded that up to brand new 1977 Landrover. Flat out screaming, downhill, downwind, it went 100 km/h. Then we had a dinky Suzuki ute, followed by an early diesel Holden Rodeo and then I made the epic leap forward to an iconic Toyota Hi Lux. None of which had air conditioning, power steering or central locking. Then I became a townie.

I’ve just taken a brand new Mazda BT50 4WD Double Cab for a jaunt through Central Otago. It’s an automatic 3.2 litre, 5 cylinder, turbo-charged diesel beast with all the bells and whistles. At 100 km/h it was barely turning over at 1800 rpm. Farm utes have come a long way since I was a boy!

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

Monday, 2 April 2012

This column is dedicated to my cousin Kev

This column is dedicated to my cousin Kev.

As I write, he’s battling the Big C. I hope he gets the opportunity to read this but cancer is such an insidious condition, there can be no guarantees.

Kev is my first cousin but in reality he is much more like my older brother. We grew up on neighbouring properties that our respective fathers farmed in partnership. Although the partnership was eventually dissolved, all major farming operations – shearing, crutching, dipping, cultivation, hay and harvesting – were done in unison. A case of all hands to the pump from both families.

Kev is eight years older than me. When I was growing up Kev was super cool. He had an Austin 1100 with a really trendy speedometer – a sideways bar graph rather than the traditional clock style. The car was adorned with wicked 60s-style accessories such as troll dolls hanging from the rear vision mirror. And there was always the added decadence of a bottle of beer or two rolling around in the back seat.

The pinnacle of his coolness was the portable record player he had in his single-man’s hut. It was one of those battery operated devices with the lift-off cover that acted as the speaker. On it he played the “devil’s own music” - my uncle Danny’s reference to Jumping Jack Flash by the Rolling Stones.

Kev was also the first five-eighth and goalkicker for the Riversdale rugby team. No Barry John-like round-the-corner stuff for Kev. He was a toe-stabber in the best traditions of Fergie McCormick. You couldn’t get any cooler than that!

As I grew up and grew stronger, Kev and I became more like equals. He could always crutch more lambs than me, spend longer behind the baler on the bale sledge stacking hay and he always got to drive the tractor when we were ridging swedes – but I think in his mind I had transformed from a pesky kid to fellow farm worker who could hold his own.

My fondest memory of those early days farming was the “barn sessions” that followed hay and shearing – just as night followed day – and believe me, many of those sessions went well into the night! It was not unusual in the Southland twilight to work until 10pm on hay and many a raucous evening was spent listening to tales of yonder farming and sporting years over a crate of cold Speights. It mattered not that the same yarns were told year after year by my uncle and father, because a tale well told always stands the test of time.

I then took off to university to become an accountant. But, I had a lucky escape when I had the misfortune to lose my father when I was just 19 years of age. So it was back to the farm to run the place with my then 18 year old brother. We were greener than the Southland grass and only survived the ordeal because of the thousands of man hours Danny and Kev spent teaching us to farm. For that, they asked nothing. For that, we are forever in their debt.

When times got tough in the 1980s Danny decreed that we needed to shear all our own sheep to keep the bankers at bay. Not surprisingly Kev was the quickest of the boys, once shearing nearly 100 lambs in a two hour run, but gee he was rough! That didn’t worry Kev though, as he reckoned the wool around the head and legs wasn’t worth much so he didn’t cut if off. David Fagan he wasn’t, but a great camaraderie was forged on the end of the handpiece. Many a smoko was spent righting the wrongs of the government of the day, picking the All Blacks side and arguing over who should take the kicks for the Riversdale footy team. Kev once again prevailed with the latter, the young pretender would have to wait until the old master retired.

Like many in the late 1980s Kev left farming. He leased his farm to seek his fortune elsewhere. Like many he never returned. He had a very successful stint in a rubbish skip industry in Sydney and then returned home to run businesses in the hospitality industry. For all that, he remained a farmer at heart. And for all his mateship, he holds a special place in my heart.

Kia kaha Kev.

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