Tuesday, 15 May 2012

I know it sounds a bit like the old one about the actress and the bishop

I know it sounds a bit like the old one about the actress and the bishop, but have you heard the one about the professor, the lawyer, the two farmers, the stock agent, the driller and the Farming Show host?
And it’s no joke! Rather it’s the eclectic collection of blokes I go duck shooting with on opening morning. With the exception of the stock agent, who was a recent addition because he did all the work and had a good gun dog, the rest of us are a ragtag collection of school mates who all attended Riversdale primary school in the 1960s.
Like many like-minded souls around the country, we gather annually for our ritualistic session of male-bonding, camaraderie and bravado, interspersed with yarn telling, meat eating and beer drinking, interspersed with a very occasional pursuit of the feathered foe.
The normal conversational fare doesn’t vary too much from year to year. Farming, rugby, politics, money, wives, beer bellies, man boobs and the latest local scandal of the day.

This year, however, a new element was added to the maimai musings. Heated debate over the sale of the Crafar farms to the Chinese and whether or not Trading Among Farmers was a good idea. Voices were raised and fingers were pointed, especially in my direction from my sheep farming mates as I’m the only one in the maimai with a financial interest in a dairy farming operation.

I was accused of selling my soul to the Chinese, even though the land-rich accuser had far more to gain from the Asian invasion than the accused. Some timely intellectual intervention from the professor coupled with some judicious adjudication from the lawyer, both sitting firmly in the cross-benches in the maimai, resulted in all parties agreeing to disagree as we adjourned for lunch.

As always, there’s a lull in proceedings after the protein-laden red meat lunch, when the ducks are few and the after-effects of the night before in the Riversdale pub kick in. This year’s gap in the traffic was amply filled by a visit from two neighbouring shooters, both of whom had conceded defeat on the day to the ducks.

To protect his identity and privacy, I’ll simply refer to one of the said visitors as ‘Taranaki’, only because he hails from that region. A larger-than-life and seemingly bullet-proof character, Taranaki had been involved in a debate about the water quality of a creek running through his dairy farm. Challenged the night before in the pub to drink some of the said water to prove its dubious purity, he duly turned up with a jug of the stuff and a bottle of whisky. Both of which he made a fine fist of downing. In the end, the jury remained out on the water quality but either the e-coli or the malt was making him rather unsteady on his feet!

On a lighter note, when all political and environmental differences were finally put to bed, the day concluded with the awarding of the inaugural Mackay-Shallard Trophy for Kaweku’s Next Top Pond (Kaweku being the small district the two respective fourth-generation sheep farming families hail from). While we had doubled our tally from the previous year, we still found ourselves 30 shy of the Shallard pond’s record haul.

Surprisingly, few ducks escaped unscathed from the Mackay pond this year, albeit I’m sure some met their maker through cardiac arrest rather than good marksmanship. So we had to eat humble pie and accept we were beaten by a better pond on the day. A case of a Fitzy full credit, take it on the chin, move forward together and whatever other rugby cliché readily springs to mind.

To that end, plans are already afoot to extend the pond and purchase more electronic gadgetry to lure ducks in 2013. Only 355 sleeps to go!

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

Monday, 7 May 2012

A payout beginning with a five? Ouch!

# Big Farming Story of the Week: A payout beginning with a five? Ouch!
It only seems like yesterday, dairy farmers were bathing in the milk (and honey) of an eight dollar payout. A payout beginning with seven was still pretty good, a six meant a bit of belt tightening but, heaven help us, few will make meaningful money if it begins with a five! We are not being helped by a dollar that begins with an eight, as the cross rate against the Greenback stays firmly rooted in the low US80 cent range. Sheep, beef, grain and horticultural farmers, too, are feeling the chill winds of the exchange rate coupled with an increase in supply, and a lack of demand for, agricultural commodities.
The world has enjoyed a bumper past 12 months of agricultural production. While one should never willfully benefit from another man’s misfortune, where’s a good Russian drought or an outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease in a competing exporting nation when you really need one?
# Big Political Story of the Week: The Teflon Kid.
By rights John Key should be the most unpopular man in the land, yet half the voting population still love him as he continues to defy gravity in the political polls. His party is overseeing some of the toughest austerity measures this country has seen since Rogernomics lowered the boom on the rural community in the 1980s.
Government bureaucrats, the unions, police, teachers, students, the jobless, beneficiaries, you name it, are all feeling the brunt of reduced government spending with the promise of more to come. For many, things have never been tougher out there. Black Bill English has promised Zero Budgets until we reach surplus or he stops drawing breath, whichever comes first. Let’s be realistic, the Auckland Blues have a better chance of coming right before the New Zealand economy does.
# Big Sporting Story of the Week: Wayne Smith stays put!
Smith debuted as a talented running first five-eighth for the All Blacks in 1980 and held a virtual mortgage on the position for the ensuing five years. He took over coaching the Crusaders in 1997, marshalling the red and blacks to titles in 1998 and 1999. After John Hart’s World Cup demise later that same year against the French, Smith took over the All Blacks’ top job, only to lose it to John Mitchell in 2001 after publicly questioning his own credentials to carry on in the hot seat. Smith was called back to the coaching fold when Graham Henry took the reins in 2004, where he remained until the World Cup glory of 2011.
So effectively he has given the last 32 years of his life to rugby, most of it to the All Blacks. His intellectual property is second to none and he could’ve caused all sorts of grief had to chosen to lend his talents to the sleeping giant of world rugby, England. The NZRU has done well to retain his services. It is criminal NZ Cricket wasn’t able to do likewise with John Wright.
# Brickbat: John Banks:
Banks has always been a polarizing political figure but, to his credit, he’s always appeared to be a pretty straight-up, look-you-in-the-eye sort of bloke. Last week on television, we witnessed a new side to Banks, one we didn’t like, as he squirmed uncomfortably and wriggled out of questions about this relationship with the German tank, Kim Dotcom. What started out as a right wing party that stood for something under the stewardship of Roger Douglas and Richard Prebble, has now crumbled to a laughing stock as Rodney Hide, Don Brash and now Banks have progressively eroded what little credibility was left (for the right).

# Bouquet: Russel Norman:
As the likable but accident-prone David Shearer battles to gain traction as Labour leader, let alone leader of the Opposition, the latter job is very much up for titular grabs in the House. While Wily Winston Peters might lay historical claim to the title, redhead under-the-bed Russ is making all the running. There’s an old saying that a farmer with a dollar in his pocket and some grass in his paddock is a dangerous beast. What does that make a moderate Green with some palatable policy?
Jamie Mackay is the host of the Ballance Agri-Nutrients Farming Show which airs on Radio Sport and Newstalk ZB. jamie@farmingshow.com

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. jamie@farmingshow.com

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. jamie@farmingshow.com

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. jamie@farmingshow.com

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. jamie@farmingshow.com

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. jamie@farmingshow.com