Rural round-up

July 25, 2014

Federation wins rates remission against urban sprawl:

Federated Farmers is thrilled that common sense has prevailed in the Horowhenua District Council’s unanimous decision to adopt a rates remission for farms being rezoned as urban.

“Due to the urban sprawl, farmers are increasingly being rezoned as urban, and consequently being faced with enormous rates bills, but thankfully the Council listened to us and has taken a more common sense approach,” says James Stewart, Federated Farmers Manawatu-Rangitikei provincial president.

“Federated Farmers suggested a similar rates remission policy to its neighbouring Kapiti Coast, in order to avoid unnecessary costs to farming businesses, which would reduce their competitiveness with other farmers in the region. . .

Council and farmers work together – Chris Lewis:

As Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success”. This is now evident in the Waikato as we see comparative data in effluent compliance, prepared by the Waikato Regional Council, pre the collaborative process and to now.

With farm inspections on the ground having increased by just over 200 farms since 2012, we are seeing a conscious effort to work alongside farmers rather than be a distant enforcer. Every successful business or individual knows that their achievement depends on a community working together, with a shared vision or goal. . .

Focus on farm-exit water quality :

The Otago Water Plan’s Plan Change 6A (PC6A) was not about the Otago Regional Council using a ”big stick” to ensure compliance for water quality, chief executive Peter Bodeker said.

He said the council did not wish to dictate to land owners, farmers, horticulturists and forest owners how they managed their properties.

The council decided to take an ”effects-based approach” to controlling discharges from properties, rather than regulating operational methods, and to encourage management practices that ensured water leaving the property was of sufficient quality. . .

Gold surge tipped for Zespri - Richard Rennie:

An impending avalanche of Gold kiwifruit will present as many challenges as opportunities for growers over the next two seasons and returns are expected to ease as a result.

Zespri chief executive Lain Jager used this year’s annual meeting to caution growers about the prospect of moving from a post-Psa famine in gold fruit to a feast by 2018.  

The latest harvest yielded the lowest volume yet of the high-value fruit, at 11.1 million trays, reflecting the grafting change from the disease ravaged Hort16a variety to the more Psa-tolerant Gold3 and associated varieties. . .

Ag scientist’s career marked by contrasts  - Sue O’Dowd,

Agricultural science has provided a Taranaki man with a career marked by contrasts.

There’s been the ice, snow and dry valleys of Antarctica and the desert of Saudi Arabia. Malcolm Macfarlane has also worked for the New Zealand Fire Service and in the hillcountry of the North Island’s East Coast, where he’s undertaking forage research.

Although he lives in Inglewood, where wife Rosie Mabin is Inglewood High School’s principal, he’s a scientist for Hastings-based On-Farm Research. . . .

The latest dairy farm syndicate spurns debt as investors focus on risk – Greg Ninness:

Roger Dickie NZ has launched a dairy farm investment syndicate that will have almost no debt.

The company is best known for putting together forestry investment vehicles, but its latest offering, Eastbourne Dairy Farm Ltd, will be its third dairy farm offering and it has also previously syndicated a sheep and beef property.

Eastbourne has been set up with a company structure in which investors will buy shares, with 11 million shares on offer at a dollar each and the minimum investment being $25,000.

The proceeds will be used to buy an established 241ha dairy farm in Southland and a 520 cow herd. . . .

 


Rural round-up

July 9, 2014

Thoughts from the UK – Alan Barber:

While in the UK briefly last week I spent a couple of nights with an old university friend who actually got a First in Agriculture at Cambridge which was the best degree achieved by any of my friends or, not surprisingly, me. He farms near the M4 in Berkshire less than 100 kilometres from London.

As usual when I see him, we were chatting about the state of agriculture in our respective countries. He asked me whether I needed a ‘pommie farmer whinge’ to provide some material for a column, so not unnaturally I told him to go ahead. His first complaint was about the amount of New Zealand lamb competing with British lamb in the supermarkets. I suggested the view back home was the natural seasonal fit of New Zealand product didn’t really cut across, but rather complemented, the seasonal availability of British lamb. . .

Professional Foresters Award Their Achievers:

Leaders in the forestry industry were recognised at the New Zealand Institute of Forestry’s annual awards dinner held in Napier last night.

Forester of the Year was awarded to Paul Nicholls, managing director of Rayonier NZ,for outstanding service to the forestry industry.

The award is one of the highest accolades in the industry, recognising contribution, leadership, excellence and integrity. . . .

 Agrarian socialism’s sticky end? - David Leyonhjelm :

THE sugar industry is notorious for attaching itself to the public teat. Concentrated in several marginal seats along the Queensland coast, it has a long history of extracting taxpayer subsidies when prices are down, coercing governments into mandatory use of ethanol in fuel, and blocking imports of both sugar and ethanol.

Most famously, a decade ago it received hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to help it restructure in the face of low prices. Prices bounced back soon after the scheme commenced and, apart from the impact of abolition of the single desk in 2006, not a lot of restructuring occurred. They kept the money though.

A major controversy has now erupted as a result of the decision by the sugar processing company Wilmar to sell all its sugar direct to international customers rather than via the grower-owned marketing organisation, Queensland Sugar Limited (QSL), beginning in 2017. This has prompted another processor, Thai-owned MSF Sugar, to suggest it may follow suit. True to form, there are numerous calls for regulators and governments to intervene. A horde of politicians, including the Queensland Minister for Agriculture, is taking a close interest. . . .

 Environmental support for sheep and beef farmers:

Sheep and beef farmers will have a stronger voice in the regions on environmental issues, through an agreement between Federated Farmers and Beef + Lamb New Zealand.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand has added a regional policy capacity to its national and international policy activities directed at sustainability, through a contract with Federated Farmers to use its regional policy network.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand chief executive, Dr Scott Champion said: “Federated Farmers has an excellent regional network. Rather than duplicate that, we’ve reached an agreement to use its resources on regional environmental issues.

“We think this is the most efficient way of using sheep and beef farmers’ money to strengthen our voice in this important area.” . .

Genetics used to combat facial eczema:

Dairy farmers battling the devastating livestock disease facial eczema are getting help from scientists and a cattle breeding company.

Facial eczema is a fungal disease spread from spores in pasture. It can kill livestock and is estimated to cost dairy farmers about $160 million a year in lost milk production.

AgResearch and CRV Ambreed, with the backing of DairyNZ, are taking a genetics approach by breeding dairy cattle that are more resistant to the disease. . .

Clue to late puberty in sheep discovered by AgResearch:

A needle-in-a-haystack search for the genetic cause of delayed puberty in a flock of Romney ewes has paid off for a team of AgResearch scientists.

Understanding what regulates the arrival of puberty is important for livestock breeding as well as human health.

Researchers in AgResearch’s Animal Reproduction team at Invermay had noticed that late puberty was a family trait in their research flock. This caused the late developers to miss out on lambing during what could be their first breeding season. They had previously demonstrated that late developers also produce fewer lambs during their lifespans. . .

Rural talent on display in Lincoln:

Every year New Zealand Young Farmers (NZYF) members from across the country come together to catch up, cheer on their Grand Finalist at the ANZ Young Farmer Contest, compete in the clay target shooting, fencing and stock judging national finals and attend the Annual General Meeting.

The top scoring competitors from the regional levels represented their regions as they battled it out for top place at the finals in Lincoln University, Friday 4 July.

The winner of the Gun City Clay Target Shooting Final was Waikato/Bay of Plenty’s Jeffrey Benson of the Hamilton City Young Farmers Club followed by Isaac Billington of the South Waikato Club and in third place was Otago/Southland representative, Brendon Clark of the Tokomairiro Club. . .


NZ 5th for doing good for planet

June 25, 2014

The Good Country Index measures how much each of 125 countries contributes to the planet.

Irish people, rejoice! It turns out, your green land is the “goodest” country in the world. That’s right. The “goodest.” At least, that’s according to Simon Anholt, who’s spent the past two years compiling an index to determine which of 125 countries contributes the most to the common, global good.

“I wanted to know why people admire Country A and not Country B,” Anholt said . . . “To cut a long story short, I discovered the thing people most admired is the perception that a country is good. That turned out to be much more important than the perception they’re rich or beautiful or powerful or modern or anything like that. So then I wanted to know which countries are perceived to contribute the most to humanity — and which countries actually are good.” . . .

There are 125 country balance sheets graded across seven categories, including things like science and technology, world order, prosperity and equality and health and wellbeing. Each of those seven has got five datasets in them. Take for example world order. That includes five data sets representing things like how much each country gives in charity and overseas development, its population growth, and its status of ratification and signatories of UN treaties. . .

Anholt admits there are flaws in his approach.

So despite the disparity in the measurements, the different timeframes, the different everything throughout the data, you stand behind this Index. Couldn’t someone reasonably pick holes in the approach?
The objections to the approach massively outnumber the supporting factors. I have become the world’s leading expert on why this is a crap idea. And I decided to do it anyway. The simple reason that I’m not claiming to have the final answer on any of this. This is a very well constructed piece of research, but it’s by no means the final answer, because you couldn’t have the final answer unless you had enormously more data than is currently available. So it’s designed to be basically a step in the right direction.

What do you want people to take away from the Index?
The reason I’ve done it is not because I wanted to do an index but because I wanted ordinary people — not politicians – to start thinking about whether countries are good or bad. At the moment all they ever talk about or measure is whether a country is successful. We have fallen into the habit of measuring the performance of countries as if they were islands, as if they had no connection with each other, and as if one country doing well had no impact whatsoever on other countries. But of course this is the age of globalization, and the central fact of the age we live in is that every country, every market, every medium of communication, every natural resource is connected. A chicken catches a cold and sneezes in a Chinese village. 20 years ago that would only have been bad news for the chicken and its immediate family; today it threatens the survival of the human species because of globalization. Two small banks fail in rural America. 20 years ago that was no problem except for them and their communities; today it knocks the entire global economic system for six.

And you don’t think that countries are legislating effectively for the global age?
Countries still behave as if they weren’t connected; they still measure their performance entirely inwards. My argument is that we can’t just blame governments for this, it’s the fault of populations who don’t demand anything different of them. They say they want three percent growth or they’ll vote for someone else. We have to start asking where that growth comes from. We are screwing poorer countries to buy products more cheaply, we are raping the environment to produce more energy to drive our industry faster. Countries perform better and better but the world and planet and humanity in general are getting worse and worse. The whole system starts to look like a rapidly growing tumor. It has an illusion of health because of its growth but it’s almost as big as the host body.

How will thinking globally help?
It’s essential to get ordinary people along with politicians and businesses and so on to start to ask themselves about the international implications of what they’re doing. That’s what I mean by a “good” country. I don’t mean morally or ethically good, but a country that considers the common good as much as it considers its own citizens. By day I’m a policy advisor, I advise presidents and prime ministers around the world, 53 of them in the last 20 years, I haven’t seen a single example of a domestic issue or policy that wasn’t massively improved by considering the international context.

But wouldn’t you agree that there’s a pretty big disconnect between policy makers and “ordinary” people? How do you make people aware that they have to pay attention — and appreciate that they actually can influence said policy makers?
There used to be this automatic and universal relationship of love and trust between citizens and their cities or their city states, the equivalent of the modern country. What that is being replaced with today is a relationship of prostitution. It’s very simple: We throw money at the government as if they were hired management teams and tell them to sort out our problems and they’ll hear from us if we don’t like the way they do it. It seems to me that’s a very sad thing and it has to somehow change.

It’s interesting to hear you describe the government as basically crap middle managers to whom we have delegated the task of running the world. Business plays such a big part in this — particularly with globalization. Certain companies are arguably more powerful than countries now. How does that play into the Index? And what of the fact a public company has a fiduciary duty to do the best it can for its shareholders, which might contradict what we otherwise see as being “good”?
Just as public companies have a fiduciary duty to shareholders, so there’s an unwritten supposition but very real rule that a government’s primary duty is to its citizens. No one would dream of questioning that. And I don’t, either. I just say it’s not impossible to align that with a broader, further-reaching, longer agenda.

The fact is that companies are way ahead of countries in this. They underwent a revolution ten, twenty years ago of Corporate Social Responsibility. In fact, when I first started working on this, I came up with this ludicrous tag, “Governmental Social Responsibility,” because it’s an exact equivalent. Now, people love to sneer at CSR, and when you probe to find out why, the main answer seems to be that people think that companies are being hypocritical. And that’s interesting because I don’t think it matters. I’ve seen this work over and over again. Someone starts behaving in a right-on way for purely cynical reasons, they’re lying through their teeth, just doing it for PR. But the moment it starts working — and it usually does work — and they start receiving some of that warmth from public opinion, it becomes the most important thing they’ve ever done. Their reputation, as soon as they start to earn one, instantly becomes their most treasured possession. They will do anything to maintain that reputation and build it further; they will even become good – even that! — in order to maintain it. That little loophole in human nature is probably what will save us all.

I think this means the results aren’t as important as the intent – to get people thinking globally and influencing governments to do the same.

The Good Country Index is here.

 


Rural round-up

May 30, 2014

AgResearch makes changes to Invermay plans –  Vaughan Elder:

AgResearch has made some changes to its plan to slash jobs at Invermay, but the majority of staff will still be moving north to Lincoln.

Invermay staff, along with those affected by planned restructuring at AgResearch’s other campuses, learnt their fate today, with the organisation making a final announcement – as signalled in today’s Otago Daily Times.

There were some changes made to its plans for the Invermay campus, with three deer researchers no longer relocating to Lincoln and the creation of two new science roles. . .

Give AgResearch a chance:

Federated Farmers understands that with any major decision there will be concern, however, it is asking people to look at the best strategic outcome for New Zealand agricultural science.  Above all, to give AgResearch the chance to reform itself as a 21st Century Crown Research Institute.

“I think farmers should welcome the way AgResearch has listened to reason because Invermay’s future has been enhanced over the original proposals,” says Dr William Rolleston, Federated Farmers Food Production Sciences spokesperson.

“There have been some regional gains for those in the south and north, with the Invermay and Ballantrae hill country farms being kept for sheep, beef and deer research.  Invermay will clearly become the centre for deer research.

“We must remember that this restructure is not this year, next year or even the year after.  We are talking 2017 and while one out of every four scientific or technician roles will be asked to relocate, that means 75 percent will not. . . .

DINZ welcomes finalisation of AgResearch’s Future Footprint:

Deer Industry New Zealand (DINZ) has welcomed announcements, made today by AgResearch, finalising the shape of its ‘Future Footprint’ restructuring.

DINZ Deputy Chair, Jerry Bell, said that it is important that the plan is now finalised, giving certainty to the staff who will be affected, and DINZ was satisfied that the final changes to ‘Future Footprint’ were significant and a good outcome for both Invermay and the deer industry.

“While we accepted the strategic rationale for Future Footprint, we have been concerned throughout that such strategic change can be very disruptive and can contribute to a loss of important people. In that context, it’s great to draw a line under the process.” . .

Consultation on the sale of raw milk to consumers:

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is asking for public feedback on options for the sale of raw milk to consumers.

MPI’s deputy director general Deborah Roche says any changes would need to balance people’s desire to buy and drink raw milk with the requirement that food safety risks are properly dealt with.

“It’s clear that there is still a demand for raw milk and that more and different options for its sale need to be considered. It’s important people have the opportunity to comment on this matter so that MPI can consider all viewpoints before making any recommendations for change. I would encourage anyone that has an interest in raw milk sales to consumers to have their say,” Ms Roche says. . .

New president for Federated Farmers Marlborough:

Federated Farmers would like to welcome our new Marlborough provincial president, Greg Harris, who is replacing Gary Barnett, following their Annual General Meeting.

“Greg has been a part of Federated Farmers for 20 years and is well versed on the issues surrounding the Marlborough region, having stepped up from the provinces’ Meat & Fibre Chairperson role,” says Bruce Wills, Federated Farmers National President.

“I would like to thank outgoing provincial president, Gary Barnett for his service to the province and Federated Farmers; he has been an integral part of the Federation.

“We are in a year of change within the Federation, with leadership changes throughout the organisation both nationally and provincially, Greg is an incredibly passionate advocate for the farming community and I know he will do a fantastic job,” said Mr Wills. . .

Rabobank recruits new animal proteins analyst:

Rabobank welcomes new-comer Angus Gidley-Baird, appointed as a senior animal proteins analyst to cover the sheep and beef sectors, joining the bank’s Australia & New Zealand Food & Agribusiness Research and Advisory division.

General manager of Rabobank’s Food & Agribusiness Research and Advisory Luke
Chandler said Angus’ appointment brought to the team a great depth of agricultural knowledge, as well as mainstream political and economic policy awareness.

“Angus’ entire career has been spent in agribusiness and throughout this time, he has gained a very strong foundation in the sorts of issues impacting farmers and industry stakeholders all the way through the supply chain,” Mr Chandler said. . .

Orange roughy ecolabel to assist exports:

Sealord has welcomed the next step in the journey to have New Zealand orange roughy globally recognised as a sustainable seafood choice.

Three of the main orange roughy fisheries have been submitted for assessment by the Marine Stewardship Council to verify if they can carry the world’s best known marine ecolabel.

New Zealand’s quota management system has allowed industry and government to work together to achieve this and Sealord Fishing General Manager, Doug Paulin, says that MSC certification will provide an additional assurance to customers.
“Globally, New Zealand seafood has a great reputation and Sealord customers will be supportive of this new measure to show retailers and customers alike orange roughy is a sustainable choice,” said Paulin. . .

Boutique Wine Festival Brings the Best of New Zealand to Auckland:

After a successful launch in 2013, the second annual New Zealand Boutique Wine Festival is set to return to Auckland’s Imperial Building on Sunday 15 June 2014.

This year’s festival will see 21 boutique vineyards from around New Zealand showcasing more than 200 wines across a huge range of varietals, creating a one-of-a-kind cellar door experience.

Throughout the day, event attendees will be able to explore wines from different regions, enjoy fantastic food and wine pairings, great live music, and participate in blind tasting seminars throughout the day. . .


Rural round-up

May 24, 2014

NZ’s rural businesses struggle to attract equity capital to develop – Graham Turley:

Agri-business is New Zealand’s most productive and successful business sector yet it struggles to attract investor capital.

It seem counter-intuitive, particularly with all the talk of food bowls for Asia, that a sector which represents more than 25 per cent of New Zealand’s economy is widely perceived as difficult and inaccessible for investment – whether those investors are retail, large fund managers or overseas looking to invest in New Zealand’s agricultural success story.

Few successful agriculture-based businesses are listed on the NZX, especially when you consider how significant a contributor agriculture is to the economy. . .

Mackenzie Country farmer wins top deer award:

Paddy Boyd, manager of Haldon Station in the Mackenzie Country, is the winner of the 2014 Deer Industry Award.

The announcement of the award at the annual Deer Conference in Methven on Wednesday was followed by a sustained standing innovation for a farmer who has been a behind-the-scenes industry leader from the 1970s to the present day.

The award citation listed Paddy’s involvement in numerous industry groups including quality assurance, the Cervena strategy, velveting standards, Tb eradication, genetic improvement and environmental standards. . .

Kiwi team and supporters in charge in Ireland:

Six New Zealand shearers, including World Championships representatives Rowland Smith and John Kirkpatrick, have made it to the semi-finals of the Irish All-Nations Open championships semi-final in Gorey, Ireland.

Smith headed the 18 qualifiers after 70 shearers took part in the open-entry heats on the first day of the 16th Golden Shears World Championships, while Kirkpatrick qualified in third place.

They were separated by Scottish World championships contender Hamish Mitchell, whose teammate and defending World champion Gavin Mutch was a surprise elimination. The All-Nations has no bearing on the World Championship, for which the first round will be held tonight (Friday NZT).

The other New Zealanders still in All-Nations contention are five-times World champion David Fagan and son Jack, and Smith’s brothers, Matt and Doug. . . .

Passenger to be investigated for carrying plants:

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is investigating an air passenger it nabbed carrying two concealed plants in her shirt.

Watchman, one of MPI’s most experienced detector dogs, sniffed out the plants on the passenger arriving from China at Auckland airport yesterday afternoon.

The woman had rooted cuttings in a plastic bag hidden in her shirt sleeve and under a coat.

“It appears the cuttings were to be planted and that this was a deliberate attempt to smuggle risk items into New Zealand,” says Craig Hughes, MPI’s Manager, North, Passenger and Mail. . .

Delegat’s says 2014 harvest supports sales growth projections – Tina Morrison:

(BusinessDesk) – Delegat’s Group, the winemaker which last year bought Australia’s Barossa Valley Estate, said its just completed 2014 harvest will allow it to achieve its forecast future sales growth.

The Auckland-based winemaker expects to increase wine sale volumes by 2 percent to 1.985 million cases in the year ending June 30, accelerating to an 8.8 percent pace in 2015 and 8.9 percent in 2016, according to projections detailed in its 2013 annual report. The 2014 harvest amounted to 35,127 tonnes, as its New Zealand vintage increased 18 percent to 34,123 tonnes. Its Australian harvest, the first vintage since acquisition of Barossa in June last year, amounted to 1,004 tonnes, the company said today.

“The 2014 vintage has delivered excellent quality in all regions,” managing director Graeme Lord said. “The group has appropriate inventories to achieve future sales growth in line with guidance provided in the 2013 annual report.” . . .

Researchers start a wine revolution:

The global wine industry may be on the cusp of a revolution, thanks to pioneering genetic research conducted by scientists at Lincoln University and Plant & Food Research that not only has ramifications for controlling disease and increasing productivity, but will quite likely mean completely new varieties of grapes and styles of wine.

The research project initially commenced to fill a knowledge gap in the identification and function of the genes that underpin the key characteristics of grapevines. The goal was to bed down a research framework, such as those used by researchers with other plant species, to establish a knowledge base for the study of gene behaviour and the critical processes of grape production.

As the research developed, however, new opportunities became apparent, and a greater emphasis was placed on investigating the potential for manufacturing and encouraging the expression of genetic elements within grapevines which may, in turn, come with commercial benefits. . .

Premium Amisfield Wines to Be Showcased At International Event in Venice, Italy:

Celebrated New Zealand wine producer Amisfield will showcase a premium selection of its wines to a select international audience at the prestigious 14th Venice Architecture Biennale.

The specialist producer of multi-award-winning Pinot Noir and aromatic white wines will be the exclusive wine sponsor and supplier to the New Zealand Institute of Architects (NZIA) exhibition at the Biennale from June 5 to November 23.

Amisfield wines, sourced from fruit grown on its estate vineyard beneath the Pisa Mountain range in the renowned Central Otago region, will be served during the official opening events and associated events for the duration of the Biennale at the New Zealand exhibition, to be staged in the Palazzo Pisani Santa Marina. . .

Comvita annual profit rises 3.3% as honey price squeezes margin, sees more growth in 2015 - Paul McBeth:

(BusinessDesk) – Comvita, which produces health products from manuka honey and olive leaves, lifted annual profit 3.3 percent as the rising cost of honey squeezed margins, and said revenue and earnings would grow in 2015.

Net profit rose to $7.6 million, or 24.37 cents per share, in the 12 months ended March 31 from $7.4 million, or 24.52 cents a year earlier, the Te Puke-based company said in a statement. That’s slightly ahead of the $7.5 million profit Comvita signalled earlier this month. Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation rose 11 percent to $16.4 million and revenue gained by the same amount to $115.3 million.

“Margins were impacted by the very strong New Zealand dollar and from further sharp rises in the cost of Manuka honey,” the company said. “Because of contractual commitments on pricing in the fast growing China market these costs couldn’t be recovered within the annual time frame.” . . .

New president for Federated Farmers Waikato:

Federated Farmers is thrilled to welcome our new Waikato provincial president, Chris Lewis, who is replacing James Houghton following their provincial AGM.

“Chris has been a part of Federated Farmers for nine years and is well versed on the issues surrounding the Waikato region as well as the dairy industry at a national level,” says Bruce Wills, Federated Farmers National President.

“I would like to thank outgoing provincial president, James Houghton for his service to the province and Federated Farmers and congratulate him on his role on the Waikato Waipa Stakeholders Group, in continuing the collective conversation around water quality in Waikato.

“We are in a year of change within the Federation with leadership changes throughout the organisation, both nationally and provincially, Chris is an incredibly passionate advocate for the farming community and I know he will do a fantastic job,” said Mr Wills. . .

Shocking Sharemilker compliance revealed:

With just over a week until it closes, Federated Farmers is blowing the whistle on the four-fifths of Sharemilkers who are yet to vote in the 2014 DairyNZ Levy referendum.

“The last time I checked only 20 percent of sharemilkers had voted and that’s a shocker turn out,” says Neil Filer, Federated Farmers Sharemilkers section chairperson.

“It’s like seeing only 100 people physically in Eden Park for the upcoming England test.

“I need to send a rocket to our guys to pull finger and vote. We’re the ones that get the most from the levy as it sets up the best possible industry for us. . . .


GE has place in NZ

April 8, 2014

The audience at the annual Kim Hill Earth Hour debate decided there is a place for genetic engineering in New Zealand.

. . . Ninety minutes of pros, cons and broad views presented by panellists Tony Conner (AgResearch),  Robert Cruickshank (Lincoln University) and Richard Newcomb (Plant and Food Research) on one team and Christine Dann (Organics Aotearoa), Philip Gregan (NZ Winegrowers) and  Jon Hickford (Lincoln University) on the other, with close interrogation of them all by Kim Hill, was followed by 30 minutes of questions from the audience.  Chairwoman Sarah Walters, Deputy Mayor of Selwyn, then invited the audience to indicate by “noise” how they felt on the question.

Sarah ruled that the “ayes” were “slightly louder” signalling that genetic engineering should stay on New Zealand’s agenda “as a research opportunity” but with the provisos that it be well regulated, that consumers have a choice between GE and non-GE through strict labelling, and that the role of large overseas corporate organisations funding, and thereby influencing, research, be curbed. . .

Richard Newcomb added that the “GE debate has become completely intertwined with the anti-big business debate and with the notion of big business controlling food production and supply.” . . . .

He’s right – many of those opposed to GE are on the left of politics and also opposed to what they label big business.

Defending the environment, Christine Dann said she believed genetic engineering was “ecologically dangerous and too risky.”

“If everyone had their own little garden and grew their own vegetables the problem would be solved,” she said.  . .

If she is right, and I don’t think she is, Would she care that a whole lot of other problems would be created including job losses?

New Zealand is taking a very cautious approach to GE which is as it should be.

But the vehement opposition to it is based on emotion not science.

That a majority of the audience gave cautious support, albeit with provisos, to GE gives some hope that science might win.

 

 


Not as green as they’re painted

April 7, 2014

Organic production is better for the planet, isn’t it?

The Green Party which advocates for a far more organic production would have us believe it is but University of Waikato professor of agribusiness Jacqueline Rowarth says that isn’t so:

. . . People’s first consideration when buying food was price, despite claims they might buy based on factors like organic growth, she said.

While people might think buying organically or from the farmers market was environmentally friendly, research showed carbon dioxide emissions were higher buying that way, Prof Rowarth said.

A lot of so-called environmentally friendly policies, including buying local, organics, and recycling aren’t nearly as green as they’re painted.

Support for them are often based more on emotion than science.

The need for more of the latter was another point Prof Rowarth made:

. . . The future of ensuring the world’s population was nutritionally well fed was incorporating all the best technology, including the strategic use of genetic engineering, she said during a public lecture at the University of Otago yesterday.

There also needed to be a greater research and innovation culture so advances could be made to feed the world’s ever-growing population.

”That is why in New Zealand we need to encourage everybody to become involved in science,” Prof Rowarth said.

The downsizing of the Crown research campus at Invermay and the discussions about making science elective at school in year 11 did not meet that brief, she said.

”Nutrition depends on agriculture which depends on an understanding of the soil.” . . .

Scientific research and advances have and will continue to improve agriculture and nutrition.

There were plenty of examples of how the past few hundred years of science had helped increase the yield from plants and animals, improving human nutrition.

Advances in wheat and milk production were prime examples.

The benefits of this were highlighted in the fact that the percentage of the world’s population that was malnourished had dropped significantly from 34% in 1969 to 17% in recent years, even though the population had grown massively.

”More people are fed to a better level of nutrition. It is a triumph of agriculture.” . . .

A triumph of agriculture based on science and hard work.

Prof Rowarth also dispelled a few modern-day myths on modern food consumption, pointing to literature showing in real dollars food was cheaper than it had ever been, even though it ”didn’t feel like it”.

People could now afford to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, as they were more affordable than ever, and what they should be worried about was their consumption of highly processed foods.

”Back in 1912 you were lucky to get vegetables, maybe a carrot or potato.” . .

Cheaper doesn’t mean cheap but we have a far wider range of food at prices which make the cost of feeding ourselves a lower percentage of most household budgets than it was for previous generations.

An increase in organic production and buying local will reduce yield, choice and increase prices and the environmental worth of such practices isn’t backed up by science.

 

 

 


Farmers angry with AgResearch

March 18, 2014

AgResearch Chief Executive Dr Tom Richardson said last week’s meeting with farmers in Gore was constructive over plans to move scientists from Invermay to Lincoln was constructive.

The meeting was initiated by the Southern Texel Breeders and hosted by Beef + Lamb New Zealand.
Eighty seven people attended the meeting, of which about 50 were farmers.

“It was good to be able to speak to concerned farmers directly about our plans to deliver them better science and higher returns. It was a good wide-ranging discussion, and wasn’t solely focused on our reinvestment plans for AgResearch campuses,” says Dr Richardson.

“There was also discussion on government investment in science, industry support for science and how to take research forward.

“Regards our campus reinvestment plans, we understand the concerns of Southland and Otago farmers, and it was an opportunity to reinforce the fact we are not closing Invermay – in fact we’d like to increase the numbers of staff there who are dealing with on farm and regional environment issues.”

AgResearch’s Future Footprint plan will position the organisation for the long-term to deliver better science, more effectively, to New Zealand farmers, the pastoral sector and the New Zealand economy.

The Southern Texel Breeders passed a motion requesting an independent review of the plan, which will involve the co-location of scientists into science innovation hubs, allowing for a more effective collaborative approach to tackle national science ‘big issues’.

Dr Richardson says the plan will see $100 million reinvested to create modern facilities that are functional, adaptable and fit for modern science.

“Future Footprint will see us maximising the use of our facilities and specialist infrastructure to achieve better returns for AgResearch, our clients and the pastoral sector,” says Dr Richardson.

“We remain committed to find the best solution to continue to deliver the science all New Zealand farmers rely on to stay ahead of their international counterparts.”

Farmers aren’t convinced and they’re angry.

They pay levies which provide a good part of AgResearch’s funds and they want scientists to stay based where the bulk of sheep and beef farming takes place – in Otago and Southland.

Immigration Minister and Dunedin-based MP Michael Woodhouse isn’t convinced AgResearch has yet made its case for shifting scientists from Invermay to Lincoln.

As the debate about the merits of an AgResearch hub being established at Lincoln, Mr Woodhouse confirmed to the Otago Daily Times yesterday he had visited Invermay and talked to the staff.

There had been a fear that leaving just 20 scientists at Invermay to deal with farming services and animal services was a ”death spiral” number. But Mr Woodhouse had been ”assured” by AgResearch 20 was the absolute minimum number of scientists and it was hoped to lift the number to 50 scientists at Invermay in the future.

”We need to test that plan and make sure it is the right thing to do for New Zealand Inc and New Zealand agriculture. Can we be confident moving 50 scientists out of 80 from Invermay is better than moving the 30 from Christchurch to Invermay? I am not convinced AgResearch has met the test set them by Minister [Steven] Joyce.” . . .

The plan hasn’t met the farmers’ test.

Dr Andrew West tried to merge AgResearch and Lincoln when he headed AgResearch and failed. Farmers think he’s trying to achieve the same thing by another route now he’s vice chancellor of the university.

They wonder if the plan has more to do with shoring up Lincoln than what’s best for the industry.

AgResearch gets a lot of their money and they are worried that much-needed research will suffer from the loss of institutional knowledge and distance from the main concentration of sheep and beef production.

Whether or not the move goes ahead, one option for any spare buildings no-one has mentioned is as the headquarters for the Otago Regional Council.

The ORC has been looking for a new home and had expensive plans for one in the city. That was torpedoed but they still need a bigger base.

Invermay, with or without the current AgResearch staff, could be an option.


Cotton-woolling children more dangerous in long-run

January 26, 2014

A small country school was told by a visiting inspector to replace it’s barbed-wire fence in case one of the children hurt themselves on it.

The principal said that was the point.

These were country kids, they knew about barbed-wire and the fence was to keep them off the road.

The inspector was also concerned about pine trees in the playground in case the children climbed them.

The principal said they did climb them – just as they climbed trees at home.

The principal had the backing of her board and other parents – and now they have the backing of research:

Chaos may reign at Swanson Primary School with children climbing trees, riding skateboards and playing bullrush during playtime, but surprisingly the students don’t cause bedlam, the principal says.

The school is actually seeing a drop in bullying, serious injuries and vandalism, while concentration levels in class are increasing.

Principal Bruce McLachlan rid the school of playtime rules as part of a successful university experiment.

“We want kids to be safe and to look after them, but we end up wrapping them in cotton wool when in fact they should be able to fall over.”

Letting children test themselves on a scooter during playtime could make them more aware of the dangers when getting behind the wheel of a car in high school, he said.

“When you look at our playground it looks chaotic. From an adult’s perspective, it looks like kids might get hurt, but they don’t.”

Life is chaotic and play is a very good way for children to learn how to deal with it.

Swanson School signed up to the study by AUT and Otago University just over two years ago, with the aim of encouraging active play.

However, the school took the experiment a step further by abandoning the rules completely, much to the horror of some teachers at the time, he said.

When the university study wrapped up at the end of last year the school and researchers were amazed by the results.

Mudslides, skateboarding, bullrush and tree climbing kept the children so occupied the school no longer needed a timeout area or as many teachers on patrol.

Instead of a playground, children used their imagination to play in a “loose parts pit” which contained junk such as wood, tyres and an old fire hose.

“The kids were motivated, busy and engaged. In my experience, the time children get into trouble is when they are not busy, motivated and engaged. It’s during that time they bully other kids, graffiti or wreck things around the school.”

Parents were happy too because their children were happy, he said.

Children need freedom to play and experiment and let off steam.

But this wasn’t a playtime revolution, it was just a return to the days before health and safety policies came to rule.

AUT professor of public health Grant Schofield, who worked on the research project, said there are too many rules in modern playgrounds.

“The great paradox of cotton-woolling children is it’s more dangerous in the long-run.”

Society’s obsession with protecting children ignores the benefits of risk-taking, he said.

It’s far better for children to learn from small risks with relatively harmless consequences when they’re younger than big risks with serious, possibly fatal consequences when they’re older.

Children develop the frontal lobe of their brain when taking risks, meaning they work out consequences. “You can’t teach them that. They have to learn risk on their own terms. It doesn’t develop by watching TV, they have to get out there.”

A few might learn from other people’s mistakes but most of us have to be the other people.

The research project morphed into something bigger when plans to upgrade playgrounds were stopped due to over-zealous safety regulations and costly play equipment.

“There was so many ridiculous health and safety regulations and the kids thought the static structures of playgrounds were boring.”

When researchers – inspired by their own risk-taking childhoods – decided to give children the freedom to create their own play, principals shook their heads but eventually four Dunedin schools and four West Auckland schools agreed to take on the challenge, including Swanson Primary School.

It was expected the children would be more active, but researchers were amazed by all the behavioural pay-offs. The final results of the study will be collated this year.

Schofield urged other schools to embrace risk-taking. “It’s a no brainer. As far as implementation, it’s a zero-cost game in most cases. All you are doing is abandoning rules,” he said.

There’s a lesson here and not just for children and schools.

Some rules and laws imposed for safety’s sake are necessary but too many are counter-productive.

Trying to cotton wool society is just as dangerous in the long-run  as cotton-woolling children.

It might reduce risk but it also reduces people’s willingness and ability to think and take responsibility for themselves and the consequences of their actions.

Exactly where the line between too little and too much lies is a moot point.

This research shows it had been crossed and it’s good that the school had the courage to act on that.


5000 trees and counting

January 6, 2014

The Australasian Antarctic Expedition had pledged to plant 800 kauri trees in Northland to offset the carbon emissions.

That was before their research vessel Akademik Shokalskiygot stuck in ice and they needed a helicopter to rescue them when the ice breaker sent to rescue them got stuck and  another ice breaker sent to rescue the first ice breaker also got stuck in ice.

It will now take a forest to cover the carbon footprint of the rescue.

. . . The expedition had pledged to plant about 800 kauri trees in Northland to cover its carbon footprint. Environmentalists believe planting trees helps to offset the impact of burning fuels such as diesel.

But former Act Party leader and Herald on Sunday columnist Rodney Hide said that would have to increase to about 5000 trees to make up for the fossil fuels burned in the rescue.

Expedition leader Chris Turney said more trees would be needed than earlier estimated but he was yet to work out how many. . .

He will also have to work out why they got stuck 60 kilometres short of their destination when the 1911-to-1913 voyage of Australian explorer Douglas Mawson they were retracing made it to shore.


B+LNZ funding at risk in AgResearch changes

November 12, 2013

Most of the publicity and lobbying over AgResearch’s proposal to move most of its staff from Invermay to Lincoln has been directed at the government because it’s a crown entity.

However, it has an independent board and around half its funding comes from the industry and one of those funders is now raising concerns:

If there are not the skills to conduct key research AgResearch may lose beef and lamb industry funding, Beef + Lamb New Zealand chairman Mike Peterson says.

B+LNZ had been up front all the way over proposals to downsize AgResearch’s Invermay campus near Dunedin under the Crown research institute’s Future Footprint (FFP) plan, Petersen said.

However, the reality was if the skills were lacking there would be nothing to fund and that would put future research funding at risk.

“It’s the reality. If there are no researchers to do the work we need done then there will be nothing to fund (at AgResearch),” Petersen said. . .

Most staff at Invermay aren’t just saying they don’t want to move to Lincoln, they’re saying they won’t move.

B+LNZ spent $5 million annually funding research at AgResearch and that was boosted a further $20m by partnership funding, including the Government.

“We (B+LNZ) generate $25m worth of research activity each year,” Petersen said.

To continue to do that, access to key skills remained crucial.

“But we are not going to use that as a stick on AgResearch over where and how it locates staff.

“But if we can’t get access to key capability then one option is the funding will not be available.”

Losing key staff would have a huge impact on AgResearch capability.

. . . He acknowledged there was pressure from southern farmers for B+LNZ to oppose AgResearch’s FFP.

“I am aware that there are farmers, particularly down south, that think we should be up in arms but at the end of the day this is an AgResearch board decision and we have been given the assurances we have been looking for at this stage,” he said.

Farmer concerns were being taken seriously and B+LNZ would look into remits issued by the Southern South Island and Central South Island sheep councils opposing the shift of staff from Invermay to Lincoln.

Where the scientists were located was not necessarily the issue for B+LNZ, Petersen said.

“Our issue is will the (key skilled) scientists in fact be there to do our research?

“It could be that scientists decide not to move and then AgResearch might then decide to retain them at Invermay. Invermay, or Lincoln, is not the big deal for us – it’s the access to the capability.”

The  concern for B+LNZ isn’t about the location, it’s about capability and there are serious questions about whether AgResearch would retain that if AgResearch goes ahead with its plan to gut Invermay.


Wanting what someone else has got

November 2, 2013

One of the more unattractive traits in people is wanting what someone else has.

It can cause people to become dissatisfied with what they’ve got if they think someone’s got something better, even if they were satisfied with what they had before.

It happens with monkeys too.

Is this the foundation for politics of envy?

#gigatownoamaru wants to be the fastest town in the Southern Hemisphere – and is working for it.


Agri-Rover takes pain out of pasture management

November 1, 2013

An AgResearch team has taken some extra-terrestrial inspiration to help take the pain out of intensive pasture management.

Inspired by NASA’s Mars rover project, the team at AgResearch in Palmerston North and Lincoln have built a paddock robot they’ve named the Agri-Rover.

The Agri-Rover is designed to be a small, fully-autonomous rover that will automatically undertake multiple tasks around farms day and night. 

Scientist Dr Andrew Manderson led the project, which was developed with funding from the AgResearch Curiosity Fund, a seed fund that enables AgResearch staff to investigate ideas that could benefit the pastoral sector.

“We started this project in 2012 and presented the first prototypes at the FLRC conference back in February,” says Dr Manderson.

“We’ve come a long way since then, and have had a functional rover out in the paddock since April.”

The Agri-Rover concept is for an all-weather rover that deploys from a central base station, independently navigates to a paddock, goes under two-wire fences and gates, slowly but progressively traverses the paddock while taking measurements and treating patches, then automatically returns to the base station for recharging and further deployment. 

“This works in all weather, all of the time, quietly going about its tasks without creating extra jobs for the farmer. It’s designed to be easy to operate, and will report results as needed to a cell phone or computer. 

“Always in the back of our mind was keeping it affordable, which is often a sticking point with new farm technologies,” says Dr Manderson.

Now they have built a rover that can operate successfully under farm conditions, the team are focusing on how it will be used to improve farm production and reduce environmental impacts. 

“First and foremost is to equip the rover for pasture measurement, to provide real-time feedback on paddock covers, feed wedges, and possibly even pasture quality.  This is all about quick, accurate information for real-time decision making, without having to spend any time collecting it. 

“At the same time we’re looking to measure soil properties for precision fertiliser application, mapping compaction zones, and creating soils maps for variable-rate irrigation.  We are developing the rover to do as many tasks as possible to make it as useful as possible.”

The team are also testing systems to automatically treat pasture and fresh cow urine at the patch scale. By programming the rover to drive over every square foot of a paddock, it could be useful for the selective identification and treatment of individual urine patches, and selective identification and treatment of individual weeds. 

“Locating and treating urine patches is the single biggest challenge we have set ourselves,” says Dr Manderson.

“The level of required GPS technology is currently very expensive, and while we can tow a sizeable spray unit, it is too big a drain on current battery life. Targeting individual weeds is even more of a challenge.  But we’re working with some crack technicians to solve these challenges.”  

Dr Manderson says there are many possibilities for the rover, and hopefully the list of tasks will grow as the group gets more feedback from industry.

“For example, other scientists are developing robots to herd cows in for milking,” he says.

“Likewise, we can put a camera on this thing so farmers can use it as a remotely controlled rover that they can use to check things on their farm, such as keeping a 24 hour watch on springers at calving time.”

Farmer input and feedback has already been instrumental in keeping the rover design effective, affordable and robust.

“It’s a battery and solar powered unit running four 240v gear motors that cranks along at about 5km/h, goes up and down 15-20 degree slopes, and spins on a dime,” says Dr Manderson.

“It’s tough as well. We accidently dropped it off the back of a ute and it fell on its lid, we just turned it over and away it went again. Although 5km/h might seem slow, it’s a medium walking pace, but this thing is designed to independently chug around all of the time so speed isn’t really all that important.”

The team behind the project are now talking to local farmers to identify areas where the rover could be of use on-farm, anyone who would like to help shape the future of the project can contact: enquiries@agresearch.co.nz

 


2012 Ignobles

September 17, 2013

Ignobles are awarded annually for achievements which first make people laugh then make them think.

 This year’s winners are:

MEDICINE PRIZE: Masateru Uchiyama [JAPAN], Xiangyuan Jin [CHINA, JAPAN], Qi Zhang [JAPAN], Toshihito Hirai [JAPAN], Atsushi Amano [JAPAN], Hisashi Bashuda [JAPAN] and Masanori Niimi [JAPAN, UK], for assessing the effect of listening to opera, on heart transplant patients who are mice. . . 

PSYCHOLOGY PRIZE: Laurent Bègue [FRANCE], Brad Bushman [USA, UK, the NETHERLANDS, POLAND], Oulmann Zerhouni [FRANCE], Baptiste Subra [FRANCE], and Medhi Ourabah [FRANCE], for confirming, by experiment, that people who think they are drunk also think they are attractive. . . 

JOINT PRIZE IN BIOLOGY AND ASTRONOMY: Marie Dacke [SWEDEN, AUSTRALIA], Emily Baird [SWEDEN, AUSTRALIA, GERMANY], Marcus Byrne [SOUTH AFRICA, UK], Clarke Scholtz [SOUTH AFRICA], and Eric J. Warrant [SWEDEN, AUSTRALIA, GERMANY], for discovering that when dung beetles get lost, they can navigate their way home by looking at the Milky Way. . . 

SAFETY ENGINEERING PRIZE: The late Gustano Pizzo [USA], for inventing an electro-mechanical system to trap airplane hijackers — the system drops a hijacker through trap doors, seals him into a package, then drops the encapsulated hijacker through the airplane’s specially-installed bomb bay doors, whence he parachutes to earth, where police, having been alerted by radio, await his arrival. . . .

PHYSICS PRIZE: Alberto Minetti [ITALY, UK, DENMARK, SWITZERLAND], Yuri Ivanenko [ITALY, RUSSIA, FRANCE], Germana Cappellini [ITALY], Nadia Dominici [ITALY, SWITZERLAND], and Francesco Lacquaniti [ITALY], for discovering that some people would be physically capable of running across the surface of a pond — if those people and that pond were on the moon. . . 

CHEMISTRY PRIZE: Shinsuke Imai [JAPAN], Nobuaki Tsuge [JAPAN], Muneaki Tomotake [JAPAN], Yoshiaki Nagatome [JAPAN], Toshiyuki Nagata [JAPAN, GERMANY], and Hidehiko Kumgai [JAPAN], for discovering that the biochemical process by which onions make people cry is even more complicated than scientists previously realized. . . 

ARCHAEOLOGY PRIZE: Brian Crandall [USA] and Peter Stahl [CANADA, USA], for parboiling a dead shrew, and then swallowing the shrew without chewing, and then carefully examining everything excreted during subsequent days — all so they could see which bones would dissolve inside the human digestive system, and which bones would not. . . 

PEACE PRIZE: Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, for making it illegal to applaud in public, AND to the Belarus State Police, for arresting a one-armed man for applauding.

PROBABILITY PRIZE: Bert Tolkamp [UK, the NETHERLANDS], Marie Haskell [UK], Fritha Langford [UK, CANADA], David Roberts [UK], and Colin Morgan [UK], for making two related discoveries: First, that the longer a cow has been lying down, the more likely that cow will soon stand up; and Second, that once a cow stands up, you cannot easily predict how soon that cow will lie down again. . . 

PUBLIC HEALTH PRIZE: Kasian Bhanganada, Tu Chayavatana, Chumporn Pongnumkul, Anunt Tonmukayakul, Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, Krit Komaratal, and Henry Wilde, for the medical techniques described in their report “Surgical Management of an Epidemic of Penile Amputations in Siam” — techniques which they recommend, except in cases where the amputated penis had been partially eaten by a duck. [THAILAND] . . . 


What went wrong at AgResearch?

August 29, 2013

AgResearch isn’t very popular in the south following the announcement of its proposal to relocate most of its activities from Invermay to Lincoln.

It won’t be very popular with Fonterra, MPI, government or anyone else caught up with the fallout from the botulism scare now it’s been found it was responsible for the test which showed the possible botulism contamination in a batch of Fonterra’s whey protein concentrate.

Subsequent tests – all 195 of them – have contradicted that and shown that the WPC was safe.

AgResearch has issued a media release saying:

A spokesperson for AgResearch said: “We have today received correspondence from Fonterra in relation to testing carried out by AgResearch for Fonterra.

“Under the terms of our contract with Fonterra, we are bound by a confidentiality agreement and cannot discuss specific details.

“However, we have reviewed our work and we are confident in the work that our experts carried out and reported to Fonterra.

“Both the Government and Fonterra are conducting investigations into the issues and we are involved in these inquiries.

“We have also sought to discuss the concerns raised today directly with Fonterra and we are engaged with MPI regarding these developments.”

Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings said while there is a sense of shared relief that the product was not contaminated, Fonterra had done the right thing by initiating a precautionary recall.

“Food safety remains our number one priority.

“The original results from AgResearch indicated the presence of toxin-producing Clostridium botulinum in the affected whey protein concentrate and we could therefore not take any chances,” he said.

Fonterra originally commissioned independent testing from Crown Research Institute, AgResearch, as one of only two research facilities in New Zealand capable of carrying out testing for Clostridium botulinum.

“On the basis of the results we received from the AgResearch tests, we had no choice but to alert regulators, and announce a global precautionary recall with our customers.

“We have just learned of the further and definitive test results. While we share a sense of relief about them, this in no way lessens our commitment to undertaking a thorough review into what happened, and to learn from this experience.”

Mr Spierings acknowledged there had been confusion and anxiety arising from the complexity of the precautionary recall and apologised for it.

“The past few weeks have been very difficult for parents in a number of countries, as well as for our customers, our farmers, and our staff.
“For me, as Fonterra’s CEO and as a father of three children, I truly believe that in initiating the recall, we took the right decision and did the right thing at the most critical moment. Given the same circumstances, and with food safety always front of mind, I would do the same again.

“Food safety and quality must always remain our top priority. I have created a new role of Group Director, Food Safety and Quality that reports directly to me.  Fonterra already has world-class food safety systems, and we’ll make sure that our dedication to food safety is further embedded in everything we do.

“The news today does not affect the various reviews and inquiries underway. We are committed to learning from, and sharing, any findings about how we can improve. We will do this in an open and transparent way,” Mr Spierings said.

There will be lessons for AgResearch too.


AgResearch’s purpose is ag research

August 15, 2013

Delegates to a southern summit in Dunedin yesterday were united in their call for more investment in Invermay agricultural research centre.

And the message would be delivered in person to government ministers and the AgResearch board by a southern delegation within days, Mayor Dave Cull said yesterday.

His comments followed yesterday’s AgResearch-Invermay summit in Dunedin, which drew more than 50 delegates from organisations across the lower South Island.

The delegates spent much of the day discussing ways to save Invermay and boost the regional economy, before emerging with an action plan that was big on potential but light on detail.

The ”alternative proposition” would be for more investment to expand Invermay, while emphasising the national, as well as regional, economic benefits that would result, he said. . .

AgResearch’s purpose isn’t to provide economic benefits from its location,

It’s purpose is to do agricultural research.

. . . There was also agreement about the threats posed by AgResearch’s plan to shift 85 Invermay jobs to either Lincoln or Palmerston North.

Environment Southland chairwoman Ali Timms said that included Invermay’s ”vital” research into improving water quality in Southland as land-use patterns continued to intensify.

She told delegates the Southland environment was ”very different” from Canterbury’s, and Invermay’s research needed to occur in southern conditions and be presented ”first-hand” to farmers to change habits.

”That won’t happen in Canterbury. It won’t happen in Massey University. That science needs to happen in Southland.” . . .

This is a valid argument, but AgResearch’s plan is not to close the research centre completely and it is possible that those who remain could still do this work.

Agricultural research can and does result in economic benefits at local, regional and national levels.

But it should be done where it is done best with the best use of limited money.

Whether or not that is at Invermay as it is, as a smaller centre or as a bigger one is debatable.

Morale has been low for years with scientists complaining they spend more time applying for funds than doing science.

That feeling probably isn’t peculiar to Invermay, or agricultural research but it reinforces the importance of making best use of what money AgResearch has.

As for regional development, the southern leaders should be looking inland to Queenstown where the winter games are taking place and will pump millions of dollars into the economy.

Games chief executive Arthur Klap said . . .  ”there is a direct economic flow of somewhere between $3 million to $5 million” and on top of that the games spends around $3 million on organisation such as wages, stages and local bands.

”Fifty percent of our budget is locally spent.”

A key economic benefit of the games, he said, was that they attracted a large number of international athletes and their management, meaning ”it’s new dollars into the country”.

This year the games was investing $1 million in television coverage.

Thirty-eight broadcasters in more than 100 countries would be screening events. . .

Whether or not the delegation will alter the decision to reduce the Invermay workforce, southern leaders need to be looking to a range of opportunities for economic development.

Those in local government must also look at themselves to ensure they are doing all they can to reduce the costs of setting up and growing businesses.


From lab to plate

August 6, 2013

The world’s first in-vitro hamburger has been taste-tested:

Since 2008, Dr. Mark Post has been working on growing edible meat in a laboratory. Today, at an event in London, the first in-vitro hamburger has been served.

Muscle stem cells were taken from a cow’s shoulder in a gentle biopsy and grown in serum, with micro-exercise so they wouldn’t be flabby. 20,000 cells were then assembled into a burger, bound with bread crumbs and egg (but curiously no salt), colored with beet juice and saffron, and presented to the public. The event was also broadcast on Culturedbeef.net.

Dr. Post, a cardiovascular biologist from Maastricht University, brought his raw burger out, in a petri dish under a cloche. On a television set, chef Richard McGeown, opining that it looked a little paler than normal, cooked it in butter and oil before a hungry audience, then served it to two lucky volunteers: Austrian food futurist Hanni Rützler, and Josh Schonwald, author of The Taste of Tomorrow.

Hanni: “There is quite some intense taste. It is close to meat; it is not that juicy. I missed salt and pepper. More than I expected of the structure, it’s not falling apart.”

Josh: “The texture, the mouthfeel, has a feel like meat. The absence is the fat. It’s a leanness. But the bite feels like a conventional hamburger.”

The technology to grow fat cells is still lacking — Schonfeld characterized the texture as like “an animal protein cake” — but that is the next step for the team. “I think it’s a very good start,” said Dr. Post. “This was mostly to prove that we can make it.” . . .

It is at least a decade away from mass-production and price and taste will determine if it is commercially viable.

In a world short of protein it could have a market but I don’t think from lab to plate has quite the same appeal as from paddock to plate.


Rural round-up

July 31, 2013

Fonterra’s ‘overdraft clearing forecast’ for 2013/14:

A milk price of $7.50 per kilogram of milksolids (kg/MS), now being forecast by Fonterra Cooperative Group for the 2013/14 season, is an ‘overdraft clearer’. Federated Farmers believes farmers will look to pay back credit lines extended to them during the drought.

“This increase in the payout forecast from $7 to $7.50 kg/MS comes off a very strong balance sheet,” says Willy Leferink, Federated Farmers Dairy chairman.

“Obviously this and an advance payout of $5.50 kg/MS, is great news after a disappointing back end to the last season. Given this time last year payout forecast were being paired back, seeing it go up is a huge relief. . . .

Increased forecast milk price, advance payout evidence of Fonterra’s strength: Brown:

A 50 cent increase in the forecast Farmgate Milk Price and advance for the 2013/14 season is reflection of the Co-operative’s strength said Fonterra Shareholders’ Council Chairman, Ian Brown.

The Fonterra Board of Directors today announced a revised Farmgate Milk Price forecast of $7.50 per kg/MS for the 2013/14 season, including a $5.50 advance, and an estimated dividend of 32 cents per share.

Ian Brown: “This outcome is evidence of a strong organisation that has moved appropriately for the benefit of its supplier Shareholders. . .

Latest water quality trends ‘red letter day’ for farming:

Good environmental farm management is starting to show through in the Ministry for the Environment’s (MfE) latest River condition indicator.  This shows that over a decade at 90 percent of the sites tested, most of the MfE’s key indicators were either stable or improving.

“Improved management of the land and water resource by everyone may be starting to show up in these water quality results,” says Bruce Wills, Federated Farmers President.

“In broad brush terms New Zealand’s water quality is steadily improving.

“In recent years, farmers and communities have really stepped up their efforts but we know we can and must do better. This latest report shows we are heading in the right direction and we need to take this as encouragement to further step up our collective efforts. . .

AgResearch Plans Its Future Footprint:

The country’s largest Crown Research Institute, AgResearch, has released further details of its plans to reinvest $100 million into its campus facilities and resources.

AgResearch Chief Executive Dr Tom Richardson says the proposal is now with staff for consultation and involves a major reconfiguration and reinvestment of AgResearch’s campus and farm infrastructure to create a vital agricultural research institute for the next 50 years.

“We will be modernising our science facilities, co-locating our capability wherever possible, and participating in large agriculture innovation hubs, all of which will generate greater returns across the pastoral sector.

“This is a once in a generation opportunity to put AgResearch in the best possible long-term position to do more quality science more effectively and efficiently, and to make a much bigger difference to the agricultural sector’s productivity and profitability,” he says. . . .

New on-line weather forecast service:

Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith today launched a new online mountain weather forecast service that will improve the enjoyment and safety of trampers, hunters, mountain bikers, skiers and fishers using New Zealand’s National and Forest Parks.

“New Zealand’s mountain environment can quickly turn from warm and calm to treacherous. We can improve the safety and enjoyment of users by providing more frequent and detailed weather forecasts on the internet,” Dr Smith says.

“We lose about six people per year in our mountains and often these deaths are weather related. We also have about 150 mountain search and rescue callouts a year. This improved weather service will reduce risk and save lives.

“The new online mountain weather forecast service will provide standardised five day forecasts updated every day for 24 mountain locations across eight of New Zealand’s most popular parks. This compares to a previous service of eight locations with a mix of forecast lengths from two to five days and from a frequency of twice daily to weekly. . .

Speech to Horticulture New Zealand annual conference – Nathan Guy:

Today I want to talk to you about my priorities for the primary sector, of which horticulture is a major part. In particular I want to talk about the two goals that the Ministry for Primary Industries has – to grow and protect New Zealand’s economy.

As you all know, the primary sector is the powerhouse of our economy. It is worth around $30 billion a year to the New Zealand economy and makes up around 72 per cent of our exports.

Your industry is a major part of this equation, with New Zealand’s horticultural exports earned $3.6 billion in the year ended 31 March 2013. The total value of horticultural products produced is around $6.6 billion. . .

Farm Environment Awards Motivate Northland Farmers to Lift Game:

Participating in the Ballance Farm Environment Awards inspired Ken and Janine Hames to step up environmental work on their Northland farm.

Ken says they entered the awards to benchmark themselves against other farmers and “to see where we were at” in terms of environmental sustainability.

He and Janine, a vet at Ruawai, first entered the Northland Ballance Farm Environment Awards in 2010 and were thrilled to win two category awards.

“I guess it showed we were on the right track,” says Ken, who runs an intensive bull finishing operation on 400ha at Paparoa, southeast of Dargaville. . .


Chocolate is medicine . . .

July 7, 2013

. . .  Well, it can be good for you:

A new Australian study has found dark chocolate may increase calmness and contentedness through the polyphenols found in cocoa.

Polyphenols are found naturally in plants and are a basic component of the human diet. These compounds have been shown to reduce oxidative stress, which is associated with many diseases, and may also have beneficial psychological effects.

Anecdotally, chocolate is often linked to mood enhancement,” Matthew Pase, a PhD candidate at the University of Swineburne in Melbourne and lead author of the study, says. . .

“This clinical trial is perhaps the first to scientifically demonstrate the positive effects of cocoa polyphenols on mood.” . . .

Sadly I don’t think this is the sort of medicine to which you can apply the rule that if some is good, more is better.


Science Challenges announced

May 1, 2013

The Government has announced the final 10 selected National Science Challenges and a $73.5 million boost over four years to fund them.

“The National Science Challenges will tackle some of the biggest science-based issues and opportunities facing New Zealand,” Minister of Science and Innovation Steven Joyce says.

“The Challenges are designed to take a more strategic approach to our science investment by targeting a series of goals which, if they are achieved, would have a major and enduring benefit for New Zealand. . . .

The 10 challenges are:

  • Ageing well – harnessing science to sustain health and wellbeing into the later years of life
  • A better start – improving the potential of young New Zealanders to have a healthy and successful life
  • Healthier lives – research to reduce the burden of major New Zealand health problems
  • High value nutrition – developing high value foods with validated health benefits
  • New Zealand’s biological heritage – protecting and managing our biodiversity, improving our biosecurity, and enhancing our resilience to harmful organisms
  • Our land and water – research to enhance primary sector production and productivity while maintaining and improving our land and water quality for future generations
  • Life in a changing ocean – understanding how we can exploit our marine resources within environmental and biological constraints
  • The deep south – understanding the role of the Antarctic and the Southern Ocean in determining our climate and our future environment
  • Science for technological innovation – enhancing the capacity of New Zealand to use physical and engineering sciences for economic growth
  • Resilience to nature’s challenges – research into enhancing our resilience to natural disasters

This covers a wide field of scientific endeavour.

I’m especially pleased the challenges focussing on high value nutrition, land and water, biological heritage and technological innovation included with the potential to improve productivity while enhancing the environment.


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