Fonterra payout good for country


The ODT see more pluses than minuses in the increased Fonterra payout:

The good:

Fonterra announces record payout to farmers of $7.90 kg of milk solids for this season; up from $4.46 last season.

The higher payout increases by $4 billion the cash injection into the economy.

It will be worth an extra $30 million to the Otago economy and an extra $70,000 in gross income to an average Otago farmer.

2008-09 opening forecast payout $7 kg of milk solids.

The bad news: Consumer dairy-product costs will rise, putting pressure on already stretched grocery budgets.

Another plus for the country, which might not be appreciated by farmers, is the increased tax that will be paid. Last season’s payout meant that most farmers made small, if any, profits. Even with the increased costs of fertiliser, feed, fuel, power and wages most farmers will have very healthy taxable profits this season.


The opening forecast of $7 for next season is also very good news – even with the cautionary advice that actual payouts can be higher or lower than initial forecasts and the uncertain international finanancail situation might mean the final payout could drop. Of course it could, but the growing demand for protein makes that unlikely.


Largely overlooked in the excitement over the increased payout was the news  that Fonterra’s fair value share price has dropped from $6.79 to $5.22.

 That’s disappointing for those wanting to get out of the industry or change suppliers – friends who are selling found themselves around $500,000 poorer after the announcement. But it will make it a little easier for people planning to sign up to Fonterra because it reduces the cost of entry. And one reason for the drop in the share price could be competition from other companies which don’t require new suppliers to buy shares, making it much cheaper for them to get in to the industry.


The increased payout and good forecast will make dairying more attractive, but excitement will be tempered by the knowledge that costs will also rise, and most won’t go down if/when the payout does. Fertiliser prices have already risen: superphosphate was $270 a tonne and is now $511; urea has gone from $690 to $948 and the price of DAP has more than doubled from $706 to $1526.



The price rise is being driven by increased international demand. It won’t be welcomed by those in dairying and will be even less welcome for sheep farmers.

Green-Maori deal could falter because of EFA


The Greens want to strike a deal  in the Maori seats to maximise the electorate vote for the Maori Party and Party vote for the Greens.

This initiative might be complicated by the Electoral Finance Act because anything which encourages people to vote for or against a party or candidate has to be authorised and accounted for. I think this would mean both parties would have to authorise and account for any spending on material in which either party sought either electorate or party votes for the other.

A post on kiwiblog  noted David Benson-Pope might have similiar problems with the Act if he ran as an independent while seeking party votes for Labour – Mike Smith would have to authorise, and account for the expense of, any material which said vote Labour.

Greens want Fonterra to subsidise consumers


Green co-leader Jeannete Fitzsimons has called on Fonterra to drop the price of milk on the domestic market.

“Today I want to issue a challenge to Fonterra. Show us you are a good Kiwi company. “Give something back to the country that has provided you with a great climate, cheap energy and hard working farmers that have allowed you to become so successful.

“Sell your products in New Zealand at a price our people can afford.”

Why just Fonterra, Jeanette? The farmers’ share  is only 35% or about three glasses, of a two litre bottle of milk. If you want consumers to be subsidised by the processor and producer why not the retailers, wholesalers, transporters and everyone else involved in getting the milk from the paddock to the shelf?

  And if you want us to subsidise you when the price is high, are you going to subsidise us when it’s low?

Oh yes, you do want to subsidise growers:

 Ms Fitzsimons also advocated a return to more traditional styles of producing food, including government subsidies for communal vegetable gardens, farmers’ markets and for schools to grow more fruit trees and vegetables.

 Where does the money from these subsidies come from? Ah yes, the tax payers, who just happen to be the same New Zealanders who Jeanette worries can’t afford food. And will this improve productivity and make food more affordable? No.

 Update: No Minister is not impressed by this suggestion either.









Aussie lamb in Gore restaurant


What’s the world coming to when a Southland farmer  pops along to his local in Gore and finds he’s chewing on Aussie chops?

Gore was built on the back of sheep farming but chomp on a chop at one of the town’s most popular restaurants and it’s likely to be Australian lamb. That’s what Wendon Valley farmer Mike Joyce discovered last weekend when he ordered rack of lamb at the Mataura Licensing Trust’s flagship restaurant-bar Howl At The Moon. When he asked the chef where it was from he was told Australia — “I was just so wild”. The chef told him New Zealand lamb was too expensive and added that the pork on the menu was from Denmark.

“The Mataura Licensing Trust does a good job but, jeez, why can’t we use our own lamb?” There would be any amount of sheep farmers willing to supply their local restaurants, cutting out the middle men and getting more for their product, Mr Joyce said.

MLT general manager John Wyeth said the trust tried to use local produce whenever possible but could not get a guaranteed supply all year round and at a reasonable price. He could appreciate Mr Joyce’s concern but it came down to cost and supply. Local produce was not necessarily the most cost-effective — “just look at the price of milk and cheese”, Mr Wyeth said.

The year round supply at a reasonable price is the key – lamb is seasonal and the price varies. It’s not hard to supply the right quality and price in the peak of the season but not many farmers are able to supply it all year round.


However, it is difficult to understand why, when the price of lamb at the farm gate is so low it’s so expensive at the butcher or a restaurant. And if Australian lamb is cheaper does that mean farmers across the Tasman get even less for their stock than we do?



You think yours is harder?


Under the heading Bleating Farmers Cactus Kate challenges any farmer to prove they actually work harder than any city worker or small business owner.


I could quote Vincent McNabb who said: “There are those who wrest a living from the land and that’s work; there are those who wrest a living from those who wrest a living from the land and that’s trade; and there are those who wrest a living from those who wrest a living from those who wrest a living from the land and that’s finance”.


I might also quote Invercargill MP Eric Roy, who when asked about his early impressions of parliament said, “There are too many people here who’ve never had a bad lambing.”


I could then talk about those weeks in late winter and early spring when you work from before dawn until after dark in the cold and wet, battling the weather, keeping your patience with recalcitrant ewes, persevering gently with lambs when experience and instinct tell you they’re almost certainly beyond help and not giving into despair when the piles of slinks mount in spite of all your efforts. I could talk about the stress of living on credit for months because your bank balance just creeps into the black once or twice a year if any combination of the market and weather and dollar and interest rates and other variables over which you have little or no control are in your favour.


I could mention the long hours, the hard physical work and mental demands of calving, and calf rearing; and how no sooner that’s over than you’re in to mating and irrigating, making silage and hay, while feed budgeting and dealing with staff some of whom don’t care about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it; don’t know how to keep themselves or their houses (which you own and they live in as part of their employment package) clean; and have no respect for their own or other people’s property.


Then there’s paying wages which isn’t just working out what the staff and the IRD are owed, but also what goes in child support, to the Ministry of Justice for overdue fines and the finance company for overdue interest and debts – in spite of them starting with a package including accommodation and wages well north of $30,000.


I could mention droughts, floods, snow and wind, pests and diseases.

I could also argue about the intellectual snobbery in Kate’s comment that farming isn’t rocket science. It’s not but that doesn’t mean a job which requires brawn doesn’t also require brains and that people who get their hands dirty don’t need to think. Farming requries a variety of physical, personal and intellectual skills including but not limited to engineering, mechanics, fencing, animal husbandry, soil, plant and vet science, accounting, budgeting, HR, determination, intuition, patience, charm and a sense of humour.


But there’s no point in the mine’s bigger/harder than yours argument about farming and other work. There is no easy way to earn a good living, wherever you’re trying to do it. Every job has its difficulties and its rewards, and the comment which occasioned Kate’s rant was an observation rather than a complaint.


It came from Charlie Pederson who said:  “When I started farming 31 years ago the average dairy herd size was 125 cows. Today it’s 347 and even at that size you are really just scratching along.”  

That could easily apply to any other small business – urban or rural  – because compliance costs and economies of scale have changed so that what would have been an economic operation, in the city or the country,  three decades ago would not be today.




Who are the Timaru Labour Government MPs?


At the left of the masthead for The Courier  is an advertisement for Aoraki MP Jo Goodhew with her contact details and the Parliamentary crest and a small National logo which is the sort of thing an electorate MP routinely does.


At the right of the same masthead is an advertisement in which the Labour logo takes up a third of the space and under this is “Timaru Government MPs’ office, your link to Government” with an address, and both a Timaru and 0800 phone number. It also carries the parliamentary crest.


Trouble is there is no person who is the Government MP for Timaru (and the placement of the apostrophe after the s means it’s referring to more than one Timaru Government MP). This means it can’t be a constituency or list MP’s or MPs’ advertisement so it must be an election advertisement – so why does it have the Parliamentary crest (which means you and I have paid for it) and why doesn’t it have authorisation as required by the EFA?


The central vetting committee which Audrey Young  reports has been set up to inspect every proposed publication by every Labour MP and candidate can’t have seen this, unless they think Labour Government MPs don’t count. Of maybe the law of common sense doesn’t apply here.


For the record, I rang both numbers and got an answer phone telling me I’d phoned the Timaru Labour Government MP’s (or maybe MPs’) office. Just wondering if you and I pay for that too.

Benson-Pope might go independent


Just what Labour needs – the ODT reports that Dunedin South MP David Benson-Pope is considering standing as an independent Labour candidate.

Mr Benson-Pope lost the contest to remain the Labour Party candidate on February 2 when he was defeated by Dunedin public relations consultant Clare Curran. Labour Party headquarters staff were on hand to ensure Mr Benson-Pope did not win and some last-minute shifts in support left the MP without the votes to retain the nomination.

This is what happens when the rules enable HQ to out vote the locals.

Mr Benson-Pope has been highly visible in the electorate this year. He has always been regarded as a hard-working and effective MP but seems to be putting an extra effort into his work in recent months.

The Otago Daily Times understands the MP has been telling people in the electorate that, under MMP, they had a choice of voting for Labour with their party vote but that they could vote for any of the candidates.

Inquiries by the newspaper found a high level of discontent in parts of the electorate, particularly centred on the South Dunedin branch, which has the money and the people to mount a campaign in support of Mr Benson-Pope.

A women’s branch has disaffiliated itself from Dunedin South and is considering its options, which include affiliating to the Dunedin North electorate or the party’s Otago regional council.

The South Dunedin branch is now controlled by supporters of the MP, although Labour Electorate Committee chairman Richard Good said yesterday the public comment from the branch was “nothing but 100%” behind Ms Curran.

Public comment might be, but the last thing a new candidate, or the Party, need is the incumbent and his supporters working on a different agenda.


When approached for comment, Mr Benson-Pope was reluctant to make any public statements, but did give a brief response: “My loyalty to the party is beyond question and I don’t intend to change that. I understand what loyalty means.”

However, the ODT was told Mr Benson-Pope seemed out for revenge and a few people were “baying for blood” within the South Dunedin branch.

Progressive Party leader Jim Anderton and United Future leader Peter Dunne have both proved that Labour MPs can leave the party but retain enough local support to win their electorates with handsome margins.

Mr Anderton, now loyally behind the Labour-led Government, despite having major personal and political differences with Prime Minister Helen Clark, left to form New Labour. Mr Dunne resigned to position himself for the introduction of MMP in 1996.

Individuals can go independent and win seats, but it’s almost always better for parties if they don’t.

Mr Dunne said under MMP, loyal Labour supporters could give their party vote to Labour but still vote for Mr Benson-Pope and feel their honour was satisfied.

“Effective local MPs under MMP can stand out against a national trend politically.”

Two examples were Labour MP Harry Duynhoven, in New Plymouth, who held the seat with the largest majority in New Zealand while National took the party vote, and National Party MP Nick Smith, who was popular in Nelson but Labour was often ahead in the party vote, Mr Dunne said.

Or Dunne who wins the electorate but the party vote still goes to Labour or National.

Ms Curran said her campaign committee was working well and she had a team of 60 or 70 volunteers preparing to deliver 25,000 leaflets to every household in the electorate.

“There are some members of the party in Dunedin South who found the selection process painful.”

Full marks for restraint when she must be spitting tacks. Benson-Pope won the seat by around 10,000 votes but National candidate, Conway Powell, knocked his majority, and the all important party vote, back by about 5,000 compared with 2002. I’m not going to predict a National win in a deep red seat, but internal ructions always help the other side so even if Benson-Pope doesn’t stand there is enough bad blood being spilt to do some harm to Labour.

Update 1: Monkeys with Typewriters  notes Benson-Pope’s declaration of loyalty to Labour today which reminded me of this declaration  “I’m a loyal Labour Party person,” when questioned about standing as an independent in November last year.

Update 2: David Farrar  points out that if Benson-Pope won the seat as an independent it might help Labour as he’d vote with them and if he takes the seat they’d get another list MP.


ODT re-launches on-line


There are a few disadvantages to life in the country, one of which is that our newspapers are delivered with the mail which doesn’t arrive until anywhere from 1ish to after 3. By this time we’ve usually caught up with national, international and big regional and local stories from radio, TV or the net.

 I’d suggested to the previous editor that because of this rural subscribers ought to be able to get free, or heavily subsidised access to the digital edition but was told that would down-grade the product for other subscribers.

 I happened to be speaking with ODT political editor Dene McKenzie a few weeks ago and said because of that we were thinking of stopping the paper and subscribing to the digital edition instead. He told me to wait because a new editor, Murray Kirkness, had a  different view and the paper was going to re-launch itself on-line. It has and introduces itself here.

 The digital revolution has just taken another turn for Otago Daily Times readers with the launch today of, an open and free source of local, national, international and sports news.

 We’ll update constantly throughout the day, bringing you the latest national and local news as well as features from throughout our region, New Zealand and the world.

And, of course, it’s all about you. We have designed the site for you, our readers. Now you can interact with the ODT in many exciting and different ways. So, let’s have a conversation at

You’ll be able to comment on stories, vote in polls, send us your photographs, create your own news stories.

Your opinions will help shape the news as never before.

Don’t be scared to contact us. We want both your feedback and your contributions _ stories, photos, events – and we now have the cyberspace to publish what we receive.

The ODT is rightly known for the depth of our local coverage, and we’ll carry that even further online.

Not only will we replicate online the hyper-local stories found in the Regions section of the print edition, but the site takes this further with a unique Your Town section.

Most of the towns in our area get their own home-page, complete with news stories, photographs, events, photo slideshows and weather.

The Southland Times competes with the ODT in Central Otago and further south but there is only one other local paper in the region The Oamaru Mail (owned by APN). It used to be an afternoon paper but is now printed in Ashburton in the morning so the only reason for getting it rather than the ODT has been for the parish-pump stories which will now be on line.

We have also taken into account the importance of tertiary students to the region by creating an On Campus section, complete with news, photo slideshows, blogs and a gig guide.

In spite of giving away subscriptions at orientation students most students don’t read papers, but may use the on-line version more.


Elsewhere on the site, our sport coverage will be as comprehensive as ever, ranging from grassroots local games to the most up-to-date news and results from around the globe.

For world news we have signed a partnership with international news giant Associated Press to deliver the latest news and photographs from throughout the world. Wherever news happens, AP is there, and we will be there with them.

We aim to provide depth as well as breadth. Make sure to check out our Opinion and Business section for independent thought and analysis.

Our bloggers will provide a slightly different flavour of opinion, but will certainly be entertaining.







Hickey accepts Cullen’s challenge


Bernard Hickey blogged this morning in Show Me the Money that every day from now until the election he’s going to accept Michael Cullen’s challenge to identify some pointless or wasteful Government spending that could be cut.


This includes spending by state-owned enterprises and jobs being offered by all manner of agencies and quangos. This is going to be fun because there is a lot of low-hanging fruit.

The good doctor believes the government runs a tight ship and critics won’t be able to find much in the way of cost savings from government spending to fund tax cuts or to help reduce the inflationary pressures that are keeping interest rates high. He has challenged National and any other proponent of income tax cuts (although I am not one right now) to explain how they will be able to afford tax cuts without massive cuts in government spending and services.

My sense is that nine years of strong government spending growth have created an atmosphere where bureaucrats employ extra people, pay for more consultants and launch more projects without asking the basic question: Do we really need to do this and will we create more value for the economy by doing this than by allowing the private sector to use these resources?

 His first example was Transpower’s new website winterpower watch which was difficult to find and didn’t tell him what he needed to know.


He asked for other suggestions and this afternoon added Housing New Zealand staff’s weekend conference at the luxury Tongariro Lodge which has been widely reported in the MSM and on blogs including kiwiblog  and No Minister.

In the same post Bernard wonders why the Government is looking for a fulltime web communications advisor.

 I don’t get it. I can understand IRD and ACC and a few other government departments that deal with the public need fulltime webmasters to run sites that provide services to the public. That could actually be quite useful and efficient.

But the MSD is an policy advice body. It deals with ministers and other bureaucrats. Surely it’s not that hard. You put all the advice and research up on the site using the basic publishing systems already there. It’s either publicly available on the Internet or it’s available only to other bureaucrats via an Intranet. Do we really need someone doing this fulltime?

Here’s the most interesting gem from the job description. It explains why the MSD wants a fulltime web manager.

The Knowledge Sharing and Communications unit is based within the CSRE group in National Office and has a team of nineteen staff. It includes a Library team to provide effective and proactive library and information services to all Ministry staff.

Just the communications unit within the MSD, let alone the MSD head office, has 19 staff!

Add these examples to the areas ripe for culling suggested by The Hive and me and the potential for tax cuts might increase from just enough for a block of cheese to an amount that could buy a whole cow.




Still no verdict in EFA logo deliberation


In March the ODT published a photo of Green MP Metiria Turei completing her third triathlon in a bathing suit emblazoned with Green Party logos. The accompanying story quoted her saying she chose not to swim in a wetsuit, preferring a swimsuit with logos because “it’s always good to get your message out there”.


I wrote a letter to the editor pointing out that the suit ought to have had authorisation including the name and residential address of the Party financial agent and the cost would have to be counted in the election return.


She responded that logos didn’t count so I emailed the Electoral Commission recounting the exchange and asking for an opinion. The reply from Helena Catt said it wasn’t clear that a logo by itself met the definition of an election advertisement.


As the commission was then considering whether a Labour logo on a balloon met the definition I asked her to reconsider the issue. When I hadn’t had a reply by the end of April I resent the email. The response said when the commission considered the balloon they would consider all instances of logos which had been sent to them.


The Herald reports today the commission members are divided over whether logos are advertisements under the EFA.

“… we have not yet received Crown Law opinion on the relationship between logos and election advertisements,” Dr Catt said.

“We are aware that this is a pressing issue but it is not an easy issue so we have to work through differing views.”

I’d have thought if it was used to get “your message out there” it would be, in the words of the Act, “any form of words or graphics or both that can reasonably be regarded encouraging or persuading voters to do either or both of the following:  a) to vote for the party (whether or not the name of the party is stated) …  Why else would they do it? But it obviously isn’t that simple.

…Dr Catt said while it was desirable that the Chief Electoral Office, which regulates candidates’ election advertising, and the Electoral Commission, which regulates parties’ advertising, held the same view about logos, it was possible that they could differ.

As David Farrar  points out this is another victory for the law of common sense.


 The trouble is common sense won’t be a defence for anyone who breeches the EFA so until a decision is made candidates and parties must take a very precautionary appraoch to the use of a logo on anything.


EcoClimate report not all bad


Last week’s rain which varied from 12 – 30 mls in different parts of North Otago has lowered temperatures. So while noting the touch of frost on my morning walk I wondered if it would be all bad news if the globe is warming?


The EcoClimate report, Costs and Benefits of Climate Change and Adaption to climate change in New Zealand, which was released by MAF yesterday, says that farming may be better in some areas if the temperature rises a degree or two.


The full report is here and the authors stress it should be regarded as part of the risk assessment of what could happen to production not a firm prediction on what will happen.


The Herald says the impact of climate change wouldn’t be all bad, but the bad effects would be worse than in the past.

The expectation for North Otago is it will be warmer which could mean an earlier growing season. However, it might also be drier with a greater risk of droughts.

“For an average year in the future the predicted changes are small when averaged across the country,” said MAF’s director of national resources policy, Mike Jebsen.

“But different parts of the country are affected differently, with the west becoming wetter, the east drier and all of the country becoming warmer.”

The growing season will get longer, especially in Southland and the West Coast. But although production is expected to increase there, it will decrease in Northland and some east coast areas.

In an average year in the 2030s or 2080s the expected impact on national export revenue from dairying, compared with now, is expected to be minimal. For sheep and beef farming it would be between 4 and 9 per cent lower.

But in extreme years droughts are expected to be worse than those experienced in recent decades, like the 1977/78 and 1997/98 episodes, and national production from pastoral farming would be almost halved.

 Econometric modelling by the Treasury a few years ago found drought to be the second most potent influence on the New Zealand economic cycle, after export prices.

We know all about that in North Otago which has been dogged by recurring droughts. The impact on individuals is as harrowing as ever, though the impact on the district is getting less as irrigation increases.  

Droughts would become more frequent, said Niwa scientist David Wratt, and the work suggested the likelihood of the especially damaging case of a two-year drought might be higher.

“What is now a one-in-20-year drought might become a one-in-five-year one later in the century.”

The work takes no account of any increased risk of pests and diseases which might arise from higher average temperatures (about 2C over the rest of the century, twice the increase of the past 100 years), with fewer frosts and more hot days. Nor does it attempt to model how farmers would react to these climatic changes.

“It takes no account of adaptation, for example, water harvesting and storage or going to drought-resistant plants,” Jebsen said.

More precipitation on the Southern Alps might mean more water coming down the South Island rivers, increasing the potential for irrigation.

North Otago Irrigation Company (NOIC) is already working on the second stage of its scheme which has consents to water 20,000 hectares. The scheme has 100% reliability of supply because it takes water from the Waitaki River which is snow fed.

End of season bonus for Fonterra suppliers expected


The Dom  reports that Fonterra suppliers might get an end of season bonus of at least an extra 30 cents a kilo when the board announces the final payout after a meeting on Thursday. 

Its current payout forecast for 2007-08 is $7.30. Fonterra has a policy of revising payout estimates, other than its regular updates, only for movements of at least 30 cents, so a payout of at least $7.60 for this season is expected.

That would be higher than the current estimates of Goldman Sachs JBWere – $7.40 – and Westpac’s $7.50.

“It would be a mild surprise if the current season’s payout was $7.60 or more,” Westpac agri-economist Doug Steel said.

 That would be about $60,000 more for a 600 cow herd but farmers may not see all of the extra money because the company is considering retaining some of this season’s payout in light of uncertainty in international  financial markets.

Next year’s payout is expected to reflect the slight easing in world dairy prices in the past six months. Goldman Sachs JBWere is picking $6.25 a kilogram of milk solids for 2008-09, and Westpac $6.50.

Fonterra gave the drought as its main reason for lifting its payout forecast last month. A subsequent lift for 2007-08 and a more optimistic view for 2008-09 may be due to the fact that most dairy commodities, except skim milk powder, have been holding their prices in the past couple of months.

Even if next season’s payout is lower than this season’s it will still make dairying and dairy support attractive to people considering a move from sheep and beef although the latest Rabobank/Nielson Rural Confidence Survey shows some improvement in expectations for lamb prices. Philippa Stevenson reports on the survey on Rural Network.

Bad reporting but good idea


Student bond idea `has merit’

By DAN SILKSTONE – The Press | Tuesday, 27 May 2008


National Party leader John Key supports forcing medical graduates to remain in New Zealand for a set period as part of student loan arrangements.


Good grief – how did this reporting  get past The Press sub?


The headline sums up the story but nowhere in the article is there anything to back up the first paragraph’s statement that Key supports forcing medical graduates to remain here. And the Herald  makes it quite clear the scheme, if implemented, would be voluntary.


National leader John Key says his party is considering wiping medical students’ loans if they agree to work as GPs in rural areas for three or four years.

“I am very concerned about the number of young graduates that are completing their qualification here in New Zealand and leaving,” Mr Key said this morning.

“We need them in New Zealand, we’ve got a GP shortage that is well acknowledged and we’re not afraid to look at creative ways of maybe encouraging them to stay.”

Mr Key said any scheme would be voluntary.

“There are plenty of doctors who have a student loan – they might owe $90-$100,000. The concept of them working in part of regional or rural New Zealand for three or four years to have their loan written off might be very attractive,” he said.

That’s the kind of model we are considering.”


And the idea has merit. There is nothing wrong with graduates going overseas for further training or work experience, but we have a problem when they feel forced to go away for better pay and then don’t come back.


There is a shortage of GPs, especially in rural areas – every doctor at one medical practice in Oamaru is from overseas. Otago Medical School has started a rural training scheme which bases fifth year students in provincial towns in an attempt to redress the chronic shortage of rural doctors. There are a variety of reasons doctors prefer working in cities, but writing off a portion of a recent graduate’s loan for every year worked may help encourage some to the country.


Hat tip: kiwiblog


Why pump sewage uphill?


James Weir writes in the Dominion that if there’s no rain in the next three weeks we’ll be asked to start conserving power. Hydro storage is down to 54% of average, the worst levels since the 1992 power crisis.


It isn’t very difficult to save a bit of power – The Listener (preview available now full story on-line in a month) reckons that turning off at the wall the “vampire” appliances which suck power while on standby will save $75 a year – but an uncharitable corner of my mind is asking why bother?


I understand the problem we’re facing and that every little bit helps. But I also wonder what’s the point of individuals doing our little bits when for example, Queenstown Lakes District Council is building a sewerage scheme which will pump Wanaka’s sewage 10 kilometres uphill all day, every day.


Let’s set aside the question of what happens when power fails, as it does now and then when it snows; and the fact that the oxidation ponds where the sewage ends up will attract birds which could cause problems for the nearby airport.


Let’s just ask why, when we’re supposed to be aiming for sustainability; when gravity is free and less prone to breakdowns than electricity; when ratepayers (of whom I am one) are already struggling with the cost of infrastructure for the rapidly growing town; would you build a new scheme which requires you to pump sewage that distance uphill with the attendant financial and environmental costs?


Hat tip: The Hive

Porkometer shows where to continue cull


Audrey Young  updates the Herald’s Porkometer after the budget.

The cost of promises included in the Porkometer do not include every Budget item. They are items that parties themselves have highlighted and bragged about. Totals have not been annualised. They may be spread over many years. That is because parties tend to announce funding over four, five or more years.

Last week’s Budget allowed for a total of $4.75 billion extra in operational spending in 2008-09 and $23.37 billion extra over four years. It also allowed $1.16 billion in capital spending and $1.91 more over four years.


Additional highlights:
* $10.6 billion over four years on personal tax cuts.
* $553.8 million over five years on faster broadband and digital strategy initiatives.
* $326.3 million extra in education including $182 million for extra teachers.
* $220 million over 15 years for Wellington City Council housing upgrade.
* $180 million for extra police.
* $155.2 million over four years to improve student allowances and eligibility.
* $72 million over four years for free off-peak travel for Supergold card.
* $37.8 million over three years for first phase of Hobsonville development.
* $30 million over three years for transport initiatives in Northland and Tairawhiti.
* $25.1 million over four years for Maori and Treaty initiatives including $5.3 million extra for the Office of Treaty Settlements.
* $24.6 million boost to caregivers of children.
* $23.3 million over four years to establish animal ID and tracing system.
* $18 million over four years to boost subsidy for hearing aids.
* $9 million over four years to monitor financial service providers.
* $7 million over two years to restore 19th century Mataatua Whare in Whakatane.
* $7 million to develop a Maori cultural venue on Wellington waterfront.

The cull which I started  and The Hive continued  could carry on with the $72 million for free off-peak travel, on the silly Supergold Card. The card is not the sort of thing the Government needs to spend time or money on; it’s best left to organisations like Grey Power who’ve negotiated a better range of discounts for members.


Besides being 65 or does not automatically make you in need. One of our staff is 78 and works fulltime; another is 77 and almost fulltime – he just takes Wednesday afternoons off for bridge.


Greens get it wrong on dariying


A fertiliser rep who moved here from Scotland told me the biggest threat to New Zealand exports was the British tabloids. He reckoned just one photo of a cow in a stream could seriously damage the reputation of our farms and consequently our markets.


We don’t have to wait for the tabloids to come to us, The Hive  points out the Greens are doing the ground work for them with this press release   on the risk from “dirty dairying”.

“Industrial dairying, or agricultural intensification, is leading to a decline in water quality across the country, as revealed in the suppressed Chapter 13 of the Ministry for the Environment’s State of the Environment report earlier this year,” says Dr. Russel Norman, Green Co-leader.

“If we want to gain an EU eco-label we will need to clean up the effluent and nutrients running into our rivers and lakes leaving them ecologically decayed, not to mention dangerous for our kids to swim in.

“Our economic future is linked to our environmental husbandry. We need to look after the land and the rivers if we expect others to pay a premium for our produce.”

I agree we need to look after our land and rivers but this release doesn’t acknowledge that most of us do. A couple of weeks ago Ag Research held a field day on our property. One of the speakers was Otago Regional Council Land Resources Officer Susie McKeague who said that North Otago generally did not have a problem with water pollution.


Among the reasons for this were the environmental farm plans which are mandatory for anyone taking water from the North Otago Irrigation Company (NOIC).  In a first for NZ the plans were a condition of the resource consent for the scheme. The plans ensure efficient use of water, control of run off, careful dispersal of effluent, fencing of water ways, riparian planting and other measures to protect the soil and water. They are independently monitored each year by the North Otago Sustainable Land Management Groups (NOSLaM)


New Zealand isn’t perfect and farmers have a big role to play in protecting our air, soil and water but there is nothing to be gained by ill-informed comments like these:


Federated Farmers and much of the Government are still in denial about the declining quality of our natural water bodies. Good farmers doing the right thing are being punished by industrial dairy companies making a fortune trading on our clean and green reputation. But if we don’t force industrial dairy to clean up its act then our clean and green reputation will end up tarnished which will damage all our exports, including tourism.”


Federated Farmers are not in denial, and while I can’t speak for all Regional Councils nor are the ORC and Environment Canterbury. Last month the ORC took three dairy farmers to court for breeching the council water plan with effluent discharges.


While there is no room for complacency and still room for improvement the Greens are behind the times with this press release. However, if they are genuinely concerned about water quality they could agitate for action on the Tukituki River in Hawkes Bay into which thousands of cubic metres of only partially treated urban sewage is pumped each day.

Allomes win Sharemilker of Year


When you’re overseas it is a little disconcerting to realise how little New Zealand features in other countries’ media. Tonight I’m feeling the same way about rural news in our own media.

 The Sharemilker of the Year competition took place at the weekend. Had I not been listening to the Farming Show at lunchtime and heard Jamie McKay interviewing Ben Allomes, who with his wife Nicky, won the national title I wouldn’t have known anything about it.

 Ben aged 30 is National President of Young farmers and a two-time finalist in the National bank Young Farmer contest. He and Nicky have purchased their first farm, 50% share milk 400 cows on one farm, 250 cows on another and lease a 140 hectare beef block. They also have three children aged 4, 2 and nine months.


A Dominion profile   (published when they won the regional final in March) explains how they wrote down their goals.

One was to have $1 million in assets in 10 years. “We wrote it down but we didn’t tell anyone,” he says. “We didn’t want to hear other people’s negative views. But seeing it in print made us believe it was possible.”


Later, they attended a Dexcel strategic management course and wrote a new mission statement: “To have a happy healthy family and a low-stress sustainable farming business providing freedom and security.” They were both 22.

By dint of heard work they are well on their way to achieving their goals and their story is one which ought to appeal to town and country alike.

While they are proud of their achievements, they don’t want people to get the impression it has all come easy. “We’ve had to work hard and make sacrifices,” Mrs Allomes says.

“While other people our age were spending their money on their social lives, travelling overseas and buying flash cars, we were staying at home and putting aside every penny. We could spend up now, but that will come later. We think we can make better use of our money on the farm for now.”

“We want to enjoy our time with our kids now,” Mr Allomes says. “That’s the beauty of working on a farm; it’s your home as well as your workplace. And we want our children to be brought up knowing what hard work is all about; that money has to be earned, not taken for granted.”

The full awards list is here.



He’s talking sense, whoever he is.


At the National Party Southern regional conference three weeks ago John Key said when he’d walked into a room the previous evening someone called him Mr English and a few minutes later he heard someone addressing Bill English as Mr Key.

 The NBR is similarly confused this morning with a headline saying English attacks socialist dreamworld over a photo of Key.

 Regardless of that, English is talking sense.

Bill English has delivered a riposte to finance minister Michael Cullen’s latest  budget. 
Speaking to a Grant Thornton lunch in Christchurch, Mr English condemned the government for concentrating on managing the risks of an ageing population, though its Super fund, KiwiSaver, and new boons for superannuants.
Although he agrees that the problem of an ageing population is important – describing it as a certainty rather than a risk – he says it is better to deal with the problem as part of an over-riding strategy of economic development.


National’s budgets would have a sharp focus on economic growth. The goal would be to lift New Zealand’s economic status in the OECD. At present it is number 23, below Czechoslovakia.

 This is the difference between people who understand that wealth creation is better than redistribution not just for individuals but the nation. 

He explained to NBR that Dr. Cullen had used technicalities to conceal a warchest of $8 billion which he is now spending.


 Moreover, he accuses Dr. Cullen of overcoming his stated aversion to debt funding, to the tune of around $4 billion of the last budget. Mr English says this will leave the cupboard bare by 2011.

He says National will get New Zealand concentrated on earning rather than borrowing, and believes it can obtain a higher income, despite the present slowdown. The country should benefit from a fortunate change in the terms of trade which is boosting the price of food exports.
 People who have worked in the real world know there is opportunity in adversity.

 The planks in National’s policy outlined by Mr English are:  broad-based  tax changes, improved regulation, effective control of government spending, improved education – especially improving the numeracy and literacy of about 10,000 kids who fail each year, and “have not got a dog’s show” – and infrastructure. 

The real risk facing us not the aging population, it’s the young people coming out of school ill-equipped for work and life.




Policy will be announced when it suits the party


In an ideal world we would know what we believe in, join a political party whose philosophy and principles best match those beliefs and help the party formulate policy based on them. As a consequence most of us would know who we’re voting for, and why, well in advance of an election.


But while democracy gives us all a vote, it doesn’t require us to understand what we’re doing with it so in the real world most people say they’re not even interested in politics, although most have views on policy if only in a what’s-in-it-for-me way. Many don’t know, or won’t comment on, who they are going to vote for until very close to the election – some surveys suggest as many as 20% make up their mind in the polling booth.


This is why calls such as Chris Trotter’s (not yet on-line) in yesterday’s Sunday Star Times, and this morning’s Herald editorial, for National to announce more policy will be ignored.


National has policy and it will announce it before the election – to do otherwise would enable opponents to say, “you can’t trust them”. But while Governments have to have let us know what’s in their Budgets and their policy programme, one of the few advantages of being in Opposition is that you can keep your policy under wraps until it suits you to announce it.


Revealing all now might please commentators and other parties but there is no need for National to announce much policy yet when, if surveys are to be believed, nearly half the country doesn’t even realise there will be an election this year.

Taieri Gorge Railway


The Grass Converters Social Club was formed nearly two years ago but for various reasons (drought, feeding out, shearing, calving, stock movements, irrigation…) has just had its inaugural outing.


We chose the Taieri Gorge Railway  for the event, met at the Dunedin Railway Station and by virtue of numbers (21) claimed a carriage for ourselves. Indifferent weather meant some of the views weren’t as spectacular as they would be when framed by the large blue skies for which Central Otago is famed; but the scenery was still stunning.


The intercom commentary, though occasionally drowned out by competing noise, gave an interesting mix of history and geography. It was supplemented by Joe (who said he wasn’t a conductor, but didn’t say what he was) who popped through the carriage at irregular intervals with jokes and updates on points of interest outside. 

As we stopped on the vertiginous Wingatui Viaduct, 197m long and 47m above Mullocky Stream, we could only marvel at the engineering and physical prowess of the men who laboured 12 years on the track which linked Dunedin with the Central Otago hinterland.


The train left Dunedin station at 12.30; took us to Pukerangi, where a carriage of Japanese tourists disembarked to continue their journey to Queenstown by bus. Had it been summer we’d have been able to go the extra 19 kilometres to Middlemarch, since it wasn’t we changed direction and chugged back to Dunedin reaching the station as promised at exactly 4.30.


I have no reservations about commending the journey – but advise you to eat before you leave or take your own picnic. The food for sale (with the exception of the scones) was at best ordinary. The menu featured white bread sandwiches heavy on fat and protein, light on fibre and vitamins ($4.50) and the oxymoronic microwavable pies (3.50). We were told the advertised quiche – ham and tomato or vegetable (wrapped) ($2.50) or fresh ($4.50) were off – which I think was referring to availability not condition.

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