Family Friendly But Not For All

July 9, 2008

Helen Clark had only just scraped the egg off her face for getting her facts wrong in last week’s attack on John Key, when she put her head back in the hen’s nest by criticising him and Bill English for taking a few days off with their families.

Colin Espiner blogs:

“They do tend to work pretty short weeks,” Clark said of the National leadership yesterday. I thought this was pretty unfair. Both have school-age children. It’s the school holidays and recess at Parliament. The election is at least four months away. Why shouldn’t they have a few days off?

There is every reason why they should have a few days off. It would be difficult to find a less family-friendly job than that of an MP. The hours, the travel, the lack of privacy…  It’s a dog’s life which puts immeasurable strain on MPs and their families so snatching a few precious days of family time is both sensible and healthy.

I accept there are MPs – on both sides of the political divide – whose work rate wouldn’t match the prime minister’s, but even the busiest of people need time off. I’ve said before that I simply don’t know how the PM manages to work as hard as she does and I very much doubt we will see a harder worker than her at Premier House for many a year.

Whether that’s a good thing is a moot point. Should political life be “all consuming” as Clark said yesterday? Or should Key and English be allowed a couple of days off with their families to recharge the batteries and see their kids?

How very sad that Clark has allowed political life to be “all consuming”, for her and for us. Having a life in the real world outside politics might enable her to clear the bile from her brain and have a more varied diet than the lemons she appears to be permanently sucking. In so doing she’d become a better person and we’d get a better Prime Minister.

It might also enable her to see the irony in leading the party which continually reminds us about Welfare Working for Families and has only just passed legislation creating family-friendly work places; then attacking two husbands and fathers who very sensibly take one of the few opportunities their demanding jobs afford them to spend some time with their wives and children.

It makes a farce of any claims she might make that she or her party are family friendly. Her words show that family friendly is only vote-catching rhetoric, not a conviction based on a belief in the philosophy which ought to under lie it.

Clark expects others to respect her choice to not have children but her attack on Key and English is devoid of any respect for them, their families and their choices.


Alliance Committed to Co-operative Model

July 9, 2008

While Silver Fern Farms is open to PGG Wrigthson’s offer to take a 50% stake in the company, Alliance Group remains committed to the co-operative model.

Alliance Group chairman Owen Poole said given recent strong feedback from farmer owners, it wanted to keep control of the meat processor with about $1.1 billion in annual sales.

Poole said yesterday Alliance did not want to comment on any industry consolidation discussions it may be involved in.

Last week, listed PGG Wrightson (PGGW) announced it wanted to take 50 per cent ownership of Silver Fern Farms (SFF), formerly PPCS, for $220m, but the plan is dependent on a 75 per cent approval vote by SFF farmers.

Poole did point to media-based “rumours” that this week it would meet Affco, another processor, for informal talks, but he would not comment further.

Last week SFF chair Eion Garden said his company didn’t have a Plan B. Is this a hint from Poole that Alliance might be coming up with one?

Alliance’s board will meet in Invercargill tomorrow.

Poole said any board decisions by the Invercargill co-operative on a response to the PGGW-SFF plan would be kept behind closed doors.

However, the board would give a response at a series of farmer meetings next month.

Poole expected annual farmer returns to improve 30 per cent next season starting from October 1, compared with the existing season, taking some pressure off farmers.

That will take the price of a lamb to somewhere between $75 and $80. Still not at the $100 which is what farmers say they need,  but a definite improvement on last season’s prices of $50 to $60 a head.

He had proposed four months ago a merger of the biggest meat companies to control 80% of the nation’s lamb and beef produce, but talks with SFF fell apart.

Poole said yesterday that 80 per cent level remained the key for any aggregation.

Farmers that had phoned him were strongly against any move away from the co-operative standard.

Alliance shareholders and supplying farmers had been concerned about the new developments, particularly if it would take an industry player away from co-operative status.

This would make the 80 per cent consolidation level widely accepted as a minimum that much harder to reach, he said.

“(But) if there’s opportunity for aggregation under an open model, then we’ve got a very open model.”

He added his phone had been extraordinarily busy from concerned farmers with no enthusiasm at all for the idea of corporate involvement in Alliance ownership.

Fonterra shareholders aren’t keen on diluting farmer ownership of their company. The grapevine is suggesting SFF shareholders are yet to be convinced that losing farmer control will be the best option for the meat industry too. What they say now is not necessarily a reflection on how they will vote later in the year and someone could come up with a Plan B before then anyway.


If you think city fuel prices are high…

July 9, 2008

… try driving in the provinces.

Poneke  tells us that 91 octane petrol in Wellington has reached 218.9 cents a litre.

In Wanaka it’s 2.269 for 91;  and 2.349 for premium. 

Diesel is 199.9 cents a litre and of course Road User Charges come on top of that.

Ouch.


Count Down to Nat Bank Young Farmer Contest

July 9, 2008

The seven finalists in the National Bank Young Farmer Contest  have been working for months to prepare themselves for the competition which starts in Ashburton on Thursday.

Aorangi finalist Nick Webster is hoping to better his own and his father’s places in previous contests. Nick, a partner in the family’s cropping farm in North Otago, was third in the final three years ago and Jock was second in what was then called the Skellerup Young Farmer of the Year in the 1970s.

The Otago Southland finalist Kyle Thorburn was sixth in last year’s final. The other finalists are Grant Charteris (East Coast), James Donaldson (Northern), Steve Knight (Tasman), Fraser McGougan (Waikato-Bay of Plenty) andDavid Skiffington (Taranaki-Manawatu).

Judges will be testing them on a combination of farming knowledge, business, public speaking, practical and personal skills and intelligence – the range of skills and abilities modern farmers need to succeed.

At stake is $82,185 worth of prizes for the winner including a Ford Ranger four-wheel-drive utility, a Honda four-wheel-drive ATV, a selection of Echo equipment, cash from the National Bank, Ravensdown fertiliser and Swanndri clothing.

The total prize package for the final of $160,810 includes a Lincoln University Scholarship and the winner of the Market Innovation Challenge receives an AGARDT scholarship for the FAME programme valued at $28,125.

Buts its not just about what they might win, the finalists have come through tough district and regional contests so getting to the contest is an achievement in itself; and the winner gets not just the prizes but the kudos which goes with being the country’s top Young Farmer.


Paying for hay because the sun shone too much

July 9, 2008

The price of hay  has tripled to up to $14 a bale in areas hardest hit by last summer and autumn’s drought and baleage has more than doubled from $70 to $160.

Agribusiness consultant David Baker said dairy farmers, who have received record payouts, could afford to pay big prices being demanded for winter feed, and had pushed cash-strapped beef and sheep farmers out of the market.

“Those with dairy cows are paying, in some cases, as much as $21 to $28 per week per head of cattle for grazing.

“Those with beef cows just can’t match that, and many are being forced to get rid of their capital stock at the freezing works because the costs just do not stack up.

“There is a real sense of greed growing out there, as those with the land available for grazing deliberately set out to get top dollar from dairying at the expense of the beef and sheep farmer.”

When does a sensible commercial decision to take the best price become greed? Those with hay are in business too and know the wisdom of making money from hay while the financial sun shines. And dairy farmers won’t pay any more than they have to because the high price for milk is being tempered by rising prices of wages, fuel, power, fertiliser, feed and other inputs.

The lack of feed and the huge prices being asked is biting into farmers’ incomes.

For the past three years, Wairarapa hill country farmer Stu McKenzie has taken a financial battering, and the crisis on the farm on the back of double droughts is far from over.

Mr McKenzie, like other sheep and beef farmers in the worst hit areas in Waikato, Taranaki, Wairarapa and Hawke’s Bay, say the escalating feed prices had eaten into any profit.

He has lost more than $300,000 a year over the past three years. “I am paying up to $8 per head per week, where $3 was once the asking price. It does impact when you are talking about hundreds of cows being sent out, and it is not easy finding somewhere for them to go as dairy farmers snap up most of what is available.”

According to the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry, the drought will take away $1.24 billion from the farm gate this financial year.

It is difficult to sustain a big loss from one season, even if it is cushioned a little by capital gain. When it happens three years in a row it will be eating into equity and will out pace the rise in the price of land.

Farmers in areas where dairy conversion or support are options are doing the figures and getting out of sheep and beef or selling up altogether, but those options aren’t possible everywhere.

Making matters worse is below average rain in many of the drought affected regions. When we drove from Auckland to the fieldays paddocks which had been bare when we passed through in February, were looking good. But locals told us it was a green drought – there had been enough rain to give a bit of green but not to provide much cover.

As recession bites the dry weather and low incomes won’t just affect farmers and their communities, it will have an impact on the national economy too. But not all sheep farmers are struggling. Four of the last five tractors sold be a machinery dealer in Gore have gone to sheep farmers.


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