Young Farmers take over Ashvegas

July 11, 2008

When the then Skellerup Young Farmer of the Year contest moved from radio to television the TV people said the contest would have to be filmed in a studio in Wellington.

The Young Farmers’ organising committee said no, that would kill the contest, it must stay in the reigons. They won and the contest moves round each of Young Farmers’ seven regions, alternating between North & South Islands each year.

The result is rivalry not just between contestants but between regions who ensure they have the best Grand Final possible. In the process they attract a lot of local support and visitors from all over the country.

This year’s final of what is now the National Bank Young Farmer Contest  is taking place in Ashburton. Tickets to tomorrow night’s show and dinner sold out weeks ago and there isn’t a spare bed to be had for miles around. It’s great for the local economy, for the contest and Young Farmers.

The programme started on Wednesday with a north vs south rural challenge in the town’s main street. It was won by the South Islanders, who may have had an at-home advantage for the swede tossing.

The contest got more serious yesterday with theoretical and technical challenges and the presentation of a project on market innovation.

Last night’s three minute prepared speeches covered a variety of topics including Heros: Hone Heke or Hopkins? It’s a personal choice; My Frist Time and Taking An Agricultural Approach to Raising Children.

Today it’s all go on the Ashburton Domain for the practical competition which carries a lot of points and may determine the winner because, if as happened last year there is a tie at the end, the title goes to the one with the most points in the practical.


Health Workers Should Lose Right to Strike

July 11, 2008

Otago District Health Board Chief Medical Officer Richard Bunton  says health workers, like police, should lose their right to strike.

He is commenting on the release of investigations by Health & DIsability Commissioner Ron Paterson into complaints over two deaths during the 20006 strike by medical radiation technologists, on which I blogged yesterday.

Mr Bunton said changing the system “has to happen” so that health service workers were covered by legislation, like police officers and not be allowed to strike.

He would expect the definition of health services to be fairly broad, covering any health work which was essential for delivering good patient care.  It would be a matter of “sitting down and working out a mechanism to settle salaries”.

I am sure this would have public support but at least one union isn’t keen.

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive director Ian Powell said Mr Bunton’s suggestion was ” throwing the baby out with the bath water”.

Mr Bunton said he accepted that his views would be controversial and would be met with an “interesting debate”.

It was rubbish to suggest strikes did not affect patient care.

No matter what words or niceties were used to explain what happened during strikes, there was no way that staff could deliver the same level of care when the usual processes and checks and balances were not there, he said.

They also cause extra work and put additional strain on alreay overstretched colleagues who aren’t on strike.

Mr Bunton said it was likely situations similar to those in Dunedin Hospital had occurred elsewhere. If Mr Paterson, the watchdog of patient rights, was making a strong statement about the risks to patients during strikes, the Government was obliged to “have a damn good look at it”.

Speaking from the United Kingdom, Mr Powell said Mr Bunton’s suggestion was not helpful. It would involve going “down to an arbitrationist system”, which he did not believe would be favoured by health workers.

Some perspective was needed about industrial action in the health sector. While there was a perception health was riddled with strikes, that was not the case.

 Mr Paterson was raising pertinent questions which should be considered by the health sector in general – not just the minister – but such consideration should not be a “knee-jerk” reaction, Mr Powell said.

The system doesn’t have to be riddled with strikes for striking to cause an unacceptable level of risk.


Ode Upon an IPhone

July 11, 2008

It’s not quite earth has nothing to show more fair, (which, in case there is a student of literature about to pull me up, is the opening line of a sonnet not an ode), but Jim Hopkins  waxes lyrical on the IPhone:

Ahhhhh! The iPhone, that sighPhone
I need one, 3G
To be truly iCatching
– A real iPhoney!
With my shy high iTech
I’ll wi-fi all night
Consuming the world with
A big-gigabyte
I’ll download and upload
And open my portals
I’ll mega my pixels
To shame lesser mortals
I’ll snd pointlss txts
And compile my iTunes
And send sexy iPics
To lonely tycoons
Ahhhhh! iPhone! That sighPhone
The Apple I’m needin
One byte and I’m there!
In the Garden of Eden!!!!
An Adam of Apps
In a digital nation
A WAP-happy chappy
Set free from vexation!!!!!


Informed Vote Essential for PGW SFF Deal

July 11, 2008

Gerry Eckhoff  has some concerns about the proposal for PGG Wrightsons to take a 50% stake in Silver Fern Farms.

The wider industry is bedevilled by self-interest, protectionist or silo mentalities which have cost the sheep industry dearly.

A statement by Owen Poole, chairman of Alliance Group, that Alliance has the best brands in Europe, is a case in point. Silver Fern Farms (formerly PPCS) also tell farmers that its brands are the best. Both are wrong.

The best brand is “New Zealand Lamb”, yet the two large co-operatives continue to believe in their own rhetoric and that, divided, we farmers stand a better chance of survival in the international market place.

I don’t think Alliance is a good brand name for meat. Silver Fern Farms is an improvement on PPCS but Eckhoff is right, New Zealand Lamb is the recognised brand.

The offer by PGG Wrightson to buy 50% of Silver Fern Farms (SFF) is, in reality, the only lifeboat afloat as the sheep industry sinks, so it is little wonder many farmers want to grasp the lifeline offered.

The $220 million offer may well be a very fair one but the question as to why the SSF board, after deciding to seek outside capital, did not call for wider expressions of interest for a 50% stake in the company remains unanswered by the board.

Farmers have had their shares in the company capped because it’s argued too big a shareholding is contrary to the co-operative ethos. But that doesn’t seem to be a consideration with PGW taking a 50% share. A lot of farmers would not be in a position to increase their investment, but there may be some who would not only be able but willing to do so.

Silver Fern Farms has a turnover of $2 billion so the offer by PGG Wrightson of $220 million effectively allows the purchase of a controlling interest in New Zealand’s biggest meat company, for 12c in the turnover dollar.

That seems like a fire-sale price to many sheep farmers, but it also speaks volumes as to the ability of Craig Norgate and Tim Myles of PGG Wrightson.

Farmers will await with interest an analysis/advice from the one non-farmer or independent director of SFF.

The SFF chairman, Eion Garden, says the proposal should not be seen as a financial bailout. That view will be greeted with some incredulity by observers.

If Mr Garden is correct, then he needs to explain why he does not simply invite Mr Norgate and Mr Myles on to the board of SFF for their undoubted expertise, but without the cash.

The Board says the capital injection will be used for improved technology and marketing, but that doesn’t explain why it needs to come from PGW.

Much of the rationale for the merger presented to farmers is the need for year-round supply and the technical assistance PGG Wrightson can bring to ensure this happens.

All that needs to happen to ensure supply during the August-September-October period (the off-season for supply volumes) is for meat processors to ask farmers, in, say, February, to submit a tender price to supply whatever number of stock the processor needs during these months.

The processor then obviously accepts the lowest tender prices until the required numbers are reached. Whether a merger is necessary to achieve that easily obtained outcome is a moot question.

A change in strategy doesn’t necessarily require a change in structure.

It is concerning that the emphasis of the merger appears not to be so much about capturing a greater share of the overseas value chain but locking in the domestic supply chain.

At a time when the world is increasingly short of meat protein and with the prices set to rise substantially, the board of SFF offers to sell 50% of the business to a very willing buyer.

That clearly indicates that there is not too much wrong with the industry – just the people currently running it.

TI wouldn’t say that about all the people running the industry.

If sheep farmers choose to exercise their right to vote on this issue, as they must, they have a duty to future generations to inform themselves as well as possible on all the issues and not just rely on the opinion of vested interests.

That’s good advice for any vote, but you can’t require people to have a comprehension test before they put their tick on the voting paper.


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