Students to get $350 weekly allowance?


Remember how Labour trumped National on the eve of the last election with its interest-free student loan policy? Colin Espiner wrties in The Press today (not yet on line) that another student election bribe is in the wind.

It is understood Labour is considering a massive boost to the student allowance scheme, including a payment of some $350 a week for study courses of 35 hours a week or more. That would put student allowances far ahead of any other standard benefit payment. It would cost a lot of money, but may not have the same impact as interest-free loans did in 2005.

Students and student politicians might think this is a good thing and they may be able to make a case for a small increase. But a $350 a week allowance, so much higher than any other benefit,  is not the best use of money in the over-stretched education budget.

Students and their representatives put a lot of energy into crying poor, but instead of worrying about loans and allowances they ought to be worrying about the quality of their education.

Every dollar that goes to a student allowance or interest free loan, is a dollar less for teachers and teaching resources. Improving those would be better use of taxpayers dollars than an over-generous student allowance scheme.

Nats ECE policy good for country kids


The National Party will allow parents of children at kohanga reo and playcentres to access early childhood education (ECE) subsidies which is good news for country families.

The existing policy, introduced by Labour, exempts parent-led centres and requires early childhood centres to have at least one registered pre-school teacher before parents get subsidies. That rules out virtually all centres in the country and small towns.

It is important to have high standards for education, but that should not arbiarily exempt parent-led centres, as the current system does.

Positive outlook for meat industry


ANZCO Foods chairman Graeme Harrison is confident that the meat industry has a positive future.

He said the industry is not broke and farmers should take a “level headed” approach to its future – because it does have a good future. 

ANZCO, a 24-year-old private company, is the fourth biggest player in the New Zealand sheepmeat market and the second biggest in the beef and veal markets.

It has in the last three years invested $125 million in new plants and upgrades and in food manufacturing expansion, says Harrison, a significant individual shareholder.

“We wouldn’t be making these investments if we didn’t think there was a good future for the business.”

By way of example Harrison says ANZCO has only recorded one loss in its 24 year history – in 1998 – “because of an investment outside New Zealand”.

“I’m sick and tired of all the negative publicity about where the meat industry is…. I’ve got confidence so producers should be taking a very level-headed view of this (debate) instead of being carried away with all the negative publicity.”

When prices are low, costs are rising and balance sheets in the red, it is easy to become pessamistic but I agree that the industry has a bright future.

Harrison says this was the message he gave a recent gathering of producers for ANZCO’s CMP business and he wants to repeat it to all meat growers as they debate the future of their industry.

“The problem sector in the meat industry is lamb and it’s in the South Island because of competition for land use (dairying).

” We have an industry with four players, all with about the same financial strength. Forget about sales turnover and market share … what you actually have is declining livestock numbers and supply is the key to this business. Where companies are similarly resourced clearly you are going to have severe competition. The long and the short of it is, some fallout is going to occur. What we have is livestock supply eroding in sheepmeat at a rate we haven’t seen since the mid-1980s. So clearly there is going to be change.”

Harrison says market forces are at work and farmers are responding to them. The biggest market force is the dairy boom.

“It’s the biggest boom in New Zealand agriculture since the early 1950s.(when dairying converted to sheep, particularly in mid-Canterbury and Southland). We’ve got a reverse of that now but on a bigger scale. Good mixed farming areas are going into dairying and the reason is comparative profitability.

“There’s nothing new about this…but extraordinary things happen in those environments. I’ve been trying to make the point that the meat industry is not broke. There’s been far too much talk about this, though it is true that financial rewards have been poor in the last four years.

“Sooner or later when you have poor returns there will be an effort to rationalise.”

If we still had subsidies we’d probably still have 60 million sheep and a mountain of lamb and mutton deteriorating in freezers. Instead we now have fewer than 40 million sheep and farmers are looking at their options and making rational business decisions based on the markets. Some are persuaded by dairy returns to convert their farms to dairying or dairy support. Others who don’t want to do that are looking at the positive impact dairy prices are having on their own land and selling.  Some still belive there is a future in sheep and beef, which of course there is.

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Peters in contempt of parliament?


Radio NZ reports that Winston Peters is demanding an apology from the NZ Herald over its reports that Owen Glen made a donation to NZ First and that Glen’s PR advisor Steve Fisher says he can’t confirm any of the allegations.

Speaking about the issue on The Farming Show (should be on line later today) MP Eric Roy said he recalled that Winston Peters had been questioned about the donations in parlaiment and denied the party had received them.

If the alleagations in the Herald are correct and Peters did deny them in the house then he would be in contempt of parliament.

Alliance minding own business


Alliance Group CEO Owen Poole  says the company was not looking at merging with Silver Fern Farms because there was no proposal to do so.

He said that it was business as usual for Alliance in spite of speculation that a plan by PGG-Wrightson to invest $220 million in SFF would draw Alliance into merger talks. 

“We are working on our own strategy and we are going to talk to our shareholders about our own plans,” he said in an interview last week. Mr Poole said the PGG-W and SFF merger was the business of those companies.

“As far as Alliance is concerned, they’ve got to deal with their own shareholders.”

He had some reservations about the merger and the loss of farmer control, governance issues from having a corporate investor, the hybrid ownership model and outsourcing stock procurement.

All very valid concerns. 

Alliance experienced the hybrid ownership model when Freesia Meat Holdings was an investor, and Mr Poole said it was difficult reconciling conflicting demands.

“It was a good day for us both when the arrangement ended.”

Mr Poole said procurement was “a central pillar to vertical integration,” which he felt should not be outsourced to a third party.

If PGW is contracted to procure for SFF, what do their stock agents do when other companies offer better prices?

Alliance already operated an integrated model. In 1997, it launched Securing the Future, which introduced a genetics and breeding scheme to farmers to show the type of animals wanted by the market, based on consumer research.

It has also addressed capacity issues and recently introduced Via Scan technology, which objectively measured lamb carcasses and provided the information to farmers.

“This is not new. We’re extremely well advanced in all of this,” he said of changes proposed by SFF.

If Alliance is implementing the right strategy under its own steam, I’m yet to be convinced SFF needs PGW as a partner to do the same thing.

Viva La France


It’s Bastille Day.

My school French wasn’t particularly good to start with and the foreign language files in my memory are now dominated by Spanish, so I’ll leave it at: Viva La France!

[Update: Adam Smith’s  acknowledges his French ancestry, gives a brief explanation of Bastille Day and links to the singing of La Marseillaise.]

Quotable Chocolate


One of the signs that I was beginnning to grow up was the relaisation that the thought of chocolate for breakfast no longer appealed.

However, while I don’t want to eat it early in the morning I’m still happy to read about it and after finding the story about Dunedin’s chocolate carnival about which I wrote earlier, a Google search for chocolate quotes led me to Virtual Chocolate.

 I particularly liked: 

  • Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands – and then eat just one of the pieces Judith Viorst
  • Exercise is a dirty word… Every time I hear it, I wash my mouth out with chocolate.
  • I don’t understand why so many “so called” chocolate lovers complain about the calories in chocolate, when all true chocoholics know that it is a vegetable. It comes from the cocoa bean, beans are veggies, ’nuff said.
  • Don’t wreck a sublime chocolate experience by feeling guilty. Chocolate isn’t like premarital sex. It will not make you pregnant. And it always feels good. Lora Brody,
  • “Las cosas claras y el chocolate espeso.” (Ideas should be clear and chocolate thick.) Spanish proverb

NBR goes digital


The NBR has launched a digital edition to provide an on-line version of the weekly paper.

It will give subscription-paid access to the entire content’s of the print edition from Augsut 8, but a free trial is available now.

The digital edition is a response to demand for the print edition to be available outside the main metropolitan distribution areas on Friday mornings.

I still prefer to read a real paper, it’s easier and faster because although we have wireless broaddband it only gives us 100mbps so downloading digital newspapers takes a while. 

But our print copy comes with the mail which arrives sometime after 1pm and if there’s been a distribution hitch it doesn’t always arrive with Friday’s mail. If we’re away for the weekend we sometimes read a copy on our travels but if we come home to a large pile of mail and papers then we don’t always have time to do justice to it.

That makes the digital edition more attractive so  we’ll have to toss up whether Friday morning access, to the on-line version, albeit with slow download, is better than a later print edition.

But if the various pledges by political parties and internet providers to bring fibre optic broadband to rural people become reality then the on-line version would almost certainly suit us better.

Brown Gold


You’ve got to love a city  that pays homage to chocolate with a week long carnival.

Dunedin’s chocolate celebrations celebrations began on Saturday with a Mad Hatters Tea Party at the Otago museum.

The annual jafa race down Baldwin Street takes place today and the ODT reports that places at chocolate painting, sculpture and decorating classes sold out within a week of going on sale.

But shhh, we’d better not tell the fat police.

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