SFF selling Silverstream plant


Silver Fern Farms is selling its Silverstream  lamb boning plant.

The plant, which processes and packages lamb products from other Silver Fern Farms plants, is
being acquired by Christchurch-based Scales Corp for an undisclosed price, Silver Fern Farms said in a statement.

Polarcold Stores Limited, which is part of the Scales Corp, will operate the cold stores on the site.

Up to 300 people work at the North Taieri plant in the peak of the season. Workers were called to a meeting this afternoon to be told of the sale.

Silver Fern Farms said the move, which involves a partial leaseback, would result in a “scaling back of certain operations”.

“This will result in a reduction in permanent staff required on the site and will also mean the company will be looking for a lower number of replacement process workers in the coming season,” the statement said.

This is a blow to the workers and the Dunedin community. It comes on top of other recent large scale job losses including 138 at SFF’s Burnside venison plant.

Progressive move to universal student allowance – Hodgson


Tertiary Education Minister Pete Hodgson says that Labour’s Policy  is for a progressive move to a universal student allowance rather than a direct move.

His comments follow speculation Labour will offer a universal student allowance as an election bribe, a policy which appeals to the Greens.

Green MP tertiary education spokeswoman Metiria Turei said the Government should provide a timetable for moving to universal allowances.

“Maybe toying with student livelihoods is just political game playing, but student debt is no fun at all for the generation which has grown up struggling with debt repayments, let alone trying to buy houses or start families,” Mrs Turei said.

Paying higher taxes for election bribes isn’t much fun either and money spent on direct student support is money that’s not available for other areas of education.

The New Zealand Vice-Chancellors’ Committee said speculation about the universal allowance was unhelpful and the country was spending well over the OECD average on student financial support.

The organisation said funding for tertiary students was more than twice the rate it was for tertiary education institutions. Forty-two percent of tertiary education spending went to student financial support, compared with an OECD average of 18 percent.

Students should put their efforts into strategies to improve the quality of education rather than the quantity of allowances.

Education lobby group, Education Forum, policy advisor Norman LaRocque agreed with the university vice-chancellors.

“Putting money into student support, rather than into funding for TEIs (tertiary education institutions), would do nothing to improve the performance of the tertiary education sector in New Zealand,” he said.

Over generous subsidies send all the wrong signals, encouraging participation rather than rewarding effort.

Students and the country would be better off if more went into teaching and teaching reources; or encouraging graduates in areas of skills shortages, as National has suggested doing by writing off a portion of student loans for each year medical graduates work as rural GPs.

Tall puppy syndrome grounds top dog


Australia’s wonder dog Riley  has won the past three Casterton Kelpie Musters’ high jump but the spring-heeled kelpie has been banned from this year’s event.

The festival committee has ruled Riley is too much of a good thing and has slapped a ban on his high jump exploits. Riley’s owner Clare O’Callaghan said the ban was incredibly un-Australian.

“They are persecuting Riley, penalising him for something he loves and does well,” she said.

“It’s tall poppy syndrome.”

Shouldn’t that be tall puppy?

The rule was introduced after O’Callaghan and Riley made it a hat trick in the high jump at this year’s Muster, which was held last month. Riley finished first equal after two successive outright wins.

Association president Rod James said any dog that won the same event three times would not be eligible to compete again in that event and Riley would instead be recognised in a Kelpie Hall of Fame.

“It just spoils the competition if it’s dominated by the same dog,” James said.

O’Callaghan said the hall of fame was “just a sweetener for their unfair decision”.

At last month’s muster Riley tied with Geoff Burling’s dog Rosie by jumping 2.625metres, well short of Riley’s record 2.91 metres.

Melbourne kelpie enthusiast Robyn Grant said the event’s highlight was Riley’s performance and the ban was “totally unfair”.

Murray Davis, whose dog placed third against Riley in the event, said he enjoyed competing against the top dog.

“If Riley is good enough to win, he should be able to win as many times as he likes,” Davis said.

Sounds like the organisers are barking up the PC tree.

NBR recruits Farrar


David Farrar, the man behind kiwiblog , has been recruited by the NBR  as a contributer to NBR Online.

He will be writing a weekly Dispatch from Helengrad.  The paper has reserved the right to change the title to Dispatch from St Johnnysburg should circumstances necessitate it 🙂

MIAG has numbers for merger meetings


The Meat Industry Action Group has the shareholder numbers to force Alliance Group and Silver Fern Farms to call special general meetings and discuss a merger.

MIAG wants an independently-chaired joint working party to look at consolidation.

Group spokesman John Gregan said the proposed PGG-Wrightson purchase of 50% of Silver Fern Farms would have no impact on his group’s ultimate plan of creating an entity to handle 80% of New Zealand’s red meat procurement and processing.

The meetings were unlikely to be called until after September’s vote by Silver Fern Farms’ shareholders on the proposal to merge with PGG-Wrightson.

Alliance Group chairman Owen Poole said he had meetings planned with shareholders next month to discuss his company’s strategic plan and would not consider holding a special meeting until after those talks.

SFF chief executive Keith Cooper said the board would meet next week and consider the action group’s proposition.

Mr Gregan did not have any problem with delaying the special meetings, saying having them after the PGG-Wrightson-Silver Fern Farms vote would make the situation clearer.

A “no” vote by shareholders would add to the pressure to get the two co-operatives talking. A “yes” vote meant the industry still needed consolidation, he said.

The detail of the resolutions was still being worked on with the meat companies. Mr Gregan said another remit would try to ensure the committee reached a decision.

“It is all very well telling them to get around the table, but we need some teeth . . . we need to give the chairman some ability to make them toe the line.”

This presupposes the working party will conclude a merger is the best option. 

It also ignores the legal requirement for directors to do what is in the best interests of their companies so no matter what the working party concludes unless it is in the best interests of each company it will not be acted on.

Otago business pioneers in Hall of Fame


Two Otago business pioneers were inducted into the Business Hall of Fame last night.

Sir George Fenwick (1847 – 1929) and Shariffe Coory (1866 – 1950) were given posthumus awards.

Previously, the hall of fame had only a virtual presence, but yesterday its new home on a 12m wall at the Owen G Glenn building at the University of Auckland was officially unveiled, followed by a gala dinner hosted by Governor-General Anand Satyanand.

The Coorys were among the first Lebanese to emigrate to Australia where they employed 1500 people in their wholesale and manufacturing business before selling and moving to Dunedin in 1892.

One of Mrs Coory’s great gransons, Malcolm Farry said that she she worked hard to break down barriers and did philanthropic work with the Lebanese community. She set up a workshop where Lebanese women made shirts and aprons for hawkers to sell; and also invested in property.

One of her greatest gifts was passing on her belief in entrepreneurship and “she had a significant influence on her grandchildren”, he said.

Her success is even more notable given that female entrepreneurship was even more of an achievement in her day.

Sir George came to Otago with his family in 1856 and took up a printing apprenticeship with The Otago Witness when he was 12. He later joined the Otago Daily Times and eventually owned both papers.

He edited the ODT from 1890-1909.co-founded the New Zealand Press Association in 1878; founded the Otago SPCA in 1882, the first in the country and was knighted in 1919.

The Hall of Fame, which is sponsored by Fairfax Media,  is a good way to recognise business success which doesn’t usually get the same recognition as sporting and artistic achievements.

Orchardists on frost alert as buds move early


Central Otago orchardists  are anxiously watching their trees and the weather because buds are starting to move early which puts them at risk of frost damage.  

McIntosh’s Orchard owner Wayne McIntosh said buds on his trees at Earnscleugh were starting to move, although he was not worried about his crop yet.

“The bud movement is about four or five weeks ahead of last year, but it depends on what the temperatures are like this month. No-one knows what will happen. It’s just part of the variation of growing fruit,” he said.

Mr McIntosh said if buds continued to move early, orchardists would have to be aware of the possible need for extensive frost-fighting.

“Our objective is to frost-fight as little as possible, but you have to take whatever measures are necessary. It is no cause for alarm just yet, but we are aware of the precautions we might need to take,” he said.

At Rob’s Rural Market in Earnscleugh, some of the orchard’s apricot buds have turned red.

Owner Harry Roberts said he had seen early bud-moving before, and the next three weeks would tell what was in store for the crop.

“Some of our buds are quite red, which means they have broken the bud and are showing the petal cover already. It could be a problem if we get a cold August, but it’s still early days,” he said.

Mr Roberts said this winter had been wetter than usual and ground moisture could aid the crop.

“It pushes up humidity, which lessens the severity of frosts.”

In parts of his orchard, apricot trees were developing at different paces due to their position on the block.

Trees higher up or next to geographical features which trapped warm air pockets were developing as they would in spring, while lower down, where cool air sat, trees presented typical winter growth.

Cold winters enhance the flavour of Central fruit, but frosts at the wrong time can decimate whole crops.

SFF calls meeting with Silverstream meatworkers


Silver Fern Farms has called a meeting today of 300 workers at its Silverstream lamb cutting plant near Mosgiel, but the Otago Daily Times  understands the plant is not going to close.

Up to 300 people work at the North Taieri plant in the peak of the season, and while the exact nature of the meeting was not clear last night, its immediate future appeared secure.

Meatworkers union officials were in the dark as to the nature of the meeting, but were confident the former Fortex meat plant would not close. SFF chief executive Keith Cooper declined to comment.

The plant processes and packages lamb carcasses from SFF works at Waitane (near Gore), Finegand (near Balclutha) and Pareora (near Timaru) for shipment to international markets and has been fitted out with some of the latest robotic technology.

New Zealand Meat Workers Union Otago president Daryl Carran had no idea what was in store at today’s meeting.

“I’m not sure what we’re expecting. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Workers were nervous given SFF had embarked on Project Right Size, which aligned processing capacity with livestock supply and looked at the way the company did business.

The project has seen the company quit some non-strategic assets, such as part ownership of its Dunedin head office and overseas businesses and offices, and the closure of deer processing plants at Burnside and the Waikato, the Oringi sheep meat plant in the Hawkes Bay and a lambskin processing business in Balclutha.

Plant closures have so far resulted in the loss of more than 600 positions, but Mr Cooper has said the project was coming to an end.

$728m student election bribe


The country is facing recession, galloping inflation, the public cupboard is nearly bare and Labour is considering a $728 million student election  bribe to give students a universal allowance.

 The policy would enable about 47,000 fulltime students now ineligible for an allowance to receive taxpayer support and would be the biggest single boost to student incomes since the allowance scheme began.

Tertiary Education Minister Pete Hodgson said yesterday that in January this year he instructed Education Ministry officials to cost a universal student allowance.

But the subsequent paper produced by officials “should not be construed as a signal the Government intends to introduce such a policy”.

“The paper was prepared in order to get a better understanding of what the real costs of a universal student allowance would be,” he said.

The paper shows that removing income tests on the allowance and providing it to all fulltime students would cost a total of $2.09 billion over four years.

The net extra cost of such a plan is $728 million after the existing costs of the scheme are removed, along with a forecast plunge in borrowing under the student loans scheme that might accompany such a plan.

There are inequities in the current scheme which is based on parents’ incomes. But a universal allowance is not the most pressing need in an overstretched education system.  

Students have long campaigned for a universal allowance and such a scheme is party policy for both NZ First and the Greens. UnitedFuture backs extending allowance payments to all students aged 20 and over.

The students campaign has been based on several misaprehensions including their claim that they are the only ones who have to borrow to live.

Many people in owner-operator businesses borrow to live. Dairy farmers receive monthly payments but sheep, beef and cropping farmers pay for all their inputs then wait months to get any income, borrowing seasonal finance to get them through until they sell their stock, wool or crop.

It is understood Labour has also considered increasing the allowance to as much as $350 a week, but this has been ruled out as too expensive.

And $728m is not too expensive?

A universal allowance would echo Labour’s king-hit, interest-free student loans policy in the 2005 election campaign, which was credited with turning around the party’s polling and sending thousands of voters to Labour.

Only 57 per cent of students receive the allowance, which is $122 a week for those under 25 and living at home, $153 a week for those living away from home, and $184 for those aged over 25.

That is because the allowance is means-tested on personal income and, for students under 25, their parents’ income.

It is ridiculous that people under 25 can claim a benefit regardless of parental circumstances while students needs are judged on their parents’ income. But why not lower the age to which students have their allowances set by what their parents earn and offset the cost by increasing the age at which beneficiaries are regarded as independent?

Measures announced in this year’s Budget included a 10 per cent increase in the parental income threshold, lowering the age for parental income testing to 24 and increasing the amount students can borrow for living costs from the student loans scheme by $5 to $155.

Under Labour, the number and value of allowances paid to students have continued to fall.

Ministry documents show that since 2001 the number of students eligible for an allowance has plummeted by 32 per cent as parents’ incomes have risen sharply, pushing many above the threshold for the allowance.

There could be a case for raising the parental income threasholds.
 A study by market researcher TNS Conversa revealed average student debt has risen by 54 per cent since 2004 and is now $28,838.

 The ministry says a universal allowance would lead to a substantial reduction in borrowing under the loans scheme.

No doubt it would but that still doesn’t justify spending $728m to do it when the case for universal allowances is far from compelling and there are many more pressing needs for the money.

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