Rural round-up

August 10, 2018

Who cares about farmers? NZ needs them around – Anna Campbell:

Buzzwords and trendy phrases have a wave-like cycle.

When you first hear a phrase, your ears prick up, but you don’t necessarily take it in. When you next hear the phrase, you start to register its meaning and context. A few more hearings and the phrase becomes embedded – perhaps you use it yourself. The end of the phrase-cycle starts when the buzzword or phrase is used so often, it loses meaning and starts to irritate.

There are some tired words and phrases that have started to irritate me recently, so I hope this means they are ending their wave, or at least I stop using them – ”ripe for disruption” and ”social licence to farm” are two such examples. In their defence, such phrases come about because they are pithy, topical and represent something worth exploration.

Talking about buzzwords is really my way of introducing my growing irritation at the concept of farmers requiring a ”social licence to farm”. The phrase has come about because there is a realisation in the agri-community we need to improve some of our practices and provide evidence of such changes on the back of a growing rural-urban divide (another term starting to irritate me), food scares and a requirement for transparency around food production. . . 

Canines have nose for the job – Yvonne O’Hara:

A request from beekeepers in Canterbury led a Dunedin dog trainer to become a key element in the fight against the devastating bee disease American foulbrood.

Rene Gloor, of Rene Gloor Canine Ltd, is originally from Switzerland and has spent the past 30 years training dogs to detect many odours.

His dogs were used to detect biosecurity risks, including fruit, plants, meat, seeds, eggs and reptiles, for the Ministry of Primary Industries.

Since leaving MPI, he has set up his own business and worked in Taiwan, Korea and other Asian countries for the past eight years. . . 

Mycoplasma bovis compensation is a mixed bag with big delays and lots of angst – Keith Woodford:

The complexities of Mycoplasma bovis compensation are causing much angst both for MPI and farmers. Simple claims are being dealt with in a matter of weeks. More complex cases get stuck.  Unfortunately, most cases are complex.

The easiest cases for MPI should be where farmers have dairy beef.  Once the farms are ‘depopulated’, to use the official term, it is a painstaking but straight forward process of disinfection and then clearance some 60 days later.  Replacement dairy beef animals should be easy to find, although of course there is a risk of reinfection if bad choices are made. . . 

Collaboration tackling bee disease – Yvonne O’Hara:

Beekeepers and dogs are joining forces to combat the devastating American foulbrood (AFB), the beekeeping industry’s equivalent of foot-and-mouth disease.

If a new research project is successful, tools and tests may be developed that might eliminate the disease, commercial apiarist Peter Ward says.

The Southern Beekeepers Discussion Group has been given $143,000 from the Sustainable Farming Fund to develop and trial new tools to detect AFB. . . .

Why it’s okay to stick with meat and dairy – Lyn Webster:

I was cutting up a dead cow for the dogs and as my knife slid through the rich red meat which will provide days and days of dense nutrition, my thoughts turned to the prophesied meat- and dairy-free future we all face.

We are being led to believe that our future food lies not in the farmed animals which have provided us with life for generations but in engineered plant-based food and laboratory food grown from stem cells.

The fallout from this in New Zealand appears to be a mass exodus of support for the farmers who provide the food and a lean towards veganism and an attitude amongst some young people (the millennials, who apparently drive the buying decisions) that somehow vilifying (dirty) farmers and investing in these supposedly “clean” foods will somehow be the saving of the planet. . . 

Living Water: new approach delivering results:

The innovative mindset of the Living Water programme is delivering new approaches and tangible results for freshwater, biodiversity, farmers and communities.

Living Water is a 10-year partnership between Fonterra and the Department of Conservation that brings farmers, scientists, councils, communities and Mana Whenua together to identify and implement solutions that will enable farming, fresh water and healthy eco-systems to thrive side by side.

Dairy farming is central to New Zealand’s economy, but how we are farming is having an impact on our lowland freshwater ecosystems. Our streams, lakes, rivers, lagoons and coastal estuaries are being impacted by high levels of nutrients, sediment, effluent and other pollutants. This has resulted in freshwater ecosystems being reduced and degraded and that is where Living Water comes in. . . 

NFU warns net zero emissions goal could make UK farmers ‘uncompetitive‘ – Abi Kay:

The NFU has warned a net zero emissions goal being pursued by the Government could make UK farmers ‘uncompetitive’.

The union’s deputy president, Guy Smith, made the remarks after a cross-party group of more than 100 MPs wrote to the Prime Minister to urge her to back the target.

In the letter, the MPs said the UK should become one of the first countries to set the goal in law, citing a recent poll by Opinium which showed 64 per cent of adults agreed emissions should be cut to zero over the next few decades. . .

 


Property rights don’t discriminate

July 23, 2018

The headline says  Controversial TV star expects millions to give public access to South Island station.

Taxpayers could be forced to pay millions of dollars in compensation to disgraced TV host Matt Lauer to guarantee public access to his high country station.

Lauer has partly opened up Hunter Valley Station to the public, complying with conditions set by the Overseas Investment Office when he bought the farm last year.

But the Department of Conservation and the Walking Access Commission are now pushing for unfettered access for trampers, hunters and tourists to a 40km unsealed, lakefront road that runs through the property.

That’s likely to cost taxpayers – with Lauer threatening court action and refusing to waive compensation.​

The Walking Access Commission has applied to the Commissioner of Crown Lands for an easement (or right of way) over the track, which runs along Lake Hawea. The Commission is balking at paying big money to “a very wealthy American with a tarnished reputation”, official documents say.

Property rights don’t depend on the person who owns it, their nationality or their wealth.  They don’t discriminate.

Lauer’s company Orange Lakes Ltd owns the lease to the $13 million, 6500-hectare property – but the Crown still owns the land. It would mark a legal first if an easement was granted against the wishes of a lessee. 

Lauer is legally entitled to be compensated for the easement – and Federated Farmers has swung its support behind him, fearful of the precedent if he were forced to grant access for free.  . . 

The headline would have been more accurate had it been: pastoral lessee expects compensation for loss of  property rights.

But most people don’t understand pastoral leases, tenure review and the attendant property rights.

Keith Woodford explains them in a post headlined high country tenure and the right to quiet enjoyment:

. . .The idea that it is all a big rip-off is now firmly embedded in the public psyche.  Supposedly, the officials have messed it up under both National and Labour led governments, selling off our birth-rights to access these so-called public lands. Even worse, those benefits have at times accrued to foreigners.

Missing from the debate has been an understanding of New Zealand land law, and the powerful bundle of rights held by leasehold runholders. In particular, runholders hold blocking rights which, in perpetuity, prevent the public from accessing their leased lands.

Under a pastoral lease, the crown owns the land exclusive or improvements. All improvements, including soil fertility, pasture, fences and buildings, and the rights any private property owner has to exclude the public are the lessees’.

Rectifying this situation, and bringing fragile mountain lands into the conservation estate, has been a major driver for land-tenure reform.  Gaining public access via reserves and covenants to some of the lower country adjacent to the big South Island lakes has also been important.

The way this has been done is via a trade-off. Runholders give up all of their rights to some areas, typically the high country, with additional rights given to them for other areas. The balance of transferred land rights then determines the net payment in either direction to ‘square things off’. . . 

If the value of the land and accompanying rights lessees surrender is less than what they gain, they pay the crown, if what they surrender is of greater value than what they retain, the crown pays them.

The distinctive characteristic of land ownership is that there are multiple forms of tenure, each with its own ‘bundle of rights’. Whereas the general public thinks that freehold tenure is ‘ownership’ and that leasehold tenures are ‘not ownership’, this is not what the law says. Underlying all of the land tenures is the notion that the ‘Crown’, on behalf of all of us, has power as to what can and cannot be done with the land. . . 

A key right within the leasehold bundle is the right to ‘quiet enjoyment’.  It gives leaseholders an absolute right to exclude the general public from that land, and to on-sell that right to future leaseholders. It means the public can be locked out in perpetuity. That exclusion relates not only to the high country, but to accessing, via runholder land, the shores of the big South Island lakes.

In some respects, this access situation is not greatly different to access rules between a tenant and the freehold owner of a suburban house. Although the landlord holds freehold title, this landlord has no right to have a picnic on the front lawn. If the landlord wishes to inspect the property, then prior notification is required.

There is a misconception that size makes a difference to access. But the right to privacy on, and the quiet enjoyment of, property is the same whether it’s a town section of a few hundred square meters, or a farm of many thousands of hectares.

It’s not just a matter of privacy, it is also a matter of safety. Farms are working businesses. For the sake of their stock, and the safety of visitors, farmers have the right to say who can access their property.

These rights to quiet enjoyment have been greatly underplayed in public discourse. As a result, a key feature of tenure review, being the opening up of our mountain lands to all of us, and accessing the shores of the big lakes, has also been underplayed.

In part, the underplaying has been because experts coming from overseas have not appreciated the rights which are specific to New Zealand law. For example, it is a very different situation than exists either in England, where there is ‘rights to roam’ legislation, and also very different to the public-access rights within America’s so-called public lands.

There are calls here for the ‘right to roam’ but the experience of farmers in the UK where it operates gives plenty of ammunition for farmers here to fight to retain their property rights.

Way back in 1948 at the time of the relevant Land Act, access by the public to these New Zealand mountain lands would not have seemed important. Even in the 1960s when I started my own tramping and mountaineering journeys amongst our mountain lands, those of us with such interests were very much in the minority.

In those days, if we wished to travel across runholder land we would simply call in at the homestead – a somewhat grand term for what were often in those days very simple houses – and ask permission. It was never refused.

Over time, the friendly relationship between runholders and walkers has changed.  The number of walkers has greatly increased. And so, more and more runholders have applied their legal right of quiet enjoyment, blocking out the rest of us.

If you have a very few hundred people visiting your property the small minority of trouble makers is tiny. When many thousands are visiting the proportion of trouble makers might be small but the number and the problems they cause are bigger.

Within the public discourse, there have also been elements of what I call ‘noble cause corruption’.  This is where a noble cause leads to information being miscommunicated, either consciously or subconsciously, to buttress the noble cause.

In the case of high country land tenure, the miscommunication has been to ignore the legal rights relating to quiet enjoyment.  Whereas the officials administering the tenure process have to work within the law and take account of the respective bundle of rights, the media is not so constrained.

This has meant that the media has been able to highlight a story of freehold rights for the lower country being granted to the runholders for an apparently small price, without making it clear that it is actually only the balance between perpetual lease rights and freehold rights that the Crown has sold. In essence, the Crown’s freehold rights were to collect a modest annual rental from the leaseholder and not much more. In contrast, when some runholders, now with freehold rights, chose to on-sell the property, they were actually selling the combined rights including their prior perpetual access and use rights.

Those rights belonged to the lessee not the government. Any owner, regardless of nationality or wealth has a right to be compensated should they surrender or lose them.

For more not his issue see:

How leasehold values have influenced high country reform.

Who owns the high country?

AndDepartment of COnservatio

Last of the Southern Man


What if you don’t have a power bill?

June 29, 2018

This is an extraordinary admission from a minister:

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage today told the Environment Select Committee that her key achievement in office is requiring New Zealanders who go tramping to carry power bills to prove to DOC rangers that they are kiwis, National’s Conservation Spokesperson Sarah Dowie says.

“This is outrageous. New Zealanders have an expectation that they have open access to the great outdoors. Instead, Ms Sage expects when we pack our tramping bags – we will remember to include our latest power bill,” Ms Dowie says. . . 

What happens to the many of us who don’t have power bills in our names?

Our bill is addressed to the farm not my farmer and me.

That will apply to a lot of people whose business is also their home.

But it’s not only home-based business people who won’t have power bills addressed to them.

Children, including adults, who live with their parents are unlikely to be the bill addressee; not all couples have bills in both their names and accounts for flats could well be addressed to one or some rather than all of the flatmates.

There could be a case for charging overseas tourists to access National Parks, but requiring us to carry a power bill when tramping isn’t the best way to sort the local sheep from the touring goats.


Rural round-up

June 25, 2018

Mycoplasm bovis can transfer to sheep, goats, deer, pigs and poultry – Keith Woodford:

Currently, there is a fervent ‘behind-the-scenes’ debate as to whether eradication of Mycoplasma bovis from New Zealand is feasible.

It is well over a month, possibly close to two months, since the international Technical Advisory Group (TAG) voted six to four in favour of eradication being feasible. This would have been based on information supplied to them by MPI and assessed over a telephone hook-up. New evidence since then provides further complexity and concerns.

First, there is extensive evidence from overseas that Mycoplasma bovis can transfer between species and that it can infect sheep, goats, pigs, deer and even poultry. Strictly speaking, this is not new evidence as it was sitting there all along in the scientific literature and easily found. However, the implications of this within the New Zealand environment have not been considered to date. . .

A killer worse than M bovis – Nigel Malthus:

A cattle disease prevalent on 100% of New Zealand farms is much more serious than Mycoplasma bovis, a veterinarian says.

Lincoln University Dairy Farm veterinarian Chris Norton told farmers at a recent focus day there that though M. bovis dominates the news, another disease — Johne’s — affects more farms and kills more cattle.

Johne’s was discovered first in Taranaki 100 years ago in one cow, Norton said. . . 

DoC explains game export process – Tim Fulton:

Deer and other game animal products are getting a new export process and the Department of Conservation (DOC) is trying to ensure exports aren’t stopped at foreign ports because of it.

Japanese border authorities last month stopped a New Zealand velvet exporter’s shipment at an airport because they did not recognise DOC’s approach to certifying legally hunted and farmed game animals.

DOC has been issuing certificates of export for deer, tahr and chamois products.

A new form letter from DOC director general Lou Sanson will list seven species of introduced deer plus Himalayan tahr, chamois and possums. 

They are introduced species that can be legally hunted and exported as trophies, velvet, fur and meat. . . 

Nats out building rural bridges – Annette Scott:

Life is not going to get easier anytime soon for rural New Zealanders, National Party leader Simon Bridges told a meeting of 300 people in Ashburton.

Bridges, as part of his Connecting with Communities regional roadshow, said increased intervention in people’s everyday lives and policies that will make it harder for regional businesses to operate are becoming reality under the Labour-led Government.

And changes to industrial relations law will directly affect regional economies.

The big increase in the minimum wage and amendments to the 90-day employment trial were prompting employers to think twice about taking on new staff. . . 

Nominations Documents Ready for 2018 Fonterra Board of Directors’ Election:

Nominations for the Fonterra Board of Directors’ Election open Friday, 6 July with an election to be held for three farmer-elected Directors.

This year John Wilson, Ashley Waugh and Nicola Shadbolt retire by rotation. They may all stand for re-election if they wish – none have announced their intentions at this stage. . .

Record entries for Hawke’s Bay Young Fruitgrower competition:

Eight of Hawke’s Bay’s top young horticulturists will face off in the Hawke’s Bay Young Fruitgrower of the Year competition in Napier on Thursday 28 and Friday 29 June.

This year’s entrants are:
Lisa Arnold, orchard operations assistant at Bostock NZ
Tom Dalziel, foreman at Mr Apple NZ
Ryan Gittings, York Group assistant manager at Sunfruit Orchards Ltd
Wade Miller, leading hand at Bostock NZ
Luke Scragg, senior leading hand at T&G
Philip Siagia, general orchard hand at Mr Apple NZ
Anthony Taueki, foreman at Mr Apple NZ
Lincoln Thomson, assistant manager at Sunfruit Orchards Ltd

Critical elements to maintain member loyalty in co-operatives :

To fully engage the members of co-operative and mutual enterprises, managers and directors of CME’s must understand their members wear four hats when engaging with their co-operative, according to a study conducted by researchers from The University of Western Australia.

The study analysed three Australian producer co-operatives including Co-operative Bulk Handling Ltd (CBH), Murray Goulburn Co-operative (MGC), and Geraldton Fisherman’s Co-operative Ltd (GFC), and examined the nature of member commitment and loyalty in co-operative and mutual enterprises (CMEs).

Professor Tim Mazzarol from UWA’s Business School and Institute of Agriculture says directors and managers of CME’s should recognise that members do wear multiple hats with which they engage with the enterprise. These hats are Investor, Patron, Owner and Community Member. . . 


Rural round-up

May 16, 2018

Outbreak response criticised – Sally Rae:

The Ministry for Primary Industries has not been ”up to the job” when it comes to dealing with the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak, Federated Farmers national board member Miles Anderson believes.

Speaking at Otago Federated Farmers’ annual meeting in Balclutha yesterday, Mr Anderson said he was a ”bit disappointed” in MPI’s response.

Once the outbreak was dealt with, industry needed to have a debriefing with MPI and work out how improvements could be made. ”It’s currently not acceptable the way it’s going,” he said.

There were people with neighbouring properties that were infected who had not been informed, while there were other farmers who had cattle of interest to MPI who were unaware of that.

Communication needed to be worked on initially, Mr Anderson said. . .

Mycoplasma bovis: the ground has shifted with a megathrust – Keith Woodford:

Events of recent days demonstrate that eradication of Mycoplasma bovis from New Zealand is no longer a realistic option. The Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) is scrambling to get its messaging together. New strategies are now needed.

As I write this on 13 May, the MPI website still refers in its text material to 38 infected properties. But the latest version of the infection map from MPI tells a very different story (see below).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is apparent from comments by BioSecurity NZ Chief Roger Smith to a Parliamentary Committee on 10 May, that the sudden growth in infected and suspected infected properties has come as a big surprise. That may well be so to the Wellington officials, but it will be much less of a surprise to those who have been working closer to the cows. . .

Guy Trafford says although MPI are slow to accept it, containment of MPB is the future with a long-term eradication plan as was used with TB. That will change dairying:

There is consensus from every-one, except perhaps MPI, is that the mycoplasma bovis has bolted and probably had some time ago.

This whole episode has been hampered by things not working as well as they should have. Somehow the disease got in when it shouldn’t have been able.

NAIT was shown to be very deficient from farmers using it through to MPI administrating it.

The testing processes despite earlier assurances still appears not to be able to provide the accuracy required to be able to make decision that affect whole families lives and livelihoods. . . 

Hunt on for rogue Northland wallaby – Andrew McRae:

High-tech surveillance equipment and two tracking dogs have been called in after a wallaby was spotted in South Hokianga.

Staff from Northland Regional Council and the Department of Conservation (DOC) and Te Roroa iwi members are scouring about 500 hectares of farmland and native bush.

Council biosecurity manager Kane McElrea said a person had seen a wallaby on at least two separate occasions at their Waimamaku property in recent months, but did not initially appreciate the potential significance of the sightings. . .

Browns win gold for sustainability:

Matamata farmers Edward (Wynn) and Tracy Brown are the inaugural winners of the Fonterra Farm Source Responsible Dairying Award.

The award was presented at the NZ Dairy Industry Awards (NZDIA) in Invercargill last Saturday.

The Browns are considered leaders within the dairy industry, in all areas of sustainability, business and farm management, as well as in the way they give back to the industry and community. . . 

Duncans scoop Share Farmer of the Year title –  Sudesh Kissun:

Northland farmers Daniel and Gina Duncan are the 2018 Share Farmers of the Year. 

The former registered land valuers are 50:50 sharemilkers for the Pouto Topu A Trust. The 460ha property on the Pouto Peninsula,at the northern head of Kaipara Harbour, milks 1020 cows.

The Duncans finished top in three of the nine judging categories, winning the PrimaryITO Interview Award, Ravensdown Pasture Performance Award and Westpac Business Performance Award at the awards night in Invercargill. . .

Call for extra focus on tax treatments – Yvonne O’Hara:

Farming employers and employees are being urged to talk more about tax and benefit allowances, Federated Farmers manager general policy Nick Clark says.

Inland Revenue is consulting on the question of what the tax treatments should be for allowances paid and benefits provided to farm workers, and people have until Friday to make a submission.

Mr Clark said benefits allowances covered things such as boarding school fees, while reimbursement allowances were given for things such as wet weather gear and dogs. . . 


Farmers want Molesworth to stay as farm

April 18, 2018

Farmers want the country’s biggest farm Molesworth Station to stay as a farm.

. . .The Department of Conservation started an online survey on the future of Molesworth Station, between Marlborough and Canterbury, in January to gauge public appetite for a radical rethink of the farm.

The survey follows up a 2013 management plan for the 180,000-hectare Molesworth, about the size of Stewart Island, which looked to move the station away from its traditional farming focus to include more recreation and conservation activities.

But Molesworth neighbour Steve Satterthwaite, of Muller Station, said getting rid of farming could create “major ramifications” for the environment.

“As far as Molesworth is concerned, I believe it should continue to be farmed and there’s plenty of reasons as to why,” he said.

Without farming, there could be pest problems and weed issues, as well as a huge fire risk, Satterthwaite said.

Weeds, pests and fires don’t observe farm boundaries.

Any weed and pest management and fire prevention measures farmers do can be nullified if their neighbours aren’t doing their best too.

It was concerning the public could weigh in on the future of the Molesworth and potentially “sway” what happened with the station, he said.

“It really concerns me that unaffected people that have no knowledge of the utilisation of Molesworth and the risk associated with not farming it can potentially have the input to sway the politicians or the decision-makers because of their numerical numbers,” he said.

“We are in the east of dry land zones, and if the fuel was allowed to be completely uncontrolled and public have unlimited access, the risk of a major fire in that environment would be one that would need to be considered seriously.” . . 

Middlehurst Station farmer Susan Macdonald said she would like to see farming at the station continue, with the possibility of providing a little more public access.

She said it was “important” for farming at the station to continue for pest and weed reasons.

“I would like to see it continue to be farmed in harmony with the environment and in harmony with people.

“There’s a lot of land there and I think it’s got a huge value in terms of agriculture.” . . 

J Bush & Sons Honey co-owner Murray Bush said the “status quo” needed to continue into the future.

“I think there is a good balance between public access and farming but not having farming would actually make the property go backwards, I believe, and then it wouldn’t have that same appeal to the public,” he said.

Bush said allowing public access to the station year-round could create a safety risk.

“If you open the road 52 weeks of the year and let people just do what they want … if it was never closed and it was open, there’s no communication up there so unless there’s millions and millions and millions of dollars going to be spent on public access safety … it’s not an environment to be taken lightly,” he said.

“Unless you’re going to employ people on the ground 52 weeks of the year just to look after the tourists, it’s a real issue and I think people underestimate that environment.” . . .

The neighbours’ concerns about changing the balance between farming and access are valid.

The road through Molesworth is closed in winter and can be closed in summer if the fire risk rises.

That is necessary for public safety and to protect the environment.

Molesworth is farmed by Landcorp which makes a very small return on capital but income from the farm offsets the costs of weed and pest control, and grazing reduces the fire danger.

The station generates an income, looks after the environment and allows some public access.

If the area farmed is reduced the income will drop, even if DoC lets commercial concessions for access,  and costs will increase.

Molesworth is the country’s biggest farm and it should continue to be farmed.


Rural round-up

March 27, 2018

MPI cattle cull “the right thing” – Jono Edwards:

The  farming industry is viewing a Mycoplasma bovis cull of more than 22,000 cattle as a tragic necessity.

The Ministry for Primary Industries announced yesterday it would begin a cull of 22,332 cattle today on all infected sites after scientific testing and tracing confirmed the disease was not endemic.

It was working immediately with farmers to kill the stock on the 22 active infected properties which still contained cattle, it said.

The disease can cause pneumonia, abortions, lameness and mastitis and can result in the deaths of infected cows. . . 

Sheep goes for $8k at first NZ auction of Beltex ram lambs – Maja Burry:

About 300 people attended the first ever sale of Beltex ram lambs in New Zealand on Friday.

The Beltex, whose name combines Belgium and Texel, are a breed of muscle heavy sheep that have higher meat yield.

Beltex breeder Blair Gallagher said the interest around the inaugural sale, which was held at his mid-Canterbury farm was very positive.

On offer was 16 purebred Beltexes, 20 Beltex-Poll Dorsets, 18 Beltex-Suffolks and 10 Beltex Perendales. . .

Farmers given food for thought – Sally Rae:

Hakataramea Valley farmers have been given some food for thought with the suggestion they could market their products directly to consumers.

The idea was raised by Prof Keith Woodford during a field day at Waikora Station last week organised by the Hakataramea Sustainability Collective.

The collective, set up in 2016, comprises a group of farmers whose aim is to assist and encourage the protection and enhancement of the valley’s environment and promote profitable and sustainable farming practices for future generations. It has been working closely with the New Zealand Landcare Trust, Environment Canterbury, the Department of Conservation, Fish and Game, local iwi and the Waimate District Council to ensure a collaborative and cohesive approach. . . 

Thermal imaging reveal Tekapo pests predator – Kathy Guthrie:

When Sam Staley went to the Defence Force’s Tekapo Military Training Area back in 1996 to run the Military Camp and Training Area for a three year stint, one of the tasks at the time was pest control. Today, 22 years later, he’s still there, and so are some of the rabbits, but after two decades of the comprehensive rabbit control operation which Sam initiated, the rabbits are nothing like the problem they used to be on the 19,000 hectare military site.

“The training area is unique,” Sam says. “It’s a very special bit of dirt! It’s probably the most intensively managed, non-grazed piece of high country land in Canterbury. It includes unique and nationally threatened plants and native fauna like alpine weta, rare butterflies and moths and many endangered vertebrates such as the Mackenzie Basin skink.” . . 

Robots are trying to pick strawberries. So far they’re not very good at it – Dan Charles:

Robots have taken over many of America’s factories. They can explore the depths of the ocean, and other planets. They can play ping-pong.

But can they pick a strawberry?

“You kind of learn, when you get into this — it’s really hard to match what humans can do,” says Bob Pitzer, an expert on robots and co-founder of a company called Harvest CROO Robotics. (CROO is an acronym. It stands for Computerized Robotic Optimized Obtainer.)

Any 4-year old can pick a strawberry, but machines, for all their artificial intelligence, can’t seem to figure it out. Pitzer says the hardest thing for them is just finding the fruit. The berries hide behind leaves in unpredictable places. . . 

Dairy farmers plea for help after Dean Foods ends milk contracts –  Sarah Gisriel:

Sixteen percent of the nation’s dairy farms are in Pennsylvania, but that industry is in crisis.

Two weeks ago, life changed for 26 farmers in Lebanon and Lancaster counties.

“I went to the mail, and in it was a certified letter from Dean Foods,” said Alisha Risser, the owner and operator of an 80-cow farm.

The letter told farmers that Dean Foods was ending its contract by June 1, due to a market surplus of milk.

“It’s the most difficult thing we’ve ever had to do in our lifetimes. To get that notice, and your world is absolutely rocked,” said Kirby Horst, of Lynncrest Holsteins. . . 


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