Jury still out

November 14, 2013

Fonterra’s internal report on the  botulism scare was full and frank.

The company has said it will implement all 33 recommendations.

It must because as Federated Farmers chief executive Conor English told the international food safety conference,  food safety is New Zealand’s number one issue – and the botulism scare was damaging and a massive risk for the economy.

Mr English compared it to Christchurch’s February 2011 earthquake.

“The stuff that happened with Fonterra and the dairy industry is very like the earthquake … and if they can’t get, frankly, their s*** together so that they are better for it – then I think New Zealand’s in a lot of trouble.

“So I hope, that they do – but the jury’s out for me, to be honest.”

These are strong words.

The earthquake killed lots of people and in the end no lives were at risk from the contaminated why protein.

But a real health threat in any of our dairy products would have as devastating an impact as the earthquakes have.

Fonterra is our biggest exporter and the fallout from the botulism scare shows the damage goes much wider than the company when something goes wrong.

That it appears not to have done any lasting damage has been in spite of the company’s inept handling of the issue when it broke and in the immediate aftermath.

The director of Victoria University’s contemporary China research centre, Xiaoming Huang, said Fonterra’s problem was not as big a deal in China as it might appear from New Zealand.

Professor Huang said New Zealand food still has a very good reputation and believes the public over-reacted.

The Global Food Safety forum’s founder, Rick Gilmore, said time will tell if New Zealand’s response so far is the right one.

“Agricultural and ag exports are so important to the New Zealand economy, that you can’t afford to do otherwise. I think everybody recognises that. So my impression is that New Zealand has held on to its claim to be a food safety model.”

That’s reassuring but no excuse for complacency.


Rural round-up

November 9, 2013

Central Plains Water gets the green light from shareholders:

Thirteen years after it was first mooted, Central Plains Water Ltd (CPWL) Board have given approval for the giant scheme to become a reality after 90% of Stage I shareholders and over 72% of Stage II and III committed to the 60,000ha scheme.

For the scheme to progress it needed commitment for 18,000h of Stage I and 26,000 ha of Stage II and III. Both thresholds have been met fully by existing shareholders.

Chief executive Derek Crombie said that achieving this level of commitment from shareholders is testimony to the phenomenal dedication and hard work put in by so many over the years.

“I’m sure that there were many times when the hurdles seemed too great, so now all that is required is for the board to confirm our construction programme and to allocate shares,which should happen in the next week. To get this high level of uptake for the scheme from the existing shareholders is a fantastic result. This commitment ensures that the ownership remains local. We set a pretty high bar but are now delighted to say that we have managed to clear it,” he said. . .

First water released in irrigation scheme – Tony Benny:

The first water from the Rangitata South irrigation scheme is now available to some farmers as commissioning of the project, that will eventually irrigate 16,000 hectares between the Rangitata and Orari rivers and out to the coast, begins.
One of the project’s seven storage ponds on the south side of the Rangitata, near Arundel, is now 90 per cent full and water has been released into irrigation races to allow leak testing, part of a commissioning process that will take up to four months.

The seven ponds will hold a total of 16 million cubic metres of water, drawn from the Rangitata River when it’s in flood – a flow of more than 110 cumecs, enough to provide 30 days of irrigation storage. Farmer shareholders are also required to have an additional week of storage in their own ponds. . . .

Food safety forum to come to NZ for first time:

A number of food scares, including the botulism scare caused by Fonterra, has inspired the organisers of the Global Food Safety Forum to hold it in New Zealand for the first time.

“NZ has been caught out on a number of occasions and the dialogue and interaction will be focused on preventing further issues,” food integrity consultant Dr Helen Darling said.

The conference, to be attended by the 160 delegates from China, US and Australia, will look at emerging threats and ways to address them before they become a problem she said. . .

Challenges ahead in Ballance awards:

BALLANCE AWARDS organiser, the New Zealand Farm Environment (NZFE) Trust, is gearing up for another big year as it strives to help farmers face the challenges of the future.

NZFE chairman Alistair Polson said at the annual meeting that 2013 was a successful year for the trust’s flagship enterprise, the Ballance Farm Environment Awards (BFEA). Regional and national BFEA competitions, ceremonies and field days are popular and well supported.

Another highlight for the trust was the addition of the Taranaki region for 2014, bringing the number of regions involved in the BFEA competition to 10. “We hope to include the remaining regions in future.” . . .

Nelson peony venture blossoming – Tracy Neal:

Growing “big blousy flowers” for America is far from Georgia Richards’ early ambition to grow culinary herbs, but the peony venture is proving highly suited to the quiet block of Dovedale land she farms with partner Dot Kettle.

The business is blossoming in a new direction beyond export grade flowers, to one that utilises the benefits of peonies in soaps, skin creams and even tea blends.

The pair have just launched Dove River Peonies soaps and creams, which like many new creations, was driven by need. In their case it was the lack of any good skin products for their sons’ eczema that drove them to create a product specially for sensitive skins. With the help of Nelson firm Global Soap, the soap range was born combining powdered peony root in an olive oil base for sensitive skin, or citrus blends for an “indulgent” soap. . .

It’s blooming time for quality fruit – Farming Unlocked:

Regular readers of my blog will know that I do not particularly enjoy our cold winters. However as spring envelops us, the weather warms up and the sun’s rays soak into my skin and prise something open from within. My heart feels somehow warmer and I feel invigorated and alive.

This is mirrored in my surroundings. At this time of year, no matter which window I look out, I can see a mass of white apple blossom, contrasted against the lush, green of tender new growth. I find myself in an almost constant state of distraction, drawn to gaze out at the breathtaking beauty with a sense of wonderment and respect.

I find that I cannot adequately put into words the magnificent performance that the orchard puts forward at this time of year, so I will try to show it in pictures instead. . .


Rural round-up

October 3, 2013

Taranaki study backs landfarming science – Isobel Ewing:

An independent report on landfarming in Taranaki has vindicated the science behind the process, Taranaki Regional Council boss of environmental quality Gary Bedford says.

In a report commissioned by the council, soil scientist Doug Edmeades, of AgKnowledge Ltd in Hamilton, set out to see if landfarms in Taranaki were fit for pastoral farming, in particular dairy farming.

Dr Edmeades investigated soil fertility, heavy metal and barium concentrates and petrochemical residues in the soil at three landfarming sites in the region.

The report found that landfarming made sandy, coastal farmland ten times better for dairying.

“The process of landfarming these otherwise very poor soils, together with appropriate management has increased the agronomic value of the land from about $3000-5000/ha to $30,000-40,000/ha.” . .

Hardwood project promises billions – Jon Morgan:

When arsenic was found in the aquifer beneath Marlborough’s vineyards in 2003 it sent a shiver of fear through the region. The worry was that the deadly poison would find its way into the wine and sink the then-$400 million industry.

Research found the water source was naturally occurring arsenic and not a danger to health. But it also found arsenic in the soil – from thousands of tanalised pine posts.

A search began for an alternative post. It has taken 10 years, but the group formed to undertake the research and grow the wood – the New Zealand Dryland Forests Initiative – has reached a crucial stage.

Seven eucalypt species have been identified as having the ideal qualities. Seed has been collected, trials planted on farms throughout both islands and the best trees are starting to show.

At the same time, new markets far beyond the 450,000 posts a year needed for Marlborough vineyards alone have been discovered. . .

Forum Will Rebuild New Zealand’s Food Safety Image:

A Dunedin woman has accepted the challenge to help rebuild New Zealand’s food safety image.

Dr Helen Darling, a founder of a company which pioneers global food verification systems, is bringing up to 200 delegates to Otago to address the perception that New Zealand must improve its food safety standards.

The Global Food Safety Forum traditionally meets in Beijing but Dr Darling has persuaded the US based, not-for-profit organisation, to hold it in New Zealand from November 13-15.

A strong emphasis will be to consider and seek solutions to the next crisis before it occurs.

“With food safety, prevention is better than cure. We will look at emerging threats and ways to address them before they become a problem to our producers and for trade.” . .

Drought over but affects will linger:

While the drought of 2013 is now officially over, some farms, especially meat and fibre will see its aftermath linger for years to come.

“While the thankfully benign winter and spring has seen a most remarkable come back in terms of pasture, North Island sheep farmers in particular lost capital stock and quality genetics,” says Katie Milne, Federated Farmers Adverse Events Spokesperson.

“Not to mention their wool crop too. The shame being that it came at a time when wool seemed to be finding its feet

“After speaking to my colleague Jeannette MaxwellI, Federated Farmers Meat & Fibre Chairperson, it means we are looking at fewer lambs this year with speculation it could be upwards of three million. . .

Ready and relevant for 21st century: Lincoln University launches new land-based degree portfolio:

This week Lincoln University has marked a number of significant events. 

On Tuesday 1st October, the University launched its new portfolio of bachelor’s degrees – all of which are now focused on knowledge and expertise that creates careers in the land-based industries, globally.

The new portfolio retains flagships such as the Bachelor of Agricultural Science and Bachelor of Commerce (Agriculture), and introduces new degrees such as the Bachelor of Agribusiness and Food Marketing and the Bachelor of Environment and SocietyAll the new majors have a very clear focus on the land-based sector. 

“These changes reinforce what this University exists to do, which is to help feed the world, protect the future and live well.  Our reform has seen us reduce the number of majors within our degrees from 42 to 24 (43 percent).  We have narrowed our focus and deepened our capacity to be world class where it really counts, in the land-based industries,” says Professor Sheelagh Matear , Assistant Vice-Chancellor, Academic Programmes and Student Experience. . .

Westland trumps its big brother:

New Zealand’s second largest dairy cooperative, Westland Milk Products, has managed to beat Fonterra Cooperative Group with a $6.34 per kilogram of milk solids (kg/MS) payout before retentions.

“That 2012/13 season must rank as one of the weirdest we’ve had here on the Coast,” says Richard Reynolds, Federated Farmers West Coast Dairy chairperson.

“After a promising start, we had a summer flood which washed out bridges before a drought so severe some sections of our rivers like the Taramakau actually dried up.

“Despite all of this, Westland deserves credit for managing to make a surplus of $6.34 kg/MS. That compares to Fonterra’s $6.30 kg/MS before retentions.

“The difference in the final payout is due to Fonterra retaining 14 cents kg/MS while Westland retained 30 cents kg/MS. We are comfortable with what Westland is retaining despite it leaving us with slightly less cash in the hand at $6.04 kg/MS. . .

And the latest parody from Peterson Farm Bros:


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