Focus, former MPs bound to fail

01/12/2012

Quite why I was in parliament buildings in 1996 I can’t recall.

But I do remember being in the office of an MP with several others including Ross Meurant who had resigned from the National Party and formed the Right of Centre Party when his electorate disappeared with the introduction of MMP.

He told us he’d formed the party to give National a coalition partner. We told him it wouldn’t work.

We were right.

Since then he’s occupied himself in a variety of ways:

Meurant was elected onto the Rodney District Council in 1998. However, his time with the Rodney District Council was short-lived: the entire council was dissolved by the Minister of Local Government after an acrimonious relationship between the general manager and Meurant culminated in a split within the council.

Between 1999 and 2004 Meurant was engaged by parliamentary services as a part time adviser on agriculture, forestry, fishing and racing taxation policy to Winston Peters, . . .

He’s now on the board of another new party – Focus New Zealand (which was, until its first meeting last week, the New Zealand Rural Party).

Another ex-MP, Sandra Goudie is on the board with him.

She won the Coromandel seat from then-Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons, served three terms then had the good sense to announce she wouldn’t contest the seat last year.

That good sense has now deserted her.

If either of them had learned anything from their tenure as MPs they would be aware of the time, energy, money and members needed to run a party and win elections. They would also know they won’t succeed.

Perhaps they didn’t realise that when they were in parliament and if they did they can’t have shared it with their fellow board members among whom is  former Federated Farmers Dairy chairman Lachlan McKenzie.

They might attract some votes from the disenchanted and deluded. But unless they can work a miracle which no other new party without a sitting MP has managed Focus NZ will join the long list of wannabe MPs and parties that have come and gone without getting anywhere near parliament.


New section chairs for Feds

30/06/2011

When I saw the headline Dairy and Meat and Fibre groups gain new chair people I thought Federated Farmers was being a bit PC, but  people was correct in this case as one of the new chairs is a man and the other’s a woman.

Mt Hutt farmer Jeanette Maxwell was elected as Federated Farmers Meat and Fibre chair,  the first woman to hold this position. She replaces Bruce Wills who also stepped down. Willy Leferink is the new chairy for the dairy section, replacing Lachlan McKenzie who has stepped down.

The Dairy Vice-chairs are Robin Barkla and Andrew Hoggard. Michelle Riley and Kevin Robinson also elected to the executive.

Ciaran Tully continues as Sharemilkers section Chairperson.

Meat and Fibre section’s new vice-chair is Dugald McLean. Tim Mackintosh was re-elected to the executive with new members Will Foley and Lyn Neeson.


Three seek Feds’ vice-presidency

22/06/2011

Four men announced last week they are competing to replace retiring Federated Farmers’ president Don Nicolson and now three are vying for the vice-presidency:

“It is somewhat unprecedented to have four presidential nominations and now three for Vice-President,” says Conor English, Federated Farmers Chief Executive and Returning Officer.

“There is a considerable amount of interest in all elected positions. Given the Federation is a membership based organisation, this is a tangible demonstration of vitality and our strong democratic basis.

“It is believed to be the largest number of candidates seeking the two most senior elected offices in over 66 years of Federated Farmers modern history.

I hope that it is a demonstration of vitality because as I wrote last week this many people competing for the top jobs could also be a sign of division.

That wouldn’t be good for the Federation, its members and the wider rural sector who all need a united voice.

Presidential nominees are: Donald Aubrey of Ben McLeod Station, who is vice-president; Frank Brenmuhl of Christchurch, a former Federated Farmers dairy section chair; Lachlan McKenzie of Rotorua who is dairy spokesman; and Bruce Wills of Napier, current meat and fibre spokesman.

The three seeking the vice-presidency are Dr William Rolleston of Timaru, David Rose from Invercargill and Matamata’s Stewart Wadey.


Four candidates – sign of strength or division?

15/06/2011

Four men are vying to become Federated Farmers’ president when Don Nicolson retires at the end of the month.

“This will be the first contested election for the position of President since the early 1990’s,” says Conor English, Federated Farmers Chief Executive and Returning Officer.

“It is believed to be the largest number of candidates seeking the office of President in Federated Farmers history.

When so many voluntary organisations are struggling for members and finding people willing to become office holders is increasingly difficult, this could be seen as a sign of the organisation’s strength.

But it could also be a sign of division in the Federation.

I hope it’s not the latter. Farmers and the wider rural community need a strong and united voice and that requires an organisation focussed on issues of concern to members not one side-tracked by internal manoeuvring.

The nominees are: Donald Aubrey of Ben McLeod Station, who is vice-president;  Frank Brenmuhl of Christchurch, a former Federated Farmers dairy section chair; Lachlan McKenzie of Rotorua who is dairy spokesman;  and Bruce Wills of Napier, current meat and fibre spokesman.


Water makes us lucky

10/05/2011

When our average rainfall is about 20 inches and that can get down to not more than half that in a dry year we’re loathe to say we’ve had too much rain.

After an unusually wet start to the year and with something like May’s total rainfall coming in 12 hours last Saturday, we’re beginning to think we’ve had enough.

However, although a wet autumn happens now and then we know dry years are more common. We’ve enjoyed the respite from irrigation but it hasn’t stopped the work that’s going on further irrigation development which we know will be needed to insure against the worst effects of the next drought.

In light of this the government’s water policy package,  announced by Environment Minister Nick Smith and Agriculture Minister David Carter is very welcome.

It includes:

• A National Policy Statement on fresh water management to set a consistent, nationwide regulatory framework for setting water quantity and quality limits to govern the allocation and use of freshwater
• An Irrigation Acceleration Fund of $35 million over five years to support the development of irrigation infrastructure proposals to the ‘investment-ready’ prospectus stage which could unlock the economic growth potential of our primary sectors through the development of more efficient and effective water infrastructure, such as storage and distribution
• A Fresh Start for Fresh Water Clean Up Fund to assist councils with historic pollution problems with reprioritised funding of $15 million over two years, and a total clean-up programme commitment of $264.8 million
• The Government will also consider in a future Budget investing up to $400 million of equity in water infrastructure schemes.

Federated Farmers says the water policy, including storage, will cement New Zealand as the ‘lucky country’.

“This Government is serious about playing to New Zealand’s natural competitive advantage and that’s agriculture,” says Lachlan McKenzie, Federated Farmers co-spokesperson on water.

While Australia digs themselves up, we’re hard at work to convert our rainfall into renewable and sustainable food and fibre exports.  Water is behind everything we export and these exports directly pay for policing, doctors, nurses and teachers. 

“The $35 million investment in the Irrigation Acceleration Fund over five years shows how a modest investment in agriculture will yield long term results. 

“The Opuha Study showed that for every dollar invested in water storage, eight dollars was generated through the economy.  If you take that and add it to today’s announcement and future plans, you are talking about a multi-billion dollar uplift.

“The $35 million for the Irrigation Acceleration Fund is easily as significant for New Zealand’s economic development as the Government’s $40 million underwrite of the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund last August.  Except every dollar invested in agriculture goes a long, long way.

“It’s also a major vindication for Federated Farmers pushing water storage well before the Prime Minister’s 2009 jobs summit.  What we are talking about is a boost for jobs and a boost for the regional and national economy.

“The 2007/08 El Nino influenced drought cost the economy $2.8 billion and is now seen as the probable cause of the last recession.  Water storage provides a way to smooth out periods of low rainfall because what we are talking about, is storing from what naturally falls from the sky.

“But we are excited to see the Government openly talking about a potential $400 million worth of equity for the construction of regional-scale schemes that will encourage third-party capital investment.

“This is the first time in years we have seen Government grasp the enormous opportunity to future proof not just our agricultural industries but our towns and cities as well. 

“It’s significant because Government is willing to get off the side-lines given it’s an ideal form of a private-public partnership,” Mr McKenzie concluded.

Feds chief executive Conor English issued a statement earlier on the importance of water storage :

Water storage will enable “more fish and less drought” and build resilience into our economy and environment. In the city you don’t have to wait for the rain to fall before you have a cup of tea. In the city, we have access to water at the right place at the right time. In the city we store water, we bank it, we save it on a rainy day so we can use it when it isn’t raining. So why not do more of the same in the country?

It’s not that New Zealand is running out of water, it’s that water is running out of New Zealand.

The Greeks, Romans and Egyptians built their civilisations on water. We know from the Opua dam that the environment, recreational values, the economy and community spirit are all enhanced by using smart water storage strategies. I’ve yet to meet a fish that doesn’t like water 365 days a year.

Government studies of that project tell us that every 1000ha irrigated creates 27 jobs and injects $7.7 million into the local economy. With 30 potential projects covering around 1 million Ha up the eastern seaboard that’s about $7.5 billion extra revenue for the country each year, and 27,000 new jobs. Over a decade that’s $75 billion extra cash for the country, if all potential projects came to 100% fruition, which is unlikely however.

Irrigation has made a significant difference to the economic and social life in North Otago. Strict requirements for environmental farm plans, which are independently audited each year, help ensure that this doesn’t come at the cost of the environment.


Farmers aren’t creaming it

22/02/2011

It’s not difficult to find out the prices farmers receive for their produce. Unless they sell by private sale the price paid for milk, stock and crops is public information.

What those who criticise us of creaming it when prices are higher overlook is that the price is an indication of gross income only and takes no account of the costs of production and other necessary expenditure.

Many also forget that the price of dairy products or meat in the supermarket aren’t a very good indication of the returns to producers.

“The current high milk prices has many thinking that farmers must be creaming it but we’re not,” says Lachlan McKenzie, Federated Farmers Dairy chairperson.

“If you look at a litre of milk, the farmer’s share expressed as revenue, is about 300 mils.

“Most dairy farmers, myself included, got less than $0.60 for a litre of milk last season. From these 60 cents, we had to pay all the costs of production including, wages, vets, tax as well as paying the mortgage.

“A small number of dairy farmers are paid more for producing “winter milk”. There are a lot of extra costs running a dairy farm through winter but even they get only a small premium on a per litre equivalent.

“So if someone’s making a mint from milk, I’d suggest looking a lot closer at retail margins.

Fonterra’s decision to freeze the price of milk came as a surprise to farmers. I suspect it’s a PR exercise because the damage to the brand of ever rising prices was deemed to be greater than the cost of keeping it down.

The Visible Hand in Economics sounds a note of caution about this move:

Now if that is what they want to do, I’m sure they have good reason.  However, lets all remember one thing:  if Fonterra decides to sell milk in NZ more cheaply than it does overseas it is taking a litre of milk that would have been more highly valued by a non-New Zealander and giving it to a New Zealander.

 That transfers funds from the co-operative – and the farmers who own it – to domestic consumers. That’s okay if it’s done for commercial reasons but what happens when the freeze comes off?

Supermarkets have followed Fonterra’s lead by announcing they won’t raise prices anymore this year but they have the opportunity to offset the impact of that by increasing their mark up on something else.

This hasn’t stopped calls for price controls which Agriculture Minister David Carter, has sensibly resisted.

David Carter says he will not be advocating the subsidising of dairy products, because there is no reason to artificially establish pricing for any of the country’s export products.

Mr Carter says high international prices for export products are good and the benefits will ultimately flow through to all consumers.

High prices for dairy products is keeping the New Zealand dollar high. If it was lower it would increase the cost of imports including fuel, food and medicine and there’d be complaints about that too.

The problem isn’t the high price of the food we produce it’s low incomes and that won’t be solved by sabotaging the exports which are the key to economic recovery.


Bank the gains, budget conservatively

04/02/2011

When was the last time prices for lamb, wool, beef, milk and grain were all reasonable at the same time?

I can’t remember.

In the last decade or two if returns for one product was up the rest were usually down.

But this year, in spite of the high dollar, all commodities are receiving better prices.

Even Federated Farmers , is chirpy:

While appreciating commodity prices will be positive for the New Zealand economy, it is only part of the cost equation for goods for all farmers, whether you’re producing cheese or lamb.

“Global commodity prices are up. Whole Milk Powder (WMP) prices have doubled in the last 12 months, and butter is at 20 year highs because of constrained supply,” says Lachlan McKenzie, Federated Farmers Dairy chairperson.

“Wool and meat are also showing positive signs and the positive economic contribution of agriculture is benefiting every New Zealander, every day.

“These are sustainable prices because food is the new black. About 70 million people join the human race each year as the global population heads towards 6.9 billion.

“We are seeing strong price signals from the ANZ Commodity Price Index and from Fonterra’s GlobalDairyTrade auction yesterday.  Food is no longer a plentiful low cost good but is now starting to reflect the real cost of production and its scarcity.

Feds is warning there could be volatility ahead and advises farmers to bank the gains and budget conservatively.

If the grapevine in our area can be taken seriously, that is what most are doing. Memories of the crash from peak prices in 2006 are too fresh for anyone sensible to think what comes up can’t go down.

McKenzie also points out that higher prices are only part of the story.

“Farmers don’t get the retail shelf price. We have to meet the full cost of production and input costs are up. Last year dairy famers had on average only 70 cents profit out of the $6.10 milk price left over for debt, taxes and in dividends.

“It’s the compliance costs we have the least control over.  In the past year we’ve had increases in local authority rates, ACC levies and particularly the impact of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) on fuel and electricity.

“Dairy farmers in particular have greater environmental expectations upon them and we have to be in the black to be green,” Mr McKenzie concluded.

Many of those costs are fixed ones which we face regardless of whether prices for our produce are going up or down. We must make hay while the financial sun is shining and this time it isn’t just food that is receiving better prices, fibre is too.

We got $4.80 a kilo for crossbred lambs’ wool last week, sold some more this week and received an extra 20 cents.

My farmer thinks it’s at least 20 years since wool was earning that sort of money.

That’s a very welcome turn around from the last few years when we were lucky if the price paid for wool did anything more than cover the cost of shearing it.

Timber too is finally worth more than the cost of felling the trees.

We’ve got a plantation of pines planted about 30 years ago. Any time we’ve looked at selling the timber in recent years we’ve been told the only market would be fire wood. But now the price has gone up we’re cutting them down, cover the costs of that and replanting and still have a bit left over.

As an investment over 30 years the return wouldn’t be particularly good, but the trees were planted on a steep hillside which wouldn’t have been good for much else anyway.


Management requires measurement

11/11/2010

Significant water takes will have to be metered to enable better management of fresh water.

Environment Minister Nick Smith said:

“We can’t manage what we don’t measure,” Dr Smith said. “We know that over the past decade we have doubled the amount of water that can be legally taken from our rivers, lakes and aquifers to 450 million cubic metres per week. That is 18 Olympic-sized swimming pools every minute. We also know we are reaching resource limits in significant areas.  We need to know how much water is actually taken and when if we are to properly manage New Zealand’s hugely valuable freshwater resource.”

The Resource Management (Measurement and Reporting of Water Takes) Regulations 2010 take effect today and require all new water takes of more than 5 litres a second to be metered. Existing takes of more than 20 litres a second must be metered within two years (10 November 2012), those more than 10 litres a second must be metered with four years (10 November 2014) and all takes more than 5 litres a second within six years (10 November 2016).

“These regulations will hugely improve the information we have on water takes.  We currently measure only 31% of allocated water. These regulations will increase this to 92% in 2012, 96% in 2014 and 98% in 2016,” Dr Smith said.

This is sensible and already happens in many areas.

We take water from the North Otago Irrigation Scheme, which comes from the Waitaki River, underground and from the Kakanui River for irrigation and all of the takes are metered.

“These pragmatic regulations do not apply to small water takes less than 5 litres per second that make up 39% of consents but only 2% of the volume of water taken. Requiring small takes such as households and stock water to be metered could not be justified nationally.

“The Government is providing $90,000 to Irrigation New Zealand to develop guidance about water meters, verification and installation to irrigators so as to ensure the smooth implementation of these new regulations.  We also want irrigators to be well informed as to how to use this information to improve the efficiency of water use.

“These new regulations on water metering are part of a broader programme to improve New Zealand’s freshwater management.  This has included major investments in lake and river clean-ups, toughened penalties and stronger enforcement of resource consents, doubling funding for the New Zealand Landcare Trust, addressing Environment Canterbury’s problems and progressing the work of the Land and Water Forum. This Government recognises how important water will be to New Zealand’s future economic and environmental well being.”

Environment Canterbury and Irrigation New Zealand have welcomed the move.

NIWA’s lake water quality report was also released yesterday and the Minister gave it a could-do-better:

“This report concludes that New Zealand lake water quality compares favourably with Europe and North America but there are signs of real concern,” Dr Smith said. “It is unacceptable that 32% of our monitored lakes have poor water quality and that more lakes are deteriorating in water quality than are improving.

“Lake water quality is worst in low-land intensively farmed areas such as the Waikato and Manawatu.  The Government is ramping up spending on freshwater clean-up initiatives, from $17 million from 2003-2008 to $94 million from 2009-2014.  It is encouraging the lake showing the greatest improvement in water quality is Lake Rotoiti in the Bay of Plenty, proving the success of the Rotorua Lakes Water Quality initiative.”

Sixty-eight lakes had reliable data for the period 2005 to 2009 to enable trends in water quality to be measured.  Nineteen lakes showed deterioration and eight showed improvement.

“The deterioration in lake water quality was worst in Canterbury between 2005 and 2009, making up 15 of the 19 lakes nationwide that went backwards,” Dr Smith said.  “This reinforces the Government’s decision to intervene in water management in Canterbury, and the need to fast-track water plans and rules to better manage pollution.

“The data in this report is not comprehensive and has some gaps. More information is required on why the greatest deterioration in water quality has occurred in catchments with more native than pastoral land cover. The data is also limited to 112 out of 4000 New Zealand lakes, although I am encouraged that the number of lakes being monitored has trebled since 2000.

Federated Farmers welcomed the report as a vindication, albeit grudging, of the work farmers have done to improve water quality in the past decade.

“Turning water quality around is no different from a supertanker.  It takes time but we’re now seeing some positive indicators,” says Lachlan McKenzie, Federated Farmers Dairy chairperson.

“Over the past decade, we’ve invested massively in effluent management systems and other on-farm improvements.  There’s been a hell of a lot of great work done on-farm and in the industry which goes completely unreported. . .

. . . “This NIWA report raises important questions and we must answer those. . .

. . . “Interpreting these results must be lake specific with multiple factors at play. LakeSPI, for one, is influenced heavily by exotic aquatic plants and fish, which aren’t cows.

“But are farmers denying any impact of agriculture on lake water quality? Of course we’re not.  That’s why we’ve made a massive investment over the past decade and why we’re open to public scrutiny.

“But we cannot be expected to make all the improvements when agriculture is far from all of the problem.

“I, for one, would dearly love to know what’s causing the decline in 40 percent of lakes with ‘dominant native catchment cover’.

“Could it be introduced water fowl, koi carp, aquatic plants and trout perhaps?  NIWA has instead strayed into ‘gosh, it must be farming’, instead of staying science informed. . .

There are many causes for declining water quality. Indentifying them and finding solutions must be based on science and requires the co-operation of land owners, visitors, water users and relevant agencies.


Fresh start with water good start

23/09/2010

New Zealand has plenty of water but not all of it’s in the right place at the right time; and not all of it is as clean as it should be.

The need for better management of water is clear, the best way to do it is somewhat less so, but the Land and Water Forum’s report, A Fresh Start for Water, is a good place to start.

It was welcomed by Agriculture Minister David Carter and Environment Minister Nick Smith.

“The Land and Water Forum has achieved a first in New Zealand – consensus on a way forward for managing freshwater,” Dr Smith said.

“The Government initiated this collaborative process because the long term success of future water policies relies on broad agreement at a national level. Improving water management is one of the Government’s top environmental and economic priorities. Finding durable solutions to issues of water quality, allocation and storage are essential to a healthy environment and our long-term economic progress.

“All 58 groups associated with the Land and Water Forum, led by its Chair Alastair Bisley, are to be congratulated for the report. Water is such a complex and polarising issue and to reach agreement is a major achievement.”

Getting 58 groups with a diverse range of views to collaborate let alone reach agreement on a report is amazing.

The report says:

It is in all our interests to maintain and improve the quality of freshwater in New Zealand, including instream values. For that we need limits, standards and targets in line with national needs, values and objectives which are applied taking account of the needs, values and objectives of communities. They must address contaminants and flows.

 Setting limits will require us to address degradation in some areas, but will enable more resource use in others. Limits need to be clear enough to achieve certainty, but able to be adapted in the face of new information and new technology development.

It recommends the adoption of a standards framework which:

Stems from a strategic view of water for New Zealand

• Defines national objectives for the environmental state of our water bodies and the overall timeframes within which to achieve them through National Policy Statements (NPS’s) and National Environmental Standards (NES’s) made under the Resource Management Act (RMA)

• Requires regions to give effect to this national framework at regional to catchment (or sub-catchment) level taking into account the spatial variation in biophysical characteristics of their water bodies and their current state

• Within that framework, requires regions to engage communities, including iwi, about the ways in which their water bodies are valued, and to work collaboratively with relevant land and water users and interested parties to set catchment-specific targets, standards and limits

• Maintains regional councils’ control of the use of land for the purpose of the maintenance and enhancement of the quality of water in water bodies and the maintenance of the quantity of water in water bodies and coastal water.

Federated Farmers’ co-spokesman on water issues Lachlan McKenzie says:

The report signals greater use of collaborative processes in water policy-making and implementation at national, local and catchment levels.

“For farmers, this is actually great news because involving landowners in any process is essential where policy outcomes could directly affect their property and what they can do with their land.  Given this, it’s only fair and right landowners take charge of implementing any changes that may result.

“Real progress also starts with decision making and how communities are informed.  Above all else, how the resourcefulness and innovative capacity of New Zealanders to develop local solutions will be tapped into.

“On-farm, farmers have to look at stock and effluent management systems tailored to location, including fencing waterways where practical.  Reducing our effluent disposal risks will lead to better nutrient utilisation and increased pasture growth.

No-one is denying that some farm practices can, and do, degrade waterways. What is often overlooked is that rural people have a personal interest in the quality and quantity of fresh water because the rivers we neighbour provide water for our farms and our homes.

“Yet some activists conveniently seem to look through the impact of New Zealand’s third most numerous large mammal, Homosapien.  This is not a ‘them and us’ blame culture that has coloured perception, but a realisation that we all rely on the environment.

Pollution from human and industrial waste is an issue which needs to be addressed too.

“Collaboration is a useful process that can result in more enduring and widely accepted outcomes, while saving significant amounts of money and time.

“Collaboration, like consultation however, does not equal agreement and there has not been agreement on all the issues identified in the report.

Feds took part in the forum but hasn’t signed up to the report because it wants to consult farmers on the recommendations and get feedback first.

The government is also waiting for feedback.

The report is a good start but there’s a long way to go before it turns into concrete policy.

Water New Zealand’s response is here.

Forest & Bird’s response is here.


Synlait purchase indictment on NZ capital markets

20/07/2010

 Bright Dairy & Food, China’s third biggest dairy company by volume, has signed up to buy  51% of Synlait’s milk processing subsidiary, Synlait Milk, for $82 million.

The deal is subject to approval in China and here.

Federated Farmers says it’s an indictment on our capital markets.

“After last year’s abandonment of an Initial Public Offering, it’s a damming indictment on our capital markets that Synlait couldn’t rely on New Zealand to provide the investment capital necessary to fund its expansion,” says Lachlan McKenzie, Federated Farmers dairy chairperson.

Another New Zealand company may get a welcome injection of foreign cash too. Singapore’s OlamInternational has agreed to buy PGG Wrightson’s 11.5 per cent stake in New Zealand Farming Systems Uruguay, subject to regulatory approval, and is making a full takeover offer on the same terms.

I will be surprised if this gets the same criticism that a Chinese company’s bid for the 16 Crafar farms has.

Synlait owns farms, but it is the processing arm not the producing one, in which Bright Dairy will be investing and NZFSU  owns land, but in South America, not here.

Many people are not keen on the idea of foreigners taking too big a stake in our land but they’re less likely to be so emotionally attached to these companies.


What’s wrong with Chinese investment in NZ farms?

25/03/2010

Federated Farmers has an open mind  on the news that a Chinese company wants to buy the Crafer dairy farms.

Reports that Hong Kong listed Natural Dairy (NZ) Holdings Limited, maybe moving to buy dairy farm assets and milk powder production plants in New Zealand, is a sign that the gate on the New Zealand-China Free Trade Agreement, swings both ways. . .

. . .”While the ball’s in the Government’s court, assuming this all comes to pass, Federated Farmers wishes to meet with Natural Dairy (NZ) Holdings Limited sooner rather than later, to understand its strategic direction.

“Whatever happens, New Zealand will remain an attractive investment destination so maybe time has come for us to look at a Ministry of Food Production. 

“It may also help put a floor under farm prices given that in the three months ending February, just 205 farms were sold.  That was down from 276 farm sales in the same three month period in 2009 and 713 for the same quarter in 2008.

I’m not sure that we need another ministry, but a discussion and strategy on food production is a good idea.

The sale might also persuade would-be buyers that the bottom of the market has been reached and it’s time to get the gorse out of their pockets.

Not everyone is so open minded about the idea of Chinese investment here.

There are risks that animal welfare, hygiene and environmental standards might be compromised. But that can happen with any ownership. There are very strict rules about all of those which every owner has to adhere to and breeches of which have stiff penalties.

There are also oppportunities from the plan. If, has been mooted, at least some of the milk will be processed here and shipped as long-life milk rather than powder, that will create jobs for New Zealanders.

Some opposition is based on a blanket aversion to foreign ownership but as Lachlan McKenzie said the door swings both ways.

PGG Wrightson is 30% owned by Agria Corp which is a Chinese company and New Zealand businesses own foreign businesses.

Fonterra has dairy farms in China and Chile and NZ Farming Systems Uruguay owns farms in Uruguay.


Cleaning up dairying

19/03/2010

The rise is serious non-compliance with the Clean Streams Accord from 12 to 15% is disappointing.

It is particularly concerning when there’s been so much work put into improving compliance within the industry.

However, the response from the industry is encouraging.

Fonterra announced it will check effluents systems on all its suppliers’ farms every year.

DairyNZ has already done a lot of work on the problem:

DairyNZ CEO Dr Tim Mackle says through this investment over the last two years, they have learned a lot more about why many dairy farm systems are non-compliant.

“The design of many systems is such that they are not fit for purpose throughout the year. We have been working with the effluent industry to develop a code of practice and are strongly advocating a warrant of fitness approach so that we correct this fundamental problem.”

Last week DairyNZ and industry partners released for consultation new standards and a code of practice for the design of farm dairy effluent systems.

“We would like to get our effluent systems on all farms to a high standard within the next five years, or sooner if possible.”

Dr Mackle says many farmers are uncertain about what they need to do to be compliant and DairyNZ is working with regional councils to establish effluent compliance checklists to give farmers greater guidance on what needs to be done on their farm.

“Our aim is by doing this we will come away with a better system design and promote systems that work and have a higher standard of rural professionals advising on these systems which will cut costs. We can then focus our efforts on making sure staff know how to work these systems.

“We are serious about getting this right, and are working closely with Fonterra and Federated Farmers on the issue. It’s crucial to our industry’s reputation both nationally and internationally, as well as being essential for the environment,” he says.

Federated Farmers dairy chair Lachlan Mckenzie said the results present a challenge for farmers, but he’s accentuating the positive:

“Yet while our news is disappointing, the dairy industry is fronting it publicly. Disclosing our environmental footprint, good or bad, is all about being open and accountable because our performance is out there for all to see.

“Wouldn’t it be encouraging, for once, if the vast majority of dairy farmers actually got positive reinforcement for the big strides we’ve made.  Farmers may have a right to farm but the good ones, the majority, swear by their environmental obligations.

“We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that 85 percent of New Zealand’s dairy farmers are either fully compliant or guilty of no more than an administrative breach.  This Report really highlights need for greater consistency with the way farms are inspected.

“To take the dairy industry forward, Fonterra, DairyNZ and Federated Farmers want to work with regional councils to develop what may resemble a dairy farm ‘warrant of fitness’ (WoF).

“The concept is just like that for a car WoF.  It’s about setting consistent standards and methodologies that take into account regional variations in soil, climate and topography.  You would never test vehicles the way our dairy farms are currently tested.

Agriculture Minister David Carter isn’t impressed by the results:

“The data from this year’s snapshot tells a totally unacceptable story of effluent management. Regardless of whether this is because farmers don’t have the right tools, don’t know how to comply, or simply don’t care, behaviour has to change.”

Mr Carter says the dairy industry as a whole will suffer through the damage caused to its national and international reputation, unless New Zealand can back up its claims of sustainable dairying with tangible action and evidence.

“You can argue the merits of dairy to our economy until the cows come home – but until every farmer takes responsibility for improving effluent management, the environment and dairying’s reputation will suffer.

“I am putting non-complying dairy farmers across the country on notice. You need to take individual responsibility for this issue and work more effectively with your neighbours, your regional councils and your industry body.

“I am also calling on regional councils and partners of the Dairying and Clean Streams Accord to lift their game. They need to work harder at identifying those farmers who want to comply but need some help, and support them toward compliance. Regional councils also need to be more consistent in their monitoring, and be more rigorous in their application of existing regulations to penalise those flouting the law.

Any non-compliance is unacceptable and recent successful prosecutions by the Otago regional Council have provided salutary lessons for dairy farms in our area.

However, there ought to be some leeway to differentiate between a one-off accident, for example a sprayer breaks down when some leniency could be shown, and deliberate non-compliance which ought not to be tolerated.

Farming families drink the water from rivers and swim in them which provides us with a very high motivation ensuring they are clean.


Feds’ sections spar over Google doodles

23/10/2009

Federated Farmers Dairy and Meat & Fibre sections are sparring over the competition to design a Google 4 Doodle.

It started when Dairy Section chair Lachlan McKenzie issued a media release calling on people to vote for Molly Ploeg’s entry titled, ‘Moogle Google’: 

 “While more than a little biased, Federated Farmers Dairy gives Molly 10 out of 10 for her ‘Moogle Google’.  We honestly believe this ought to win. . .

“Molly wants to be a dairy farmer when she grows up and is the kind of person we want to see enter our industry.  The fact she attends an inner city school in Avondale is no barrier. . . “

Meat & Fibre chair Bruce Willis countered by encouraging people  to vote for the sheep which feature in all four age-groups of the competition.

He reckons this shows sheep are an integral part of the New Zealand psyche.

“It’s actually inspirational that so many young New Zealanders when asked to define New Zealand show affinity for agriculture. . .

“For me this shows how sheep still stand as an icon for all New Zealand agriculture.

“Agriculture remains the backbone of the New Zealand economy and these entries tell me that it defines our identity as New Zealanders.  That’s something to not just cherish, but to champion,” Mr Wills concluded.

The entries which feature sheep are:

Harrison Dykes’:

Atalya Fakavamoeanga’s:

Samantha Waters’:

Andrei Golovka’s:

 

Ashleigh Brown’s:

And Olivier Bartolomei’s:

You can see all the entries and vote for your choice here.

Backbenches

01/10/2009

To get to an 8.30 meeting in Wellington this morning I could have got up at 4.45 (which thanks to daylight saving would have felt like 3.45), to drive for a couple of hours to fly from Timaru, fly back this evening and get home after 9pm.

Instead I flew up yesterday and as a bonus was able to go to the Backbencher pub for the filming of Back Benches.

Walking into a strange pub alone is a challenge for an introvert, but Matthew, a Young Nat, started chatting to me while I waited at the bar to order a drink, I then spotted David Farrar of Kiwiblog who was sitting with Will from goNZofreakpower. While I’m dropping names, we were joined by B.K. Drinkwater and a journo turned ministerial press secretary, whose name I won’t drop in case he prefers to remain anonymous.

Federated Farmers President Don Nicolson was there with Dairy section chair Lachlan McKenzie and High Country chair Donald Aubrey.

It’s parliamentary recess and the only MPs I spotted were those on the panel – Wairarapa MP John Hayes from National, United Future’s Peter Dunne and Labour’s Chris Chauvel.

They discussed whether or not New Zealand should become a republic – all three said yes and Will also gave a a considered view in support of that.

A discussion on cycling safety followed then Don got a soap box spot. He spoke on the ETS to which the people at the red tables showed their opposition.

Labour MP Sue Moroney spoke on her plan to increase paid parental leave. That was supported by Peter Dunne & Chris Chauvel but John Hayes pointed out that when we’re already borrowing so much to keep the country going, increasing paid parental leave is unaffordable.

A quiz question seeking the name of an MP went through several clues before a team effort at our table got it – David Farrar called out the answer and was presented with a photo of the Queen signed by the panelists. When asked what he’d do with it, he said he’d use it as a beer mat.

There weren’t many opposing voices but mine was one of them. I oppose it on principle – it’s the only benefit which gives more to people who have most. Women on the maximum wage gets the maximum payment, those on the minimum gets the minimum and women who don’t work enough hours a week, if at all,  get nothing regardless of how low the family income is. It’s a benefit which isn’t based on need.

Filming finished with the panelists speaking straight to camera. Peter Dunne patted himself on the back for extending daylight saving – I resisted the temptation to tackle him on that.

I’ve watched the programme a couple of times, being there was much more fun.


PKE fungi story short on facts long on hysteria

31/08/2009

Disclosing a preliminary draft report on the danger of fungi in palm kernel extract (PKE)  as Sue Kedgley did in parliament was reckless and irresponsible, Federated Farmers says.

“Releasing a preliminary draft report, which has never been finalised, peer reviewed or subjected to robust scientific methodology is irresponsible,” says Lachlan McKenzie, Federated Farmers Dairy chairperson.

“Palm Kernel Expeller is a dry feed and like any dry matter, if it gets wet, it will attract fungi.  That’s the same with maize, silage, bread or even sportswear. 

“AgResearch put together a draft report on the ‘shocking expose’ that Palm Kernel Expeller, when wet, attracts fungi. . . 

“The Ministry of Agriculture reviewed the report in 2006 and found that of the fungi identified, the vast majority were already present in New Zealand and the few remaining were common in almost every country on earth.

“The New Zealand Food Safety Authority looked at the general issue of fungal growth on animal feed and concluded there was no risk to food safety.”

He said he’s concerned that the Green Party grabs every opportunity, no matter how tenuous, to knock New Zealand’s largest and most important industry.

“Most people don’t believe the recycling of a waste by-product like Palm Kernel Expeller into animal feed is a bad thing, so long as it comes from certified sources.  Especially if that waste would otherwise be burnt or just left to rot.

“Most New Zealanders also believe it’s hypocritical to target farmers, when they themselves use palm oil daily in the household goods they consume or the cosmetics they wear.

“I’d be highly surprised if products containing palm oil were not present in the homes of the Green Party MPs.  That said, this serves as a timely reminder to ensure dry feed is stored appropriately,” Mr McKenzie concluded.

Feds biosecurity spokesman John Hartnell responded earlier to criticism on the use of PKE as cow feed by Greenpeace saying PKE was a waste by-product left over from the processing of palm oil for consumer products.

“Palm kernel has so little commercial value that if it isn’t recycled into supplementary feed, it is burnt.  That doesn’t sound too great for either climate change or the environment. . .

“Palm plantations aren’t created just to generate a waste by-product, just as newspapers don’t exist solely to support recycling. . .

He said there was a genuine problem with PKE which Feds had been concerned about.

“”Yet for a long period of time, Federated Farmers has been questioning the biosecurity risks posed by what seems to be a great amount of uncertified palm kernel entering New Zealand.  There’s a huge biosecurity hole posed by the stuff.”

That risk is not the risk of fungi mentioned in the preliminary draft report.


All NZers are farmers

06/07/2009

Every New Zealander is a farmer, Federated Farmers’ president Don Nicolson said in his address to the organisation’s annual conference.

It’s just a question of whether you have your hands in the soil, like us, or if you depend on those who have their hands in the soil. 

From the cabby who got you here, to the hotel staff helping run this event to the media covering our conference, they all depend on what we do.

That makes them farmers….of us.

Yet we in turn, depend on them for our healthcare, our education and our information.

That means even our most vocal critics are farmers too. 

Everyone in this country has a direct stake in our success. 

Everyone in this country depends upon us to bring dollars into this economy.

The interdependence is an important point because as the planks on the bridge between rural and urban New Zealanders grow weaker, we need to be reminded we need each other.

It’s a long speech with many other good points. You can follow the link above to read it.

Other conference speeches on line include those from:

Feds chief executive Conor English; dairy section chair Lachlan McKenzie;    and meat & fibre chair Bruce Wills;


Watering down the milk payout

27/05/2009

The floating dollar usually insulates us from the extreme peaks and troughs of global commodity prices because when prices fall the dollar does too.

That’s not happening at the moment though, global milk prices have fallen and the dollar has strengthened and that’s one of the reasons Fonterra is forecasting a disappointing $4.55 a kilo of milk solids for the 09/10 season.

Fonterra Chairman, Henry van der Heyden, said a volatile currency and continued uncertainty in international dairy markets made forecasting extremely difficult and a constant challenge in the current environment.

“We were looking at a forecast over $5 when the Kiwi was at 50 cents but the rebound means we’re now working with a dollar that’s 10 cents higher. And, just this week – at a time when we’ve been seeing some tentative signs of recovery in the global dairy market – the US Government has announced export subsidies for their farmers, which is bad news for our farmers,” he said.

. . . Mr van der Heyden said: “We had expected dairy prices to be bouncing along the bottom at the moment, but the exchange rate has been a big negative. It has a huge influence on the Milk Price forecast when you go into the new season with a large chunk of your sales unhedged, which is always the case at this time of the year.”

“Our hedging policy is designed to take out the volatility and provide as much certainty for our farmers as possible. But as a rule of thumb a 1 cent movement in the exchange rate realised over a year has an impact of about +/- 10 cents per kgMS in the Milk Price, with everything else being equal.”

Federated Farmers Dairy section chair Lachlan McKenzie said the numbers were bleak.

“In the 2006/07 season, it was estimated it took $4.54 to produce one kilogram of milksolids before a farmer turned a single cent in profit.  There’s very little margin.

Input costs followed the payout price up since the 06/07 season and some have come back a bit in the last few months.

Interest rates are lower and so is the price of fuel; Ballance announced a fall in the price of its fertilser last week and Ravensdown followed with a similar announcement this week  so the three big costs on dairy farms have fallen.

However, wages and salaries shot up in the last few years as a steep increase in conversions led to a labour shortage. The shortage has eased but it is very unlikely that wages will have dropped. Employment contracts on dairy farms usually go from June 1 and most will already have been negotiated anyway.

Deutsche Bank thinks Fonterra is being pessimistic:

Fonterra Cooperative Group’s forecast payout for the 2010 season could be overly pessimistic because the kiwi dollar may retreat from a seven-month high, while the global economy slump may be past its worst, according to Deutsche Bank. . .

Deutsche Bank chief economist Darren Gibbs said dairy payouts had come down significantly from the NZ$7.60 peak last season, and that although the dairy cooperative would see weaker revenues, farms would also benefit from cheaper operating costs.

“It could be Fonterra under-promising and over-delivering,” Gibbs said. “The kiwi has extended a long way ahead of commodity prices” and any pull-back would give the dairy exporter more breathing space, he said.

Other commentators are saying the same thing.

Fonterra had to revise its forecast payment down twice this season so the company may be taking a very conservative view so that any change they make will be upwards.

But sensible farmers won’t be banking on that when the revise their budgets for the coming season.

Farmgirl notes its not the news the government would have wanted on the eve of the Budget and that retailers in agricultural servicing towns were already noticing a drop in spending.


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