Rural round-up


Does Russia belong in the West or the East? – Keith Woodford:

The issue of whether Russia belongs in the West or the East might seem a strange topic for a New Zealand agri-food systems person like me to be discussing. However, political and food systems, and the associated international trade, are joined at the hip. Politics and agricultural trade are always fellow travellers.

These last two weeks, while working in Russia, I have pondered as to where Russia belongs. From a cultural perspective, I have no doubt it is in the West. Yet from a geopolitical perspective it would seem that Russia’s future is more with China in the East. Here, I explore the dichotomy and the contradiction.

Milk flush is depressing prices – Hugh Stringleman:

Record milk collection in New Zealand over the October peak has continued to depress Global Dairy Trade prices, which, in turn, threaten a reduction in the farmgate milk price closer to $6/kg.

The GDT index fell 3.5% after the auction on November 21, the twelfth consecutive fall or sideways movement since mid-May.

World prices are now 20% below their 2018 peak and 12% lower than this time last year.

Plenty of cattle left – Neal Wallace:

Stirring international and domestic storms have conspired to undercut bull beef prices.

A combination of falling United States prices in the last two months, processors trying to maintain margins and farmers being careful with stock purchases because of Mycoplasma bovis have reduced demand and prices, AgriHQ market analyst Reece Brick says.

At a recent Feilding calf sale those bred on the vendor’s property were $30 to $40 ahead of calves that weren’t. . .

The green, green grass of Maniototo – Jono Edwards:

Green fields in the usually-barren Maniototo have some farmers casting their minds back to the 1970s.

Unusually high rainfall, including a recent heavy downpour, was welcome news for the industry after months of dry heat last year.

Gimmerburn farmer Duncan Helm said things were looking “bloody magnificent”

Mataura Valley’s multimillion-dollar milk plant opens – Margaret Phillips:

The official opening of the $240 million Mataura Valley Milk plant at McNab brought guests from all corners of the globe today.

 MVM general manager Bernard May said the plant was forecast to pour about $90 million annually, directly or indirectly, into the South’s economy. Its major shareholder is the China Animal Husbandry Group. . .

Will Argentina be the first country approving a GMO wheat? -Javier Preciado Patiño:

 “We mustn’t do what other countries have already done; we must do what no other country did” Self-confident and why not a little bit provoker, the CEO of Bioceres, Mr. Federico Trucco, challenged the audience in the formal presentacion of the HB4 Wheat, the transgenic wheat that added drought tolerance to glufosinate-ammonium herbicide tolerance.

The beginning of this development dates from middles ’90 when scientist Raquel Chan’s team identified a gene (HB4) that confers sunflower seed a better performance under drought condition. In 2003, Bioceres reached an agreement with Conicet (the governmental Science and Technology Comission) to develop this finding in a commercial way. In 2007, HB4 was transferred to other crops like soybean, maize and wheat, and now only one formal step is missing to release this technology to the Argentinean farmers.

Mr. Trucco explained the three step deregulation process for a GMO crop in Argentina. HB4 wheat has already been approved by the SENASA (Food Quality and Health Service) and the Conabia (Biotechnology Advisor Commission), because there is not risk to the human health, animal health and the environment, and the characteristics of this wheat are the same of conventional ones. . . 

New app helps farmers finish cattle to retailers’ specifications:

A new app can help farmers finish cattle to retailers’ specifications with greater precision, avoiding lower prices for the farmer and waste in the value chain.

Changing customer tastes mean that almost half of prime beef now fails to meet ideal market specifications.

The app will help farmers finish cattle to retailers’ specifications with greater precision, underpinned by the data to evidence this. . . 

365 days of gratitude


We drove from Wanaka to home via Lake Onslow and the Maniototo today.

Early in the trip we marveled at how nature had painted leaves golden against a blue sky, later on we were in tussock country and passed not a single car until we got to Ranfurly.

Tonight I’m grateful for changing seasons, nature’s beauty and that it’s still possible to enjoy them without crowds of people.

Foreign ownership turns round farm


New Zealand is an exceptionally good farming nation and our top farmers could compete with those from any other country.

That doesn’t mean all our farmers and good and that people from other farmers can’t do better than some from here.

A case in point is the United States investment in the Maniototo:

The multibillion-dollar Harvard University endowment fund has achieved what the former owners of the Maniototo’s Big Sky dairy farm only envisioned – profitably milking more than      6000 cows in a “super herd”.   

Harvard’s New Zealand subsidiary was targeting production of 1.8 million kg of milk solids over three years, but fund managers yesterday declined to comment further on the operation, other than what is in its annual financial return.   

Harvard’s endowment fund purchased Big Sky from receivership in October 2010 for about $32 million, and had since expanded the herd about five-fold to 6318 cows valued at $9.83 million, turning around a $1.1 million loss in 2010 to a  $4.87 million after-tax profit for the year to June 2011.   

The fund paid a lot of money for the farms, have invested more:

Investments for the year totalled $8.3 million, including $7.9 to Fonterra, with the balance to local irrigation, fertiliser and rural supply companies.   

Then there are wages for staff, repairs and maintenance, general running costs, rates and tax,  all of which feed in to our economy.

The Patearoa farm was initially proposed in early 2001 as a “super farm”, to run up to 6000 cows on 1600ha using supplementary feed, a proposal which prompted widespread      criticism at the time.   

Until its receivership and subsequent sale, Big Sky had been running up to 3300 cows on about 1300ha.   

It is possible New Zealand owners could have done as well. But the Havard Fund has put a lot of money into the farms and deserves the return it is getting.


Wait for the outcry


Harvard University’s endowment fund has made a profit from its investment in Maniototo dairy farms:

DF1, the New Zealand dairy farmer owned by Harvard University’s endowment fund, posted a profit of $4.87 million last year, having bought the Big Sky Dairy Farm properties in central Otago from their receivers.

Harvard paid about $32 million for the Ainwick, Tercio and Saran farms on the Maniototo Plain, having gained Overseas Investment Office approval for the purchases in September 2010. Big Sky was the biggest dairy farm operator in Central Otago when it defaulted on payments in 2007 and was placed in liquidation in 2009.

DF1’s accounts for the year ended June 30, 2011, show Harvard picked up assets worth almost $34 million in the deal. The company notes Big Sky was in receivership,“hence the resultant discount on acquisition.”

Revenue surged to $11.2 million in 2011 from about $1.6 million a year earlier, when it recorded a $1.2 million loss, DF1’s accounts show. The Big Sky farms are being managed alongside DF1’s existing dairy property, Helenslea.

People opposed to foreign investment will criticise this return on investment.

They won’t take any notice of the people the company employs, the money spent on farm running expenses, repairs and maintenance or the tax paid.

The fund also owns forests and those who think the state should have retained ownership of them should ponder this:

The natural resources portfolio has been built up during the last decade by Andy Wiltshire, a New Zealander who started his career with the New Zealand Forest Service, the developer of the Kaingaroa plantation forest in the central North Island. Wiltshire is head of external management for Harvard Management, the fund’s manager.

Harvard beat out China’s Citic to buy the Kaingaroa cutting rights from receivership in 2004. The price was not disclosed but it was believed to be near US$650 million. The same forest was sold by the Crown in 1996 for $2.2 billion.

I don’t know why the value dropped from $2.2 billion to around $US650 million but I’m pleased it wasn’t the state who took the loss.

The Way Is Is



That you love nature is easy to say

Until you learn that unless you act accordingly

It will call you to account in the end.

                                         That’s why

we’re required to make the connection

between the sound the wind makes

when it starts the leaves quivering

and the way the white canes of sunlight

line the spaces between the trees

on a summer’s morning.

                         It’s a case

of working out what’s here

for the long haul

and if we want to be part of it.

It’s marvellous, abominable, confusing,

exultant: the way things are,

the way is is.


– Brian Turner –


Another offering for Montana Poetry Day. Turner lives in the Maniototo, Central Otago.


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