Rural round-up

May 5, 2019

Sensible immigration will allow rural communities to flourish – Nick Hanson:

A big shakeup could be coming for New Zealand’s immigration policy.

Many of the proposed changes are sensible and will lead to a simplification of the immigration system, but there is also concern that while the system might be easier to understand, it will be harder, longer and more costly to employ workers from overseas.

Under the proposals, every employer who wishes to employ a migrant must become an accredited employer. In theory, this is good  migrants deserve to come to New Zealand to an employer who treats them well and complies with New Zealand employment law.  . . 

Fonterra could learn lessons in enterprise and growth from Australia’s Wesfarmers – Point of Order:

NZ  co-ops have been  getting  a  bad  media  rap   lately.  Take  Fonterra, for example.  Andrea Fox, one of the  country’s  best-informed journalists  specialising  in agriculture  issues,  started   a  new series in the  NZ  Herald  with the  headline:  “Fonterra: Disappointment and soured  dairy dreams”.

Noting   the dairy goliath had a silver-spoon  birth   nearly  18 years ago she  wrote:

“Today the  co-operative  is looking a bit like  the family’s overweight, lazy teenager  hogging the remote  on the biggest couch in the room And the  credit card bills are coming in”.

After Fonterra posted a historic first net loss of $196m, Fox  says  calls  are heating up  for  the company to be split up  and a  company, perhaps  listed, spun off it, open to outside capital  investment to  chase  high-value product  markets. One of the country’s investment  gurus, Brian Gaynor, says even major shareholders  are telling him it’s  time for  change. . . 

Uncertainty swirls over Mackenzie dairy plan – David Williams:

The legal battle over a large dairy farm planned for the Mackenzie Basin is heading to the High Court. David Williams reports.

The future of the Mackenzie Basin’s Simons Pass Station – a lightning rod for national environmental opposition – remains as unclear as a swirling effluent pond.

Dunedin businessman Murray Valentine has spent 16 years and millions of dollars gathering approvals, court settlements, and building infrastructure for a $100-million-plus dairy development at Simons Pass, near Lake Pukaki. Valentine told Newsroom last year he plans to irrigate 4500 hectares at the property – some of which is Crown lease land – and stock more than 15,000 animals, including 5500 cows. (The average herd size in New Zealand is 431 cows. The national herd is five million milking cows.)

As of late last year, 840 cows were being milked and Valentine says the development is about a quarter finished. . . 

Regional wrap:

Confident sheep and beef farmers are paying top money and have out-bid foresters for land on the North Island’s East Coast. In the South Island apple harvesting’s almost finished in the Nelson Motueka region.

Kaitaia, in Northland’s north, needs a good dose of rain – the five or six millimetres at the weekend didn’t help much.  Where there are wet spots in paddocks new grass is germinating well.

Around Pukekohe it’s been quiet in market gardens because of the school holidays and the working week being interrupted by statutory holidays. Many staff have taken time off. It’s been warmer this week than last and Monday’s 15mm of rainfall has been enough for most crops. . .

Bumper crop of Young Vegetable Growers:

Seven of New Zealand’s best and brightest will vie for the title of Young Vegetable Grower of the Year in a competition in Pukekohe next Friday, 10 May.

The victor will be crowned Young Vegetable Grower of the Year, and move on to the Young Grower national final, to be held in Tauranga in October. There, they will join the winners of the Bay of Plenty, Central Otago, Hawke’s Bay, Nelson, and Gisborne regional fruit-grower events, to compete for the national title of Young Grower of the Year 2019.

Contestants will demonstrate their knowledge and skills around topics vital to the management of a successful horticulture business, including tractor proficiency, sales and marketing, and health and safety. The winner will be decided at an awards dinner on Friday night, where they will speak to an audience from throughout the industry about growing in a climate of change. . . 

Stuart Varney is proud to be a farmer the Fox business star sees a Chinese trade deal coming soon – Betsy Freese:

Stuart Varney has a top-rated market program on television, but he is happiest when he is working on his 1,100-acre tree farm in upstate New York. The host of Varney & Co., weekdays 9 a.m. to noon EDT on FOX Business, is in the midst of his first timber harvest this spring. Born and raised in the U.K., Varney, 70, helped Ted Turner launch CNN in 1980. He became an American citizen in 2015. I caught up with Varney to talk about agriculture, trade deals, and the media.

SF: Tell me about your farm.

SV: It’s lovely rolling hills and forests, a delightful piece of land. It reminds me of my native England. I bought it 18 years ago because I wanted a big piece of land within a reasonable drive of my home in New Jersey. In England, the idea of owning 1,000 acres, or even 100 acres, is out of the question unless you are a billionaire. But in America, you can do it. We found this property for a reasonable price. It was my piece of America. I fell in love with it. The idea of creating a tree farm came later. I didn’t know anything about logging and didn’t buy it for that purpose, but we hired a forester and he created a plan. Our first harvest is this year. We will harvest 1,088 trees. . . 


Rural round-up

November 14, 2018

Mackenzie Country and Waitaki: Balancing the extremes – Sally Rae:

Over the past two decades, the Mackenzie Basin and Waitaki Valley have undergone significant change.

The region has gone from a little known backwater to one of the highest profile battlegrounds over environmental protection and agricultural intensification, farmer Annabelle Subtil says.

The Omarama woman  addressed  delegates at the New Zealand Grassland Association’s 80th annual conference in Twizel last week. . . 

Farmers find irrigation can be controversial -Sally Rae:

For Glenn and Sarah Fastier, farming Simons Hill Station  on the eastern side of State Highway 8 between Tekapo and Twizel  is like living in a glasshouse.

The Mackenzie district was an area  many New Zealanders felt connected to and, when it came to land use, there were a lot of differing opinions as to what was appropriate, Mr Fastier said.

They farm next to Simons Pass Station, where a high-profile dairying operation is being established by  Dunedin businessman Murray Valentine,  attracting the ire of environmental activists.

“There’s definitely a different public perception on anything related to dairy. I don’t often think it’s justified. . . 

Guiney for the protest and McBride for the promise – Hugh Stringleman:

Fonterra shareholders have spoken loudly with the re-election of Leonie Guiney and election of soon-to-be-former Zespri chairman Peter McBride.

One director position is unfilled because incumbent Ashley Waugh, Maori farming leader Jamie Tuuta and multi-farm Canterbury candidate John Nicholls did not reach the required 50% approval of votes cast.

Waugh’s failure to reach the threshold is another aspect of the protest vote and the mood for change among farmer-shareholders after Fonterra’s worst year in financial results and setbacks. . . 

Details vague on proposed rewards scheme – Hugh Stringleman:

Fonterra will introduce a single on-farm assurance and recognition scheme including the existing milk quality, animal welfare and environmental requirements.

The scheme will begin next season, farmers at the annual meeting in Lichfield were told.

Chairman John Monaghan said the new scheme has not been named and Farm Source employees will interview farmers on the types of recognition and rewards it should contain.

“Once the commercial value is better understood we will decide whether to expand the programme to include financial incentives.”

A small minority of farmers who do not meet minimum standards will be subject to demerits, as is the case now. . . 

Profits up at Westland Milk pre-tax – Brendon McMahon:

Westland Milk Products yesterday posted a before-tax profit of $3.25million as it tries to claw its way to profitability.

Last year’s before-tax profit was just $29,000.

On releasing its annual report the West Coast farmer-owned co-operative acknowledged it was still not industry competitive and lacked “financial flexibility” due to high debt levels and the need for more working capital. . . 

Four Mycoplasma bovis myths busted:

Many farmers are going through a challenging time with the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak. But the Ministry for Primary Industries says their stress and anxiety is being compounded by some misinformation. Here the MPI dispels some of those myths:

Myth 1: Mycoplasma bovis has been in New Zealand since around 2004

All of the available research, as well as data collated during on-farm investigations, indicates that Mycoplasma bovis is likely to have arrived in New Zealand in late 2015 to early 2016. Although investigations are ongoing, two pieces of evidence give MPI confidence about that: . . 

Three young leaders up for major agribusiness award :

THREE young agriculturalists from Australia and New Zealand are through to the final for the prestigious 2019 Zanda McDonald Award. 

The award is widely recognised as a badge of honour in the agriculture industry, recognising future leaders and innovative young professionals from both sides of the Tasman.

The 2019 finalists are made up by two Australians and one New Zealander, who were described by judges as ‘diverse and equally impressive’.  . . 


Not as ungreen as painted

August 28, 2018

Mainstream and social media has had lots of stories about opposition to plans for a dairy farm at Simons Pass.

Neal Wallace provides some balance showing the plans aren’t as ungreen as they’re being painted:

. . . The Murray Valentine portrayed by critics of the dairy farm he is building on Simons Pass Station near Lake Pukaki is an uncaring, heartless capitalist, devoid of any ethics who plans to milk 15,000 cows on the most environmentally sensitive land in the South Island.

The Murray Valentine who occupies an orderly but busy office in Dunedin’s central city is genial, reserved, studied, methodical and who, true to his accountancy profession, makes decisions on fact not emotion.

He is not going to milk 15,000 cows on Simons Pass. . . 

Of the 800,000ha in the Upper Waitaki catchment, about 250,000ha is flat to rolling country that can be farmed. There is sufficient water allocated to irrigate about 25,000ha.

Valentine’s plans, which have never been a secret, are to irrigate 4500ha.

“Not many people who oppose me, I believe, have read the consent.”

Many of the people who oppose this and other similar plans tend to be driven by emotion not facts.

Valentine said critics demand he rip up his consents but that is not an option given the long, drawn-out process to secure them, dating back to soon after 2004 purchase of the property by his family trust.

He now has all the consents needed and started milking 800 cows this season.

That will progressively grow over seven years to about 5000 cows through three sheds.

Forty centre pivots will irrigate the 4500ha, of which about 1500ha will be the dairy platform. The rest will be dairy support, dairy-cross beef finishing and a halfbred sheep breeding unit.

Valentine said Simons Pass will be a closed unit worked in conjunction with a 2000-cow dairy farm he owns in North Otago.

He has made several significant and costly concessions including agreeing to control weeds and pests on 2500ha of ecologically-significant land he set aside for conservation as part of his irrigation consent.

The retired land dissects his farm in a large S shape and Valentine will protect it with 30km of rabbit fencing at a cost of $11.50 a metre.

That’s more than $300,000 of fencing alone.

A further 1300ha of land closest to Lake Pukaki was retired to the Crown under a tenure review agreement. . .

His consent requires annual monitoring of water quality at his boundary.

He intends doing it monthly to ensure he gets an accurate picture of the quality of water leaving the property and can respond quickly to any issues.

Technology measuring irrigation rates, soil moisture and the weather will help decision-making while drones will monitor the centre pivots and stock troughs.

Water for the small area of irrigation the previous owners and neighbour had consent for came from the Maryburn Stream but Valentine has invested $8 million in an 8km pipe delivering water from the Tekapo hydroelectric canal to his boundary, allowing the Maryburn consent to be retired.

“I believe I have shown enough responsibility on the conservation side. I am not shirking my responsibility.”  . . .

Many of those opposing the development paint the area as an unspoiled wilderness, but it’s not and one of the things spoiling it is hieracium.

The invasive weed hieracium is encroaching over much of the basin, killing tussock and causing soil loss through erosion.

Photos taken on Simons Pass in the 1970s showed tussock at hip height but 20 years later the weed has rendered the land barren.

“Most people would describe it as a desert.”

Cultivation and fertiliser in recent years have restored vegetative cover. . . 

Keeping invasive weeds at bay is costly in financial terms. Not doing it is expensive in environmental terms.

The Lindis Pass, which is not far from the Mackenzie, used to be covered in tussock. Year by year hieracium has taken over and hillsides which once waved with tussocks are now bare and erosion-prone.

If Fonterra wasn’t required to pick up milk from anyone who wants to be a supplier it’s possible that dairying in the Mackenzie wouldn’t be viable.

But unless, and until, the Dairy Industry Restructuring Act is changed to allow Fonterra to say no to would-be suppliers, the company has no choice about where suppliers farm.

Opposition to the plans has got personal, overlooking the fact that Valentine has spent six years and a considerable amount of money getting consents.

If those opposing the plans have grounds for their concerns they should be aiming at the consenting authorities and process, not the man.


Rural round-up

July 6, 2018

Milking it for deer – Nigel Malthus:

If the world is ready for deer milk, New Zealand is ready to supply it.

The product, believed unique, was simultaneously launched at Fieldays and at a VIP function in Auckland aimed at high-end restaurants and the food service industry.

It won the Grassroots Innovation Award at Fieldays for Pāmu (the commercial name of Landcorp Farming) and its primary partners Sharon and Peter McIntyre, deer farmers at Gore. . . 

Is deer milk the next big thing?

“I can absolutely see this going global,” says consultant executive chef Geoff Scott, of the deer milk now being pioneered in NZ.

Scott, engaged by Pāmu to help launch its deer milk, says it’s rare for chefs to work with a new ingredient they have never seen before.

He says deer milk’s most noticeable feature is its “phenomenal” texture. And contrary to his expectations, the aroma was not as strong as goat or sheep milk.

“It’s got a lovely gentle slightly savoury nose and when you drink it you get this amazing sensation with the texture of the milk,” said Scott. . .

MPI scotches professor’s blog – Annette Scott:

Cross-species transmission is not a risk in the spread of Mycoplasma bovis, Ministry for Primary Industries response director Geoff Gwyn says.

Animals other than cattle are considered to be dead-end hosts and not important in the ongoing spread of the cattle disease.

“There is no scientific evidence that non-cattle species can act as a source of infection to cattle,” Gwyn said.

He expressed concern the matter continues to be raised given it has potential to unnecessarily heighten farmers’ anxiety. 

“Our firm view is the transfer of M bovis from non-cattle to cattle is not of material concern,” Gwyn said. . . 

Mackenzie Basin: Fonterra dairying criticism rejected – Kate Gudsell:

The Dunedin businessman behind a planned mega-dairy conversion in the Mackenzie Basin is shrugging off criticism from Fonterra about further intensification on the vulnerable landscape.

Murray Valentine has 9600 hectares of land at Simon’s Pass near Twizel and wants to irrigate 4500 hectares of that.

Originally, he was granted resource consent for 15,000 cows, but plans to put 2000 on it by next year, rising to a maximum of 5500 cows when consents are gained for extra cow sheds. . . 

Biodynamic forum held

Maori star lore, the winter solstice and water and earth energy were popular topics for the nearly 100 people who attended the 2018 New Zealand Biodynamic Association’s conference, in Clyde and Wanaka from June 22 to 24.

One of the organisers, Su Hoskin, who is in charge of the organic and biodynamic practices at Domaine-Thomson Wines vineyard near Cromwell, also sits on the association’s council.

”The conference was great,” Mrs Hoskin said.

”The theme was water and light.” . . 

Feds and MPs put on a good show – Alan Emmerson:

I’ve been dealing with Federated Farmers and going to their functions for longer than I care to remember.

I’ve witnessed a strong, focused organisation and one with a distinct lack of focus.

Currently, in my view, Feds are as strong as they’ve ever been. 

They are well led, their staff contains a good mix of youth and experience and the policy and communications teams are second to none.

I believe Federated Farmers is becoming increasingly important because of its advocacy role. That advocacy allows us to continue farming. Without it we would be in some difficulty.

Until this weeks’ conference I hadn’t realised just how busy they are. . . 


Beauty and blots

June 8, 2009

The ODT’s report on plans for irrigation in the Mackenzie basin illustrates two opposing views.

Forest and Bird South Island conservation manager Chris Todd said the proposed irrigation to allow intensive farming of the basin could turn its “spectacular dry, sunburnt vistas” into a replica of the highly developed Canterbury Plains.

“Industrial-scale farming in our most fragile and visually stunning high country landscapes is not sustainable.”

The second has a different view:

Mackenzie Irrigation Company director Murray Valentine, of Dunedin, said compared with the size of the Mackenzie Basin, the 27,000ha that farmers wanted to irrigate was very small.

The plan was not to irrigate the high country but the “flat land”, he said.

If farmers got approval, they could increase stock rates per hectare by up to 15 times.

“We’re talking about areas that are basically the nearest thing we have to desert and are completely modified with hieracium and wilding pines.”

In some countries bringing life to the desert, with the economic, environmental and social benefits which follow is seen as a wonderful achievement.

The scenery in this area is stunning to most people, but they drive through it at 100 kilometres an hour – or faster – on the journey between Canterbury and Central Otago.

It’s a different picture for many of those who live in the Mackenzie. They too see beauty but those “spectacular, dry sunburnt vistas”  are heartbreaking for people trying to earn a living who would regard the green pastures of Canterbury as paradise.

It’s possible to make objective decisions on such things as pollution of waterways, but beauty is subjective.

One person’s stunning scenery is another’s blot on the landscape.


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