Rural blogs coming and going

April 4, 2009

Rural Network used to be one of my regular reads but it lost it lost its spice towards the end of last year and posts became infrequent so I wasn’t surprised to read it’s closing at the end of the month.

While one goes, another comes. Here I Stand  who describes himself as a consluting networks/systems engineer living the good life in rural Wanganui has joined the blogosphere.

Another rural blog I came across recently is Phil Clarke’s Business Blog which gives an insight into rural and agribusiness issues in Britain and the EU.

Rural Trader was recently launched and while not a blog, is definitely rural.


Bull Pen

November 17, 2008

If like me you’ve been missing Philippa Stevenson’s contributions over at Dig n Stir and Rural Network mourn no more – she’s back on the blogosphere at The Bull Pen.

She’s also freelancing for The Country Channel which screens on Sky (it was free in October but now costs $14.50 a month).

Pip does a weekly segment in their news porgramme, Farmgate, which is an agri-media panel discussion on the ag issues of the week, called The Bull Pen and the blog provides a forum for further discussion.

I’ll confess I rarely watch TV and saw only a few minutes of The Country Channel when it screened last month which is not enough to make a judgement on it. But the concept is a good one and it’s a welcome addition to the sparse coverage of agricultural and rural matters on TV.


Fonterra not alone

September 17, 2008

Fonterra is not the only company whose milk powder has been contaminated by melamine in China.

Twenty percent of Chinese dairy firms investigated in the wake of the health scare have been found to have produced melamine-tainted formula, state media reported on Tuesday.

. . . Out of 109 dairy producers checked, 22 had been found to have produced batches of milk contaminated with melamine, including Beijing Olympic Games sponsor Yili and other major brands, state television said, citing China’s quality watchdog.

A Southland Times report of the concerns of a Chinese businessman who wanted to buy infant milk powder earlier this year. This suggests sabotage is not unexpected:

A Chinese businessman trying to buy 1500 tonnes of baby formula in Southland this year was so concerned the formula would be tampered with once it arrived in China that he insisted it be supplied in sealed 1kg containers.

The unusual export request was revealed yesterday by Venture Southland enterprise and strategic projects group manager Steve Canny, who said fears the formula could be diluted with other materials like talcum powder or chalk once it arrived in China was the biggest issue for the investor.

The first priority is the safety of the product but this scandal also threatens Fonterra’s hopes  to take advantage of the growing market for milk in China.

Fonterra’s joint venture is a subsidiary of government-controlled Shijiazhuang Sanlu Group, which announced last October that China’s biggest milkpowder marketer would be floated in the second half of 2008.

Chinese yuan-denominated A shares were to be offered in the joint venture founded by Sanlu Group and Fonterra.

The listing was the long-term plan for the venture in the north Chinese province of Hebei, from its foundation — when Fonterra paid 864 million yuan ($NZ150 million) — and its projected revenue for 2008 was 8.6 billion yuan, with a target of 30 billion yuan in 2010.

Headquartered in Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei province, Sanlu is China’s third biggest dairy company, behind the Yili and Mengniu companies based in Inner Mongolia. The company chair who signed the deal with Fonterra, Tian Wenhua, said the joint venture was designed from the start to be floated on the Chinese sharemarket.

Now those plans have been thrown into disarray: Chinese authorities have ordered the Shijiazhuang Sanlu Group Co Ltd to halt production and its Ministry of Health has ordered all milkpowder produced by Sanlu withdrawn from sale.

And authorities and consumers in China are calling for dairy industry executives involved in the scandal to be held accountable.

Sanlu executives are being targeted after Health Ministry party secretary Gao Qiang told the South China Morning Post the government became aware only a week ago that drinking the milk could cause kidney stones.

Mr Gao denied the government had covered up the problem to avoid detracting from the Beijing Olympics and said it was a “severe food safety accident”.

“Sanlu Group should take a large part of the responsibility,” he said.

That there are so many other companies which used contaminated milk may be a mitigating factor for Fonterra but that will be cold comfort for the families whose babies have died or become ill becaucse of it.

When it comes to a choice between business expansion and baby’s lives, there is only one ethical option. Whoever is responsible for what happened, Fonterra must ensure any company with which it is involved has safeguards which ensure it can’t happen again.

[For more on this issue see Rural Network where Philippa Stephenson writes on reports on bribes and cover ups and that there had been no inspections of the Sanlu factory for three years.]


Award for rural blog

July 16, 2008

Rural Network  editor Pip Stevenson has won the Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Science’s Sir Arthur Ward Award for science communication in recognition of her work on Dig ‘n’ Stir  blog.

NZIAHS president John Lancashire praised Stevenson’s efforts in covering science in the new, online format of the blog. He described it as “communication beyond the call of duty to the wider audience.”

Rural Network and Dig ‘n’ Stir are on my daily-read list and I’m delighted that Pip’s work has been recognised.

I’m also pleased that this award recognises the growing importance of blogs in communications and the media.


PGW wants 50% of SFF

June 30, 2008

The grapevine was right: PGG Wrightson is planning to take a 50% share in Silver Fern Farms  (formerly PPCS) at a cost of $220m.

This announcement answers the question asked on Rural Network: who killed meat industry taskforce?


End of season bonus for Fonterra suppliers expected

May 27, 2008

The Dom  reports that Fonterra suppliers might get an end of season bonus of at least an extra 30 cents a kilo when the board announces the final payout after a meeting on Thursday. 

Its current payout forecast for 2007-08 is $7.30. Fonterra has a policy of revising payout estimates, other than its regular updates, only for movements of at least 30 cents, so a payout of at least $7.60 for this season is expected.

That would be higher than the current estimates of Goldman Sachs JBWere – $7.40 – and Westpac’s $7.50.

“It would be a mild surprise if the current season’s payout was $7.60 or more,” Westpac agri-economist Doug Steel said.

 That would be about $60,000 more for a 600 cow herd but farmers may not see all of the extra money because the company is considering retaining some of this season’s payout in light of uncertainty in international  financial markets.

Next year’s payout is expected to reflect the slight easing in world dairy prices in the past six months. Goldman Sachs JBWere is picking $6.25 a kilogram of milk solids for 2008-09, and Westpac $6.50.

Fonterra gave the drought as its main reason for lifting its payout forecast last month. A subsequent lift for 2007-08 and a more optimistic view for 2008-09 may be due to the fact that most dairy commodities, except skim milk powder, have been holding their prices in the past couple of months.

Even if next season’s payout is lower than this season’s it will still make dairying and dairy support attractive to people considering a move from sheep and beef although the latest Rabobank/Nielson Rural Confidence Survey shows some improvement in expectations for lamb prices. Philippa Stevenson reports on the survey on Rural Network.


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