Sunday, July 5, 2009

small steps, giant leaps

Over the past year or so I've started seriously thinking about farming. Those who know me, will find this, put quite simply the most daft and ridiculous idea I've ever come up with. Even more so than the time I wondered if during the World War II women used their bras as underwear AND a soup bowl.

As a career, a lifestyle, a place to build a home in the future on, farming seems the way to go. A way of living where you can be at one with nature, yet be learning the business side of things, contributing not only to the family, but to the nation. The life of a patriot, a thinker, a worker.

A friend of mine, a big reason why I started The Whisky Bar, has a blog which charms us with a romantic notion of farming, particularly as a farmer's daughter, hence the name: the photos are glorious and can be found here (also link in to her personal blog- some excellent thoughts, fashion, crafty delights and photos to peruse!)

What I find interesting though, and what I am keen to learn more about is how one farm, and the production from that one farm, goes on to contribute to a much bigger picture: New Zealand's exports. In the last year, beef prices have gone down almost .40c per kg. Last year's fully shared payout to dairy farmers was $7.66 per kg/ms- this year July's payout (due later) is forecasted at $4.55 per kg/ms...yet Fonterra has a little graph providing claims that global demand is in place for dairy products, growing at a rate of approx. 2% per countries and regions on the dairy goodness buzz are in for some excellent bargains.
It's interesting to consider the 'what if' side of things in terms of the industry here in NZ: 'what if' Fonterra had not been established after failed merger attempts with the previous two major dairy companies and the Dairy Board almost 10 years ago now?

'What if' the government had moseyed on in to the Dairy Board, sifted out their assets as they did back in the late 90's/2000, made the two main co-ops work together and that had succeeded?

I doubt it would have, and perhaps, and this may be completely left field, but perhaps even smaller, independent co-ops would have been established. 11,000 dairy farmers. 14 billion litres of milk. We've got game and goods!

Cowboys would be turning up all over the place and the government would be left with their fist in their mouth.

Huge claims, this I realise, but it all boils down to 'what if'!

200 years of farming backs New Zealand and its ag industry, Fonterra and the reason why we are world renowned. I believe the desire to keep on succeeding, innovating and relying on the confidence we have that we do, in fact, know what we're doing, and do it well. 2008 figures of turnover for the top 20 dairy companies around the world show Fonterra in 5th position with a US$ turnover of 12 billion. This is ahead of the 1st and 2nd US companies at 6th and 7th position respectively; Dean Foods (USD$11.8 billion) and Dairy Farmers of America (USD$10.1 billion). Leading is Switzerland's Nestle on USD$27.2 billion in turnover*
So back to the little people, the littler figures, the New Zealand farmer. US Economist Bob Yonkers (seriously. Yonkers. That is his name. In his photo he wears day time Blu-blockers. They are so sweet) states that without the global market New Zealand and Australia would suffer without our 'lion's share revenue' that is international exports.
This makes me sceptical. Would we suffer? Because I'm fairly certain the number 8 wire would be sourced. Fonterra is a main player in the global dairy market. Bottom of the world, small population. Excess prodcut. Perhaps looking past the OECD? I don't know. I haven't read enough or listened to my dad enough to forecast these kinds of calls.

I grew up on a farm where I was loathed to leave my books, baking tools and Barbie dolls for the outdoors, but was ‘gently encouraged’ to in order to grub thistles and rid the farm of ragworts. I bloody hated that job.

If I can shed the label of being a bookworm and girl’s girl and become one to muck in and just get the job done, I would love to think that I am that ‘small step for man’ for farming in New Zealand. I get pretty homesick for the Rangitaiki Plains.

My vision for the future is to build a life on a farm with a similar attitude that is not only a picture of tradition and family heritage, but houses processes that encompass what New Zealanders are known for globally: innovation and ingenuity.

So what would be the giant leap for mankind for agriculture in New Zealand?

I desperately believe in the predominantly rural foundations that the settlers of this country built, in order for the New Zealanders of today to be able to lead a life without chains in a country that is young. Determination and patriotism are on our side.

The ‘giant leap’ is to embrace what we have in order to achieve what we want, what we desire for our industry. This will be done by encouraging future generations and embracing practical change.

There is a notoriety bestowed upon farmers of land that is comprised of milk and honey, ‘dairy cockies’ if you will, that we apparently keep to ourselves, and we do not like change.

Knuckling down and working hard does not necessarily indicate an adversity towards change.

I feel pity, to an extent, for those that ‘piggy-backed’ on to the last great payout and ‘became
farmers’. To those who succeeded, great, farmers are not advocates for Tall Poppy Syndrome. However, I believe there is a misconception to those slightly more ignorant about farming. Sure, the figures some years assert the fact that mega-bucks are being earned, but people with a green eye need to realise that these profits are invariably put straight back into the farms. From new stock or milk plants, to a lick of paint for the farmhouse; some years you’re buying your moleskins from Rodd & Gunn, other years you’re living out your dreams in holey long-johns and an Ivomec “free cap with purchase!” baseball hat from RD1.

My father and fellow farmers stand their ground for what they believe in, the farms they own and work, not just from 8am until 5pm, 5 days a week, but 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

This year it was reported that 60% of new Young Farmers members in New Zealand were new to the industry. It would be interesting to see how the next generation of farmers, across all sectors, embrace the ‘new breed’. If we can effectively work alongside each other, develop and cement the notion that tradition and innovation can be, and need to be, inextricably linked, then rural New Zealand will have successfully mastered the giant leap.

Recently I have joined Young Farmers, and had the chance to meet some great people and also attend events. We meet once a month, and have also just recently been given a bit of support from Leuven which is rather nice!

This weekend the WGN club is heading to the National Young Farmer of the Year Awards and Ball in the Manawatu. Best of luck to all the finalists who can be found online here at

Catch you up,


*these figures were sourced from Rabobank International.

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