Sailing away

A cupTO USE the latest America’s Cup parlance, the New Zealand primary sector is ‘up on its foils’ at present.

According to the latest Rabobank survey, farmer confidence and spending intentions jumped to record levels in the second quarter of this year, buoyed by improved commodity prices. Continue reading

Front-foot it

cricketAS THE curtain comes down on another successful Fieldays, NZ’s farming sector has experienced something uncommon nowadays – a raft of positive media coverage.

Positive descriptors such as innovators, economic powerhouse, world-leading food producers, celebrating farming and emerging leaders – to name but a few – were interspersed among the myriad of media stories covering the event.

Contrast this to the regular, daily bashing farming usually takes from urban-dominated media and certain self-important, inexpert, opinionated talking heads.

As Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy says, the rural story needs to be told straight from the woolsheds and dairy sheds

“It’s going to need to be from someone in a Swanndri, not a suit,” he says.

Who else can be relied on to explain that farmers have spent at least $1 billion of their own money on environmental measures onfarm?  Certainly not the myopic anti-farming crusaders and their acolytes such as SAFE, Greenpeace or Fish and Game.

Yes, those in farmers who are polluting waterways or treating animals and workers badly need to be held accountable and punished. But these are far and away a minority in the sector – not that you would believe it by the media coverage farming usually gets.

As Guys says, if we really want a message to change the public perception of farming, “it can’t just come from politicians”.

Who else can explain that farmers have fenced enough waterways to cover the distance from Auckland to Chicago and back again? Who else can show the world-leading and innovative things going on every day on New Zealand’s farms?

Events such as Fieldays and environmental award competitions are good, but they happen only annually. Plenty of other good things are happening in our industry every day and we all must take the opportunity to highlight these.

In the age of social media, farmers themselves have the ability to influence public opinion – just as the anti-farming types are doing every day.

Guy has challenged the farming sector to promote our industry to our friends and family who might not know much about it.

We should all take up that challenge – today!



Will the naysayers ever stop?

You can't negoitate with eco-terrorists

You can’t negoitate with eco-terrorists

THE RECENT release of the progress report on the last three years of the Sustainable Dairying Water Accord has sparked all the naysayers of the dairy industry into another series of spiteful attacks on farmers.

Granted, the report does highlight things that haven’t yet been achieved, but to be fair it doesn’t attempt to make excuses either. Continue reading

Country of origin labelling a cool idea

US meat label articleMANDATORY LABELLING of fruits and vegetables is back on the public agenda.

A recent joint survey, by Horticulture NZ and Consumer NZ, shows 70% of consumers want to know where their fruit and veges come from. Only 9% of those surveyed did not support mandatory country-of-origin labelling (CoOL).

Coinciding with the survey results is the drawing of a bill on mandatory labelling of fruits and vegetables, introduced to parliament by the Green Party. Continue reading

We’re all in this together

CPWL5THE DEBATE about New Zealand’s water quality has become too simplistic, with far too much finger pointing and blame in mostly farming’s direction.

It is clear that our water quality is bad enough to require action and, in some instances, it is getting worse.

Action is needed. Too often critics claim nothing is happening, everything is getting worse, no-one cares and the regulators are all in the pockets of profiteers. That’s untrue. Continue reading

Lacklustre conversation

Politicans sniffing electoral support are now pushing for local dairy price investigations in the wake of the Commerce Commission ruling out an inquiry

Fonterra’s governance review document is pretty underwhelming


FONTERRA’S NEW discussion booklet on revamping its governance is titled ‘Let’s have the Conversation’.
But the lacklustre 20-page document will struggle to stimulate farmers, already in favour of a radical change in the board size.
After being stunned in November by 54% shareholder support for a leaner board, the co-op’s board and Shareholders Council agreed to speed up the process.
Farmer shareholders were told that several years of preparatory work had been done by a joint board/council review committee locally and overseas.
Sadly, for farmers the discussion document doesn’t reflect this, it outlines what most farmers already know.
Last week, the board and council held farmer meetings around the country to discuss the discussion booklet; next month the co-op will develop its proposal based on farmer feedback.
In April, a draft proposal will be submitted to farmers; a second discussion booklet will be distributed, followed by another round of farmer meetings.
Farmers will vote on the final proposal in May.
A proposal floated by former directors Colin Armer and Greg Gent called for a nine-member board, appointed by farmers; this gained 54% support at the last annual meeting but fell short of the 75% support required to force a constitutional change.
The dilemma facing Fonterra’s board is that most farmers are already in favour of a smaller board; they voted for the Armer/Gent proposal despite, defying a recommendation from the board and council.
It’s clear that farmers have made up their mind; a fitter and leaner board is the way to go.
One issue up in the air on board representation is the future of independent directors; currently Fonterra has nine elected and four independent directors.
The independents wield lots of influence and can end up holding the balance of power; when Armer lost the chairmanship to incumbent John Wilson by one vote in 2012, the independents are believed to have backed Wilson.
The Armer/Gent proposal seeks only farmer-elected directors on the board.
In its discussion booklet, Fonterra argues for having qualified independent directors.
Farmers will be mulling over their options in the coming months; they want a smaller board. They must decide on the number of directors, both farmer-elected and independents.
Expect the board and council to bat for independent directors.
Farmers have already defied the board and Shareholders Council once on the issue; they won’t hesitate to do that again.

Obama nails it!

ObamaNews that the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is to be signed in New Zealand early next month, will no doubt fire up outrage, ridiculous claims and pontifications from the usual array of serial protestors, desperate politicians and other economic Luddites.

These people seem to throw out all sorts of fantastical claims about the evils of trade and are never seriously challenged.

Just how our country is supposed to pay for ever increasing demands for better health, education, superannuation and social welfare and not increase trade with the rest of the world seems to get lost in the venomous rhetoric spewed by those opposed to the TPP and other trade deals.

The fact is that as a trading nation – where agriculture is our biggest trading sector – NZ needs deals like the TPP, the China FTA, CER and the proposed EU trade deal – for our economic survival.

No deal is ever perfect and the TPP is certainly – from a NZ agriculture point of view, especially dairy – not perfect. Despite only minuscule progress for our dairy exports, the deal has delivered some good wins for NZ primary sector.

As NZ special agriculture envoy Mike Petersen said – at the conclusion of the negotiations last October – the TPPhas delivered an “outstanding” result for the NZ primary sector.

“We have basically gained free trade access for the majority of our primary sector products – with the exception of dairy and some beef – to 11 new markets with a population of 800 million or 40% of the world’s trade.”

How is that a bad thing?

A recent World Bank report on the “Potential Macroeconomic implications Trans-Pacific Partnership” estimates that the New Zealand economy will gain a definite economic boost from TPP.

As President Obama told legislators in the US – during his final State of the Union address, last week, a Trans-Pacific Partnership opens markets, protects workers and the environment, and … supports more good jobs.

“You want to show our strength in this century? Approve this agreement,” he implored.

It would be nice if New Zealand politicians could also take up President Obama’s challenge and put aside petty politicking for once and ‘approve this agreement’!

Don’t hold your breath.

Farming is never SAFE

dog‘GROSSLY IRRESPONSIBLE’ is how New Zealand’s special agricultural trade envoy Mike Petersen has – rightly – described animal rights group SAFE’s placement of an anti-NZ dairy farming advertisement in a British newspaper.

As Peterson says, the group has deliberately gone to the UK market and misleadingly said that the actions of these few, rogue dairy farmers are commonplace in the NZ dairy industry.

Unfortunately, this will cause some damage because some consumers in the UK will not see SAFE’s comments as coming from a bunch of nutters; with them its messages about NZ dairying will resonate.

Nevertheless, it is clear the actions of these few, bad farmers – and some rogue operators – has sullied the entire NZ dairy industry’s reputation and opened the window for SAFE’s attack.

The agriculture sector needs to come to terms with the cold, hard fact that it is always under scrutiny: groups like SAFE, Fish & Game, Greenpeace and others are always looking for a chance to have a crack. Farmers and their industry organisations have to be exemplary in their actions – especially regarding animal welfare and environmental behaviour.

And transgressors have to be punished, such as by losing their ability to farm or by dairy and meat companies refusing to take their products. If not, the whole industry will suffer, as in this most recent case.

Is that tough? Yes. But doing nothing, or trying to ignore those bad farmers, will do our farming sector more harm than good.

If you don’t think farming has an image problem among urban people, just read the comments on online stories run in the mainstream media about farming issues. Far and away the vast majority of the comments are negative and dismissive of farming and farmers. If you don’t believe this, read the comments on the bobby calf issue.

SAFE is a bunch of nutters on an anti-farming campaign – but that is what the industry must put up with.

As Federated Farmers dairy chair Andrew Hoggard says, care needs to be taken in responding to these types of campaigns. A heavy-handed response only gives SAFE and other anti-farming groups more of a platform and oxygen for their cause.

Hoggard sums it up nicely, saying that as an industry farming needs to work hard to prevent the things consumers find abhorrent; and the industry must get tough on farmers who flaunt the regulations governing farming.

As a sector, agriculture has to walk the walk, not just talk the talk in this regard. That is the only way it will continue to garner public support and consumer confidence.

At the crossroads


Fonterra edendale- SouthlandTHE WRITING is on the wall for Fonterra’s chairman John Wilson, his board and management; fed-up farmer shareholders are demanding changes.

The co-op’s board and management have again been caught out of step with the owners of the business; it seems the TAF debacle five years ago has been forgotten.

Last week nearly 54% of Fonterra shareholders voted to reduce a bloated board from the current 13 to nine. Voter turnout was higher than in previous polls: 65% of farmer shareholders representing 73% of the co-op’s total milksolids had their say.

While the proponents of change – former directors Greg Gent and Colin Armer – fell short of the 75% support needed to force amendments to the constitution, the result is sending shockwaves through Fonterra.

A majority of farmers defied a directive from the board and the Shareholders Council that they vote against the Gent/Armer resolution – a slap in the face for Wilson, the board and the council.

It poses bigger questions for the council, which represents grassroots Fonterra farmers; did they blindly follow the board in urging farmers to vote against the resolution?

And how can they now claim to represent the views of all shareholders when 54% disagree with them on the crucial issue of governance and representation?

For some Fonterra farmers the council has been guilty in the past of acting as a mere puppet of the board. Last week’s vote shows farmers no longer condone such behaviour.

The board and council are promising to embark on a consultation process; their problem is the groundwork has been done. To their credit Gent and Armer mounted a clever campaign, taking only a few weeks to announce their resolution and visit farmers around the country to garner majority support.

A majority of farmers have made up their minds; they believe Fonterra’s future lies in a smaller, leaner and fitter board.

The board and council have two choices: either convince shareholders that Gent and Armer are wrong or recommend a nine-member board as agreed by a majority of farmers.

A smaller board will mean new director elections, possibly in the second half of next year.

With the Gent and Armer camp already commanding 54% support they are strongly positioned to grab control of the board, surely signalling the end of Wilson and his faction’s reign. And the new board will be keen for a clean start; chief executive Theo Spierings’ tenure may also be under threat.

Fonterra is at crossroads and the next few months will decide where the co-op will head; what’s certain is that a majority of farmers have made up their minds.

2016 is shaping up as a year of change for Fonterra.