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.

Gutless and boring

Stoking New Zealander's underlying unease about Chinese  land ownership is meat and drink to the supporters of Winston Peters

Winston Peters: has been performing same old tricks for more than 30 years

WINSTON PETERS has been at it again, hiding behind the cloak of Parliamentary privilege to deliver another conspiracy-riddled attack, this time on the directors and farmer shareholders of Silver Fern Farms.

Last week Peters took a call in Parliament’s weekly general debate to rant and rave about the SFF/Shanghai Maling deal and made all sorts of spurious claims – all the while his sycophant caucus of no-names and nobodies nodding, jeering and gesturing like trained monkeys.

It is obvious Peters has neither the cohunes nor the facts to back any of his wild claims outside the House, therefore rendering his argument – much like his entire political career – full of hot air and empty rhetoric.

The fact that neither Peters nor critics of the SFF/Shanghai Maling deal will admit to is that 82.2% of Silver Fern Farm farmer shareholders (the owners of the co-op) voted overwhelmingly in support of the deal. Farmers – not the Government – own SFF. During the last days of Government control of the NZ meat industry – in Peters’ heyday of the 1980s – it was an unmitigated disaster.

NZ First’s objection to the SFF deal is little more than grubby politics – a deliberate plan to try to mine the 5% of the vote it needs to survive in Parliament, from redneck elements especially in rural and provincial NZ.

They have been trying to stir up fears about the ‘Chinese takeover’ for months, even making unsubstantiated claims that Finance Minister Bill English “refused to meet with the board of SFF for over a year”. When this accusation was put to SFF chair Rob Hewett by Rural News back in October his answer was blunt: “That’s bullshit.”

But that’s Winston Peters for you: full of the proverbial and never letting the facts get in the way of the real story.

The reality is somewhat different: Shanghai Maling already wants SFF product made and packaged in NZ and sent shelf-ready to China. SFF chief executive Dean Hamilton (who according to Peters will, with chairman Rob Hewett, be axed by Shanghai) told a recent China Business Summit that, contrary to another Peters’ claim, “We aren’t about to build a plant in Uruguay or China [because Shanghai Maling] wants this product 100% made in NZ.”

The Shanghai Maling JV not only assures the balance sheet but also brings real value to SFF on many fronts – not least 6000 supermarkets to which the new partner has access in China.

SFF farmer shareholders saw this huge potential and hence overwhelmingly voted in favour of the Shanghai Maling deal. That’s because these farmers are modern-day business people who know that in the year 2015 we need to be open and focussed on the world – especially Asia.

They bear no resemblance to a broken-down, one-trick, political pony, well past his prime, stuck in 1985 wanting NZ to close the door against the invading yellow peril!

Common sense prevails

Quad bike safety is a major issue for NZ farmers

Quad bike safety is a major issue for NZ farmers

IT APPEARS much of the angst and anger percolating through the farming sector over proposed changes to health and safety regulations may now have eased.
The parliamentary transport and industrial relations select committee – charged with reviewing the Health and Safety Reform Bill – has recently reported back and proposed changes, many of which the farming sector has been calling for.
As Fed Farmers health and safety spokesperson Katie Milne says, the changes to the bill go some way to recognising that farms are different from urban industrial workplaces. She applauds changes that mean farmers would not be held liable for the safety of people who – without the farmer’s knowledge — enter their properties and suffer an accident. It is now made clear that recreational users coming onto farmland would be responsible for their own safety – duck shooters, hunters, mountain bikers, anglers and so on.
It’s good that parliamentarians have listened to farmer concerns and put the responsibility back on recreational users where it always should have been. As Beef + Lamb NZ chairman James Parsons says, it is good to see the select committee process working and acknowledging farmer concerns.
BLNZ say key changes to the Health and Safety Reform Bill go a long way to clarifying the responsibilities of farmers towards employees and visitors to their farms. Other changes recognise that a farm’s family home is excluded as part of the workplace. This acknowledges the unique features of farms as workplaces and homes for rural families and applies good common sense to the issue of improving safety onfarm.
Fed Farmers and BLNZ concede there are still issues that need changing to improve onfarm safety, while taking into account the practicalities of modern farming. Both say they will keep working with the Government and officials to seek a practical outcome.
This pragmatic attitude is far different from the reaction by unions and Opposition politicians who claim the changes ‘gut the bill’ and disregard workplace safety. That is rubbish!
As WorkSafe NZ’s Al McCone says, “if a workplace has a culture of posting rules but ignoring them it will be held liable”. His encouraging advice to farmers is, “if you are doing things well under the current legislation, you will be doing things well under new legislation”.
But McCone also warns that workers must take reasonable care to ensure their own safety. So if a farmer tells a worker to wear a helmet and he doesn’t, and gets killed or hurt, the farmer will not be held responsible.
We hear the collective sigh of relief in the rural sector as common sense prevails.

Trade deal on the way?

Fonterra Hawera plantIT IS understood that top officials from 12 Pacific nations negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade pact are planning to convene in Hawaii at the end of this month for a final push to get agreement – an indication that we may be nearing a deal.
The US Congress last month expanded negotiating authority for President Barack Obama, setting up a potentially deal clinching meeting of trade officials.
It’s estimated the TPP would add about 2% a year to the New Zealand economy. Services, tourism and IT would make up about 40% of this increase, agriculture 25%, the remainder coming from investment. The TPP region represents 792 million consumers and 40% of world trade. In 2012, trade among TPP partners was at least $2 trillion.
According to a professor of international finance at Brandeis University, Peter Petri, recently in New Zealand, a successful TPP agreement appears more likely now the US has agreed to fast-track negotiations.
For NZ, one of the biggest sticking points is access for its dairy products: the US, Canada and Japan have highly protected dairy industries.
The US is believed to be pushing Japan to open its long-protected market for beef, pork, dairy and rice products. Japan, in turn, is seeking the end of US tariffs on cars and trucks.
Petri claims the US is “for the most part” working with NZ on dairy issues.
“The big problem now is Japan and Canada, and even in Canada you have a modern dairy industry which would sooner be rid of supply management,” Petri said.
Regarding the controversy over the TPP, Petri believes the issue has not been handled well politically. “They should have kept negotiations within the room but at least described the broad lines of negotiations more publicly.”
However, conspiracy claims – led by anti-TPP critics such as Jane Kelsey and politicians who know better – about the TPP being a ‘big business’ takeover of our national sovereignty, and other scare stories, are laughable.
It is deplorable that the anti-TPP people like Kelsey et al get to make such uncontested claims and have unfettered media coverage. Yet the work and word of honest and dedicated people such as special agriculture trade envoy Mike Petersen and diplomatic, trade and government expert Stephen Jacobi, who believe the TPP will have huge benefits for NZ, are ignored.
Petersen and Jacobi – or the NZ Government for that matter – are hardly going to sell our country or the agriculture sector down the river to benefit the Gnomes of Zurich or any other interest group.
Meanwhile, Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Institute of International Economics, believes the planned high-level negotiating session suggests officials from most or all the countries believe an agreement is within reach now that Congress has approved the negotiating authority Obama sought.
“I think a deal is close, but the end of July seems optimistic. The end of August seems more likely.”
Let’s hope so. New Zealand – our agriculture sector especially – stand to benefit greatly.

What’s wrong with simplicity?

KISS -- Keep it simple!

KISS — Keep it simple!

THE NEWS that Fonterra is to hire international consulting firm McKinsey & Co to see what needs to be changed in the organisation is breathtaking.
It seems a lot of people in the co-op are earning a million or more dollars a year, so what don’t such people know and why can’t they fix it themselves? Many were presumably responsible for the co-op’s present structure, so what’s wrong?
McKinsey will for a small fee (yeah, right) propose some sort of change to the structure. But we hope they look beyond structure and truly analyse the culture of Fonterra, which is the greatest source of complaints from many of the people who deal with the dairy giant.
The word arrogance is frequently used to describe the way Fonterra behaves to external stakeholders and farmers. ‘Fortress Fonterra’ is another expression. The co-op’s communication style gets people’s backs up. They seem to assume a God-like position, which does not fit well with the salt-of-the-earth farmers they supposedly represent.
Understandably, some Fonterra suppliers are looking sideways towards other companies to which they could sell their milk. Fonterra’s hold on the milk supply is slipping as companies such as Miraka and others show what can be done. They also offer a closer relationship – a whanau approach – which is very appealing to many.
In its latest Agribusiness Agenda, KPMG suggests that in 10 years Fonterra may control only 70% of the New Zealand milk supply – down from 85% today.
This is not to say Fonterra is bad; in fact it is a great company and NZ Inc. needs a strong Fonterra. But it seems to many that the body corporate has become disconnected from its shareholders. The great work of Fonterra is being undone by poor communications, which is an easy fix. PR spin and new buzzwords such as ‘velocity’ will change nothing and impress no one.
The solution is frequent, timely, honest, simple, straight talk. Surely that’s not too much to ask.