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Reflections on Changing Times - by The Alderney

As it's the first of June cows are on the move all around the Manawatu. They are off to new destinations to play their part in the next euphoric season for the dairy industry. With the lift on the moratorium for new supply, cowsheds are popping up everywhere and cows are displacing traditional farming all over the country, especially in the South Island. As always happens in such rapid changes of balance, concern soon surfaces about the impact of the change. Where will it end? What will happen to the other farming sections? How will communities address the social change? How will the roads take the tankers? Where will all the effluent go? …. You have heard the type of thing during this surge and you have heard it during the other waves of excitement of other farming businesses.

As it's the first of June cows are on the move all around the Manawatu. They are off to new destinations to play their part in the next euphoric season for the dairy industry. With the lift on the moratorium for new supply, cowsheds are popping up everywhere and cows are displacing traditional farming all over the country, especially in the South Island.

As always happens in such rapid changes of balance, concern soon surfaces about the impact of the change. Where will it end? What will happen to the other farming sections? How will communities address the social change? How will the roads take the tankers? Where will all the effluent go? ….

You have heard the type of thing during this surge and you have heard it during the other waves of excitement of other farming businesses.

These worries are genuine but have little merit in my mind. Every branch of the industry finds its own level within a given band of price fluctuations or restraints that may occur or be placed in its path.

This was so apparent when my wife and I went on a weekend jaunt to look at the Wairarapa and especially the Martinborough wine scene.

The wine and tourist industries are rolling ahead in that beautiful little settlement. Bus loads of wine guzzlers are flocking into the under sized tasting rooms and after a few sips are purchasing copious bottles of the vintners' offerings.

The cafes, the hotels, the motels and the restaurants are thriving. It is a joy to behold. A win win situation with happy customers, happy bus operators, and happy vineyard owners selling their produce at higher than super market prices.

Martinborough is the centre of a pocket where grapes grow well, so soil and climate are limiting factors for the spread of this industry and for the tourist ventures that piggy-back off it. The diversification into olives will be a further bonus to the area but will have the same restraints as the grapes.

At a delightful little restaurant called "La Mousse" I sampled the succulent fruits of the Emu industry. While killing facilities that match export requirements are soon going to be ready in the North Island it will require a lot of market development from the Ostrich and Emu farmers before the country is going to feel threatened by their expansion.

From Martinborough we headed out to Riversdale and Castlepoint on the back roads, passing some of the big station names that a few decades ago stood for all that was grand in farming. These giants of the land were the examples of big time farming and thrived on the European needs for our sheep, wool and beef.

Their glory days have now passed and they are no longer the places of pilgrimage for young shepherds. The likes of the Homewood and Castlepoint stations are now just large farms in idyllic settings pegged back by the politics in Europe, as the Common Market developed and Britain sourced its needs elsewhere.

To reach those stations we travelled through large tracts of pine forest that were well on the way to harvest. Another industry that caused alarm with its explosive expansion. Some thought whole regions were going to be lost under a sea of dark green erect trees.

Tourists were going to be avoiding New Zealand because the scenery was going to be wrecked by these unsightly forests. Lower prices and politics soon put a cap on the green invasion, so that timber became just another large part of a well-balanced portfolio of agricultural ventures within the country.

The cattle we saw on those back roads were not the traditional Herefords and Angus but mainly Friesian or dairy crosses that were not bred on the property. They are the popular choice in the beef industry, but back in the seventies semen from every exotic beef breed imaginable was imported to create some magical new first or second cross animal, that was going to revolutionise farming.

Concern for the traditional breeds was loud and strong but no one need have worried. Under New Zealand grass conditions the two old faithfuls held their own and have now only been surpassed because the principles of buying in stock currently out weigh breeding one's own.

Castlepoint looked glorious in the sunshine and just below the little church of St. Peters by the Sea sat several fishing boats on trailers. Another boat raced through the rolling surf to enter the shelter of the harbour. They represented the fishing industry that not so long ago was hauling up huge catches of crayfish, paua and deep water fish. Over-fishing, quotas and fuel costs all played a part in the curtailment of their rolling wave.

A wild deer crossed the road in front of us on the way to Alfredton. Her farmed cousins are part of another successful branch of agriculture that boomed in the eighties before getting caught in a velvet scandal, and a share market crash amongst other things. Again a healthy balanced industry has evolved from the upset.

Some other branches of farming cropped up in the "diversification" days of the eighties but soon settled into a realistic level that matched the market. These included Possums, Rabbits, Ferrets, Llamas and Goats, none of which we saw on our Wairarapa journey, but I'm sure would have been there in there day.

Having left the back roads we headed north towards Pahiatua and entered the rich dairy lands that run up into the southern Hawke Bay. This is part of the current boom industry that is awaiting its inevitable levelling force.

That force will definitely arrive. It could come from outside or from within. The possibilities are many. It could be the NZ dollar, internal company wrangling, the appearance of an exotic disease, or just a maximum price that the customers are prepared to pay.

At that point dairying will settle for a while and another class of agriculture will have its turn to surge ahead. Whatever happens there is no need for alarm or concern. A comfortable balance will be found. You just have to go for a drive through the Wairarapa to see it.




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