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Strong global demand - but how is it going to look back home for NZ agriculture

NZ Agriculture looks to be in a strong position. The world-wide shortage of food is going to make New Zealand one of the lucky countries.
    Lucky because we are well away from the bulging hungry populations;
    Lucky because we are a food producing nation that does not eat all its products and has plenty to sell;
    Lucky because we are in a temperate climate with relatively regular rainfalls.
Distance from our consumers was a disadvantage and now I think it will become our main advantage. Why? Because hungry countries and hungry people start doing strange things. We have seen some results on that oblong screen in our homes recently.

As the New Zealand Government and the Reserve Bank slowly lower interest rates our dollar will probably follow. Don't get too carried away however, because for the reasons just listed New Zealand is seen as a prosperous country. Sheep and beef and some horticulture products languish under soft demand, high cost production mentality and processing.

If we look at how much grain it takes to produce a kilogram of beef we realise it is relatively inefficient. Compare this to feeding grain and cereal as a direct food for humans and we realise that it is not the best use of resources.

Higher Interest rates have also sucked the lifeblood out of rural New Zealand. In most balance sheets the debt cost is the largest cost to their business. Managing the cost of debt is really important and should be the focus of all farmers.

New Zealand benefits from some of the best, innovative farmers in the world. Hopefully, ever increasing regulations and compliance costs will not stymie our inventors and innovators from trying and completing new ideas and technologies.

An example of this is the "Bach Latch". This is a simple electronic device that opens the tape gate for the cows to leave the paddock at a pre-determined time. This allows the cows to drift up to the cowshed or up to the feed platform. One farmer told me he can have cups on his cows in the morning within ten minutes of leaving the house. Why? Because this simple little device lets the cows come up to the shed. All at a cost of $400.

The challenge will be to manage our input costs and our land resources, which include:

Fertiliser

    What is the best and most profitable fertiliser?
    What is the interrelationship with carbon exchange and the ability of the soil to hold and release nutrients ?
    How is the soil nutrient balance related to the brix level in our pasture and so on?
    Do we need more lime and so on?
    Some farmers have run the old formula of 1kg of fertiliser per 1kg of milk solids produced.

Interest Rates and Debt Costs

    Enough said

Feed Costs

    The 2008 drought has taught us all a lot of valuable lessons.
    How can we source good quality feed at a realistic price?
    Do we store it on our own farm or rely on outsourcing?
    Can we grow more feed on farm and so on?
    What if all these lifestyle blocks grew maize silage for example, for the dairy farms that surround them?

Fuel Costs

These costs as a percent of gross farm income used to be relatively low but are creeping up.
    Can we be more efficient and use our time and motors more effectively?
    Will "Batt Latches" save us 2 trips down the farm for example?
    Can staff use push bikes to follow the cows in during the dry summers and so on?
    Can we be more organised for our trips to town to collect supplies?
I heard of one friend who called themselves "tar seal farmers". They spend most of their day in a car!

Labour

    How do we manage our labour resource?
    Can we reduce labour by having more mechanisation?
    How do we maintain our staff on a long term basis rather than having them leave every year?

Compliance Costs

    What are the issues and how can we manage them better?
I have heard of somebody who is willing to fly over the whole of the country with cameras mounted on the bottom of his plane to advise Fonterra of the dairy farmers before the prosecuting authorities do so.

Stock Health

    Can we reduce costs here?
    Can we look after our stock better?
    Can we use drenches less?
    Can we have more natural resistance and so on?

Drawings

    Can we have these more realistic and cut down on wastage and consumption?
    Can we be more effective in how we spend our money?
The challenge is to maintain our low cost of production as our competitive advantage on the world scale. How can we do that and keep costs down?

In summary, New Zealand agriculture looks great. Spending the 45 year career in agriculture I have never seen things look so good.

The world is hungry and short of food. There are some serious challenges before us but we resilient Kiwis will manage our farms and resources better than most. We need to be open to change and the speed of which will frighten us. We need to be proud of our country and have a more "Buy New Zealand" attitude.

By considering all these things we will remain at the forefront of world agriculture as quality food producers.


 

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