Thursday, April 23, 2009

Rain but no relief

The trouble with a winter drought is that it’s hard to explain to those that don't farm.

I visited Gisborne and met with the local drought committee on April 20 and announced government assistance for drought affected farmers in the region. The announcement was made as it rained.

The fact of the matter is these farmers are going into their third year of drought; with soil temperatures dropping, rain is too late for grass growth. The positives, in contrast to last year, are the price of store stock is up, the price of supplementary feed is down, and the region’s farmers do not have to compete for feed with other drought stricken areas.

The North Island’s East Coast seems to be the only area in New Zealand that hasn't enjoyed a reasonable autumn. I have done a fair bit of travelling over the past month and farmers up and down the country are generally very positive, despite the global economic situation.

For good reason, I too am optimistic. The New Zealand primary sector has some great things going for it and, as I have said before, it will be the primary sector that leads New Zealand's recovery.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Ways with wool

Strong wool is the one area in agriculture I have identified as needing to pull its socks up quick-smart.

It is a disappointment to me that the drive seems to have disappeared out of our strong wool industry restructuring. This is despite substantial investment of time and money by industry leaders and taxpayers.

Conversely, I am an admirer of what Merino New Zealand has achieved with fine wool. This model of innovation is exciting. It has changed the perception of fine wool through research and innovation, supply chain expertise and marketing.

The decline in strong wool prices is unsustainable. I know some farmers are finding it is costing more to shear their wool than they actually receive for the product itself.

As consumers demand products that are natural and environmentally sustainable I wonder where we have gone wrong. New Zealand wool is a natural product that has attributes that outweigh many synthetic products. We must maximise these opportunities, because synthetics are certainly not produced naturally.

I appreciate the timing of strong wool proposals from Wool Partners International and Elders Wool Marketing Enterprises have clashed with the international credit crisis but the reality is, economically, sheep farmers are in a better position than they have been for years.

With stable sheep meat prices, and the drought over, we are in an ideal position to invest in strong wool.

I believe the timing is right - Merino New Zealand has shown us the model, there are two options on the table, both radically different approaches to the status quo.

It is not my role as Agriculture Minister to tell farmers which option to take, but I will say, doing nothing is not an option.