To all you dairy farmers out there, sorry to hear about the payout. I’m sad for you, and by extension, for New Zealand. It’s ridiculous of course. Half the world is starving and we cant get a decent price for food? It so defies common sense I reckon it must be a jack up. I’m told however that such is the way with farming.
The legend of the tight fisted cocky evolved for a reason. In the bad years they are genuinely struggling, in the good years they’re saving up for the bad years. Drought, flood, disease and debt have bankrupted unwary farmers since the birth of our agricultural nation.
Over recent times though many farmers have been seduced and coerced into gradually abandoning more sustainable practices to try and squeeze every bit of production out of their land. There are other added pressures too. Traditionally the successful farmer was one who could best grow pasture and manage animals. It’s good honest endeavour, but these essential talents do not always translate well into the horse trading and snake oil business of the global market place. The TPP will certainly affect Kiwi farmers, yet very few have any idea how.
Back in the late eighties the bottom dropped out of sheep. Not a pretty sight I’m sure. The wool was worth nothing and the meat next to nothing. Like dairying today, production costs often exceeded revenue. For a non sheep farmer like me though, a good fat lamb roast tasted no worse for that. Back then I could buy a live hogget for 12 bucks and a side of mutton at the butchers for 15. The farmers may have been suffering but the city folks in NZ ate well and had a couple of bucks left over for a beer after dinner. This is not so today.
On hearing the news announce a global whole milk powder price at auction of $2,334 per tonne, I made a mental note to pick some up at the Four Square. My apologies to the dairy farmers; I seldom have milk in my beverages, but I do like to have some on hand for a visitor's cup of tea or the cheese sauce needed to render broccoli more palatable. I was in luck of sorts. A 1kg packet of ‘budget’ whole milk powder was reduced as a ‘managers special’ to the price of $9.37. You don’t have to be an Einstein at arithmetic to know that something doesn’t add up here.
A farmer has grown grass, managed a herd and milked his cows. The milk, in its more difficult to handle liquid form, is then transported to a processing factory and dehydrated into milk powder, a long lasting, highly nutritious, easily handled food product that is beneficial for us and which helps sustain life. For this they receive $2.33/kg. Those who add useless polluting packaging into the mix then distribute it and finally make it available to the end consumer gets $7.04/kg. I was aware that modern societies’ moral values were way out of kilter but now know that practically everything else is too.
I drive past the Maungaturoto Dairy Factory several times a week. I wouldn’t mind stopping in with a paper bag and picking up a kilogram of milk powder now and then. Hell, I’d be happy to pay four bucks for it. There is never any for sale there. Just up the road at the farmers market there is certainly no milk or milk powder from Fonterra. The smaller Fresher Valley from over the hill in Waipu sell out though. Alas, in the very regulated global monopolies that pose as a ‘free market’ there are laws and regulations that forbid them from selling it to me and prevent
me from buying it from them. It is all way too big, and bigger is not necessarily better.
Yeah I feel sorry for the dairy farmers but the ones I know round here are a pretty stoic bunch, and provided they have not been duped into shouldering a large debt burden then 'she’ll be right mate'. Those who haven’t brought in to the greed ethic of factory style farming that only pumps out milk. Those who keep a few beef and sheep as well. Those who minimise distribution costs for a litre or two of milk and fatten a pig. These farmers will do as they always have. They certainly won’t go hungry or thirsty. This season up here in the north farmers may not be getting any money for their production but with a season that brought frequent rain they are at least getting plenty of production for their money.
But those who have staked all their winnings on one hand in a crooked game, should realise that sometimes you lose? Perhaps Kipling said it better: If you can make a heap of all your winnings, And risk it at one turn of pitch and toss, Then go back to your beginnings, And never breath a word about your loss.
I seldom have milk in my beverages, but I do like to have some on hand for a visitor's cup of tea or the cheese sauce needed to render broccoli more palatable.