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Managing risks in dry weather

31/01/2013 4:48:00 p.m. 

James Houghton is Federated Farmers Waikato president

Some parts of Waikato are looking quite parched and the forecast for the rest of summer is for more dry weather. I hope farmers are being sensible about what they are doing with their water and feed situations. It is also very important to keep fire risks down.

There are plenty of stories about idiots who have caused huge amounts of damage to their own and other people’s property. Some districts have already imposed restricted fire seasons and it is likely the rest will follow if the current weather patterns continue. Before lighting a fire, make sure you check with your district council.

Also check to see if your fire could potentially burn down something which doesn’t belong to you – such as power poles. I heard of a farmer who was billed several thousand dollars when a fire lit by a tenant employee burnt down a power pole on their property. There are some not-so-bright sparks out there and it might pay to check your tenants’ proximity to such things and make sure they know to be cautious around these rather expensive pieces of wood.

There has been some pretty serious interest from Chinese dairy companies in investing in some large scale production facilities around New Zealand, including interest from Yashili International Holdings in building a processing plant in Waikato. This company wants to move fast and is indicating a possible completion date tentatively set for sometime next year.

Yashili and the other companies scouting around New Zealand have not been put off investing here despite the heated, and at times red-necked, debates stirred up by last year’s sale of the former Crafar farms to Shanghai Pengxin.

With contamination scares happening on a fairly regular basis in Chinese dairy processing plants, these companies want to process New Zealand milk here and use our reputation for producing top quality and more importantly safe dairy products.

If this does go ahead, the construction phase would provide some welcome work for the construction industry, but we do need to consider if another processor in Waikato would create better returns for local farmers? We will have to watch this space. Any future dairy conversions are going to find it hard to appease councils.

I would have thought the South Island presented more growth opportunities, which would also create more competition down there.

The Government’s reshuffle of its ministers’ portfolios has to have strengthened the position of farming in National’s Cabinet for 2013.

Our former Minister for Primary Industries, David Carter, is the Speaker of the House designate and former associate Minister for Primary Industries, Nathan Guy, will step up to the minister’s role. As an experienced dairy farmer, Nathan will bring a great understanding of the issues that really matter to the industry to this ministry.

David Carter has been a good friend of the Federation over the past four years and is actually a member, as are the previous Speaker Lockwood Smith and Nathan Guy.

It is interesting to see Nick Smith back in Cabinet, with the Conservation portfolio, which has long been an area of interest for him. I am glad to see Amy Adams maintain her environment portfolio. It is good to have a sensible minister in such an emotive topic area.

Federated Farmers has just launched a campaign to raise awareness around the serious issue of suicide in rural communities.

I have been asking people to look out for each other for quite a few months now, ever since the lower payout expectations started adding financial pressures to the many other pressures farmers face.

It is easy to feel overwhelmed when faced with a mounting pile of problems and life on the farm can be very isolating especially in rural communities where people value self reliance. Reaching out for help is strength not weakness.

Signs to watch for could be that a neighbour is less sociable than previously or their farm is showing signs of neglect. It could be time to have a chat with them to see if they are alright. If you suspect someone could be depressed, speak up, because there is a way through.

I went along to the Dairy Industry Awards’ Waikato event for entrants and sponsors last week. This marks the start of judging, which will roll out for each category over the next three or four months.

Good on all those who have entered. They will discover a huge amount about their businesses over the next few weeks, as the judging process puts them under the microscope.

This really is a competition where everyone is a winner. Of course, there will be several people determined to make the judges’ decisions as difficult as possible over the next few weeks. There is certainly a lot of talent in Waikato and I think it is awesome to motivate and enthuse people about our industry and give recognition. Good luck to everyone.

The recall of DCD nitrogen inhibitors last week made headlines, but is unlikely to have affected Waikato farmers. DCD’s were a tool better suited for the conditions of South Island farmers. While it is unlikely there is any real cause for concern over the minute traces found in milk, it is always better to be on the safe side.

There was also another quad bike accident in Waikato last week, which will no doubt re-ignite calls for heavier legislation. However, this will not prevent people making bad decisions. On my farm and many others, we have moved away from standard quad bikes to all terrain vehicles with roll cages. These have a wider range of practical uses and are also safer.

Our younger farmers coming through are adopting a good safety culture. There is much the older generations could learn from them.

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