The green grass of Taranaki

In early June, I made a quick trip to Taranaki to talk to the Rural Business Network, which is a mix of farmers and rural professionals. For me, the trip brought back many memories.
As a South Islander for much of my life, it was wonderful to see the lush green grass growing nicely even in winter, and to be reminded of the benefits of free-draining volcanic soils. And then to look up to snowclad Mt Taranaki, which was the very first mountain of any significance that I climbed while still a schoolboy.

Dairy and Mt Taranaki

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Dutch cows graze below sea level

In late May, I was in Holland with colleagues from Calder Stewart as part of a self-education project on hybrid dairy systems. These systems involve 12-month production of milk from the combination of grazing and off-paddock systems.

One of the first lessons we learned is that many Dutch cows graze below sea level. The north-western half of Holland is almost totally below sea level apart from artificial man-made structures called polders. In these regions, the pastures lie three to five metres below sea level. There is an English saying that God made the earth, but the Dutch made Holland. Continue reading

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Synlait purchases strategic blending and canning assets

Synlait’s announcement today of the purchase of apparently distressed assets from the New Zealand Dairy Company puts another peg in the board strengthening Synlait’s pathway towards an integrated dairy value-chain. The purchase has relevance both to Synlait and its strategic partner The a2 Milk Company (ATM in New Zealand; A2M in Australia). The unstated key driver is exponential growth of demand for ‘a2 Platinum’ infant formula.

The purchase cost of the incomplete assets, which are adjacent to Auckland Airport,  is $33.2 million with additional expected costs of $23.3 million to make the plant operational by October 2017. Continue reading

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Learning from Tillamook dairy

This last week I have been in Tillamook, in Western Oregon. Together with three colleagues from Calder Stewart, I have been exploring the dairy systems here, to see what learnings we can bring back to New Zealand.

Tillamook is a high rainfall zone on the Pacific Coast and has much of the same feel about it as the West Coast of New Zealand.  It is one of the few places in the world where dairy cows can be grazed on perennial pastures, and using the same grass species as we use in New Zealand. The latitude is 45 degrees North, which is a latitudinal mirror image of Oamaru, Alexandra and South Westland.  But climatically, it Westland that is the best comparison. Continue reading

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Alternatives to dairy in New Zealand – the challenges are under-estimated

Readers of my articles will know that I believe we can find solutions to the multiple problems that face our New Zealand dairy industry. However, the current conventional wisdom within New Zealand’s dominating urban constituency is that there is no path ahead for dairy and that we therefore have to find alternatives. My key message here is that finding non-dairy alternatives will not be easy.

There is a clear logic as to why New Zealand has focused so much on dairy. Quite simply, it is the most efficient of the pastoral industries at turning grass into animal protein.  Economic factors have led inexorably to industry expansion, and for many it has paid off big-time.  This is despite the dairy downturn from 2014 through until recently. Continue reading

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Fifty years of Canterbury farming revolution

The ideas for this article were triggered by a recent reunion of former Ministry of Agriculture Canterbury farm advisers. There were about 45 of us who got together to tell tales of former years. Our collective experiences that day went back to 1946 when Austin Ebert joined what was then the Department of Agriculture, followed by Les Bennetts in 1947, and then Lyndsay Galloway and Dave Reynolds a few years later. Continue reading

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Synlait transforms from bulk powders to infant formula

Synlait is currently undergoing a strategic restructure from a producer of bulk milk powders to a producer of consumer-packaged infant formula. These investments will make Synlait the dominant New Zealand producer of infant formula.

So far, Synlait are still in the early stages of the transformation, but with a current construction contract with Tetra Pak to double their wet-kitchen capacity to 80,000 tonnes per annum, plus a foreshadowed announcement about doubling canning capacity to 60,000 tonnes, it is ‘all systems go’. Continue reading

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