Saturday, September 29, 2012

New Zealand dairying productivity

I always browse the Friday edition of local rag The Press (okay, local rag is actually the Ellesmere Echo but it doesn't burn as well as The Press) because that's the day they run the farming section. And there I found a remarkable article, 'Importing feed 'harms productivity'' by Sue O'Dowd.

The first sentence rings like a bell: 'Productivity on dairy farms declined 0.5% a year between 2000 and 2010...'. This is from the rising costs of input such as imported feed, the revelation coming from Rob Brazendale, head of the DairyNZ productivity team.

Farmers are canny business peeps and undoubtedly watch international price movements daily to see where they are positioned. But do we as a nation labour under a myth of NZ farm productivity success?

The farming sector is groaning under growing debt, up 4.5% over the past year to over $49 billion. (Actually all NZ debt is up over the past year.)

I recall an article by economic geographer Paul McCann who listed NZ at 16th for farm productivity, hardly the 'world leader' we're accustomed to thinking of ourselves. The rural land-based sector has been the butt of a number of jokes and insults. Some warranted - dirty dairying a case in point - but agriculture still pulls in over 60% of this country's foreign earnings.

If the flagship industry has declining productivity within our key export sector, a hard rains gonna fall.

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Simon Lambert

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