Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Farm Resilience in the Face of Volatility

Problem with being an old hand is you dont learn much at field days, if you come away with one new thing its been a good day.
The weather was a real prick yesterday and B&LNZ's latest seminar offering was just over the hill in Turakina, so I toddled along.
And came away with plenty, main of which was a pretty substantial worksheet for devising risk management strategy in the farming system, identifying the factors, their relevance, likely effects, and space to notate what to do about it.
Great plan, thanks B&LNZ, going to be fun working through it, and possible material for future posts here.
There was a major slant to climate change, discussion led by Andrew Tait from NIWA, who presented data showing there has been a 1degC increase in temp mean over the last 100 years here in NZ, reflecting the world-wide situation.
I've been a skeptic/denier if you want to call it that, still am, not so much about the data, but at being bullied by others on issues significant to them, not necessarily to me. I accept the temp rise is real, but frankly I'd sooner go to work during a drought than in the winter weather I'm hiding from here at my computer desk today, made even worse by my having spent the last three winters in the northern hemisphere motorcycle cruising shirt-sleeved across the 30degC Mid-West USA.
Proof of farmer acceptance of "climate change" was proffered by the results of a survey in which farmers ranked it as 3rd on their list of threats behind, of one thing, Winston Peters, but this is a misconstruction, its actually the ETS and similar townie conspired assault on our way of life we consider the threat, not so much whether the ice on Antarctic is going to melt or not.
Just last night on the way home from the movies, I heard one whacker on Kerre Woodham's Talkback expounding "we (townies) were subsidising farmers on the ETS". This is the sort of crank along with the Greens that exercise votes impacting on farmings future. There is no properly functional ETS at the moment, and farmers pay the same levy on fuel and power he does, on an individual basis, a freaking sight more.
And further, I walk to work each day, I bet he dosent.
In my world here on this farm I've lived on since a couple of days after I was born, things have changed little. As kids maybe we used to break ice on the puddles while waiting for the school bus, nowadays you dont see the puddled ice so much because the road is sealed.
Going to Wellington or Auckland is a different story, traffic jams to social mayhem, and all that concommitant urban shit. People who live under rain-clouds think its raining everywhere else.
What I really really like about the climate change debate, who's presenting the truth or not, is that scientists can no longer go to work without the feeling the world's looking over their shoulder.
Join the club mate, that's what farming's turning into these days. LOL
Trevor Cook delivered his usual dose of common sense on matters of livestock care in a changing environment, and Gary Massicks outlined and added to formulating the risk management plan.
Due to the smallish attendance we didnt break into workshop sessions to "drill down" into the topics, thank goodness, do I hate workshop sessions.
The open forum opted for served admirably.


This would just about have to be my final word I think, following a chat with another dairy-farmer neighbour.
The vote's gone through at 66%, which, while not over the hoped for 75% option also on the vote sheet, could be regarded as "near enough".
He says there's always a dissident voice, it was even worse during the debate whether to form Fonterra in the first place with the combination of Kiwi Co-op, NZ Dairy Group, and the Dairy Board itself.
Some of the opposition in the current debate arises from quite credible source, but the bottom-line principle still is one of single desk being able to better serve a number of producers in a small nation, right from getting away from competing milk collection tankers driving up and down the same rural road to competing for product sales on the bigger world stage.
Contrary to my previous comment about the future danger if PROC get to dominate the TAF fund, that possibility is actually mitigated. If not for TAF, it would be open slather for foreign capital to offer individual farmers sweetheart deals for their shares, as well as buy in share-holding through farm acquisition.
This way, TAF is the only entry/exit point for capital, and its size-limited to 20% of the total shares.
While its been some time in the making, safeguards have been introduced at each raising of concern, no doubt such will continue.
The involvement of Govt remains an issue. Why cant farmers just be allowed to get on with it?
A big part of the motivation behind the DIRA seems to me a knee jerk response to NZ public complaint about the rising price of milk and cheese, and while changes to the Act might be necessary to effect this latest change in capital structure, I hope its not going to include "safeguards" to the NZ dairy product consumer, ie read price control. Already there's this ridiculous requirement of Fonterra to supply their opposition with a percentage of milk at a controlled price.
Competing companies dont appear to be doing all that well as it is.
Fonterra's done well, in a shaky world economy, returning a good reward to suppliers by and large, and giving a robustness to the value of protein on supermarket shelves.
This latter point shouldnt go un-acknowledged by us meat, and wool, producers, poor relation as we are bereft of a decent processing and marketing chain.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

More on TAF

So, here I am, armed with all the to and fro gen on the Fonterra TAF (Trading Among Farmers) debate, and I spot a dairy farmer neighbour in a local hardware store, me, eager to engage in conversation on the issue, somewhat naively it turns out.
To recap, Fonterra is creating a tandem investment vehicle to run alongside farmer shareholder capital. All Fonterra suppliers must buy a shareholding matching their supply volume, being the shareholder capital side of the business. Its the nations biggest business, $10.4B of exports, 26% of NZ's total exports, 1 share per kg milk solids, 600m kg total production, share value $4.50 odd, total shareholder value, $2.7B?
When it was mooted, maybe 5 years ago, the main argument was that outside investment, ie. greater capital resource, was needed for greater expansion of the co-op's commercial activity and to enhance its competitiveness on the world stage.
The vote by shareholders to proceed was passed 3 years ago, but concern was raised about such a non-supplier fund eventually becoming a tail that would wag the dog, appeasement of investor expectation to the detriment of supplier income.
This second approaching vote, 25th June, is taking place after safeguards have been built into the proposal, limiting the size, and clarifying the non-voting status, of the tandem fund, and somehow the initial argument seems to have shifted from one of the necessity for extra capital for company expansion, to one of needing a buffer fund to absorb the need for capital to satisfy any cashing up farmers might make on exit from the industry. There's also a presumed danger that in times of financial stress, farmers, (or their bankers) might deem it wise to cash up some of the shareholding.
Therefore, this so-called redemption risk, is taken off the company balance sheet, providing stability for future commercial strategy.
So, here, I start getting a little lost. If I was an outside investor, I'm not sure I'd want such a tame punt, with no-voting rights, but I guess there'd be plenty of investment institutions, regardless of lack of involvement in the up front action, would appreciate an investment vehicle probably safer than a bank, if theyre prepared to ride out normal agri-economy ups and downs cycles, and easily return more than current banks penny pinching 3-5% deposit fund returns.
However, from my view, any move away from a simple co-op capital base, is thin edge of the wedge stuff.
Back to my neighbour....
When I asked how he voted, he looked at me like, are you nuts or something. What am I talking about if there are options to voting "yes"?
Oh well, I explained brightly, I've been following the debate on Country99, (which incidentally he knew nothing about).
So who was on it? he enquired, and I got sage nods of approval at mention of Theo Spierings, the Fonterra board member, and the Shareholders Council Chair Brown, but when I mentioned Guiney, (my heroine), Barkla, and that "other woman from Waikato, the accountant/dairy farmer" he responded somewhat forcefully, "those nutters, if they dont want to belong to this co-op, they should bugger off".
So.... seems to be that the supposed 93% support are "rugby supporter" definite about where they want to go on this issue. And whats more, up till now I thought this debate was remarkably free of vitriole.

The next 10 years will be pretty interesting where this all gets to.
What I wonder about farmer/suppliers is whether they really appreciate the longer horizon vision of the corporate. Nestle can wait 50 years to take over Fonterra, which I bet they'd love to do, the Fonterra Board vision is only as long as the peer blokes farmers vote onto it, and they in turn employ graduates of the corporate world to run their company for them.
And it almost seems that suppliers want to pick up, embrace, and run with a corporate ball. Get the best of a both-world each way bet, milk price or dividend, cant lose.
Just as long as they never let the share register go public..., ever.
Buried in my psyche is one of Michael Porters main business model flowcharts, when the going gets tough, the first thing you screw are your suppliers. Actually, its the only thing you've got to screw.
We do it all the time when we "put our cheque books away".
Yesterday I was somewhat envious of my fellow farmers business model.
Today, I think I'm happy to be floating free in my non-aligned sheepfarming sea.....
except for that ominous NAIT cloud on the horizon, but thats another story.
Another parting thought, what say the Peoples Republic of China want to buy the TAF fund.....
20% of $2.7B shareholders total, ie. half a $B approx, would only be chicken feed to them, as would a 50 year vision horizon.
Actually, its not hard to draw parallels with the current issue of Govt selling parts of the SOE's.
You'd wonder why both organisations couldnt have just gone straight to the NZ Super Fund, or Kiwi Saver fund operators, and offered them an off-market package deal of non-convertibles.
Or is that too easy....

Friday, June 22, 2012

Country 99 TV and the TAF Debate

Phew, now I've gone and changed my mind, having just watched the final TAF debate of the three, and picking up a replay of the first night's off the Country 99 website.

The first two sessions are posted for replay, roughly 30 mins a time if you've got the data capacity, and I'd pick it wont be long before tonight's is posted.

Debate dosent actually feel like the right word to describe it, remarkably free of personal vitriole, more an in-depth discussion, and folks intelligently presenting their views.
Glenys Christian looks a most unlikely discussion facilitator, so far removed, but refreshingly so, from the usual TV smart-arse provocateur, but gee she asked the good questions.

The 3 debate programs are fantastic TV.
As a sheep and beef farmer I'm gob-smacked envious these people have something so huge and important to discuss, so competently. After the rise and collapse of co-operative attempts in the wool industry, and the impossibility of anything similar ever happening in the meat industry, we really are the poor relation.
As with last night getting spellbound by Louise Guiney, Damian O'Connor (Labour Spokesman on Agriculture) emerged as my favorite tonight, not a hint of party politics, and obviously on the Parliamentary Committee doing the DIRA, expressing his apprehension at framing legislation governing farmer shareholders from the top down, rather than from grass-roots up.
Theo Spierings impressed from the first night's show.

All this stuff a country mile ahead of the nightly sectional hand-wringing drivel on TV's 1 and 3 News, Campbell Live and Close-up.........
restores my faith there is actually a sane NZ out there.

The weather program on Country99 is the best I've ever seen too, week nights only, 8pm, ran 15-20 mins easy, fronted by Phillip Duncan, gave a 10 day by day through till Sunday week using a map extending well west of WA and almost as far south as Antarctic
first week in July is going to be warmer than first week in June was
I can try and get the ewes shorn then!

Problem is, its a subscription service, in truth the program schedule looks a bit sparse, and its $17 a month on top of an already bloated Sky sub, but I could claim it as a deductible item.
Need to think a bit more on it, maybe for the weather alone it might be worth it.

Whatever the outcome of the TAF vote, all the best you guys.
Seems to me the balance sheet stability to be gained from better controlled redemption risk, should the vote pass, will help the co-op remain competitive internationally.
The downside is, its not the outside investors that will bring jeopardy to the company, its the farmer shareholders themselves selling out capital somewhere down the future line.
Co-operatives are by and large a generational animal, corporate animals by contrast can play a waiting game forever.

Best Current TV

A mate complained the other day TV programming was so bad he was chucking in his Sky subscription.
Have to agree, although I'm hanging in there for the rugby.
Unlike him, I didnt get sucked into Soho, I thought it was pretty charlatan of Sky to put all the interesting stuff into a subscription extra, but even that, my mate says, has run its initial novelty out.

What I have found rivetting viewing is Country99's coverage of the Fonterra TAF debate.
As a sheep and beef farmer I've been to-ing and fro-ing, trying to understand the significance of the various arguments for and against in the written media, Country99's three part debate currently screening puts a heap of perspective to the issue.

Have to say I'm now a huge fan of Louise Guiney, she has an articulacy one rarely comes across, showing particularly well in the glare of a TV studio last night.
The Feds Dairy No2, Robin Barkla I think it was, was rock solid sound delivery too.
If I was a tit-puller I'd be voting "NO".
Put aside the emotive high ground argument of keeping the co-op for future generations, it simply comes down to, is it in the individual farmers best interest to demutalise, and I dont think so.
There are plenty of people running round who see it in the national interest, control the price of milk, get in on a share of the industry action, but, what have they ever cared about the individual farmer?
If they want a share of the action they can always buy a dairy farm, the Chinese are happy to.
And for years I've wondered why city investors dont invest in direct farm mortgage rather than shonky finance companies, we're a more secure asset run by basically honest operators.
All this business about the price of milk getting beyond the average Kiwi is drivel, and I see the DIRA as just another step in getting control of somebody elses asset without having to put up some blood sweat and tears.

The other reason I'm going to hang in on Sky TV, is mySky with its post view flexibility, and I think iSky's going to have a future, particularly now you can buy data in such big packages.
Jamie McKay's gone on line with his "Farming Show", which is great given you cant always make a date with a timed radio slot, and maybe one day our newest Ag Communicator of the Year, Steve Wyn-Harris might too!

GPS Tracker - Spy Bike

Bit of potential in this device for farm bike and quad security, and maybe road bikes.
Its a GPS unit hooked up to a SIM card that phones co-ordinates to a website at set intervals, if the bike is moved after the unit is activated.
If its not you thats moving the bike, you can see where it is on Google Maps on your PC or smartphone.

The unit I bought couple of years ago had some limitations
- bit too big to conceal, and if you did tuck it away out of sight, the GPS reception was compromised
- it was only good for less than 2 days on one battery charge

This one looks better to handle both above problems, plus remote control over when and how to activate, and tracking on Google Maps/Smartphone
price is competitive too, about half what mine listed at, at the time.
I think I paid about $400, and only got it at that because Repco made a mistake in the advertising, was supposed to be $800
they'd pulled the ad, but I had the original on me when I went and enquired and they were good enough to honour the ad and let me have it at cost.

This was back in the time I was fresh from having my shed burgled, padlock chain diamond-sawed, and 4 wheeler, chainsaw, tools etc, nicked
hardly used it in the end, the short charge life rendered the thing near useless,
the inconvenience of having to charge it every day, plus the SIM card expiring, and having to remember yet another phone number
had you almost hoping some bugger would come and pinch the bike and put you out of misery.

So infuriating at the time, how easier if we could just carry a sidearm like in the westerns, shoot the freekin' intruders.
Anyway, my 4 wheeler now is so decrepit it isnt worth pinching
maybe thats the answer.
But its an indictment on society when approaching obsolescence secures you from property theft...
its said security of property is one of the cornerstones of progressive society
those nitwits in the Greens and Labour havent realised that theft of property off "rich pricks" through higher taxes, capital taxes etc, dosent make the poor rich
it just makes everybody poor
even Lithuania and Albania have figured this one out.