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Wes Crawford

G'Day from Australia

Posted by Wes Crawford Jul 15, 2013

If the title wasn't clear, we've wrapped up our NZ travels (all too soon) and headed to Sydney for a couple days before we return home. It's immediately apparent a different climate and lay of the land means very different management and style when it comes to agriculture.


We're only here a couple days, but strive to make the most of it. This morning we spent it at Hurlstone Agricultural High School, which is well served by its name.




This high school sits on a several hundred acre farm that has beef cattle, a dairy with nearly 100 head, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, greenhouses, animal facilities, paddocks, and a pool. I don't think the pool is there for stockwater.


This school is right off the train in one of Sydney's outlying suburbs. According to the conversations we had, the only reason the farm is still in existence is because of the alumni of the school who have gone on and been people of influence, as the farm is right in the middle of prime development land.




The other side of the conversation was most interesting. The feeling was that the school had moved to a much more academic focus, and as such much less was done by students with the farm, and the students weren't necessarily there because they wanted to be in agriculture. Ag courses are compulsory in years 7-10, and electives in 11-12. Students do such activities as chick trials, lamb marking, plant plots, and cattle showing, but don't do anything with the dairy and some of the other farm activities.




It was an interesting visit, albeit one without any students - the term starts tomorrow. As such we didn't get to speak to as many people as we would have liked but appreciated the chance to visit with the ones we did. It's a unique setup and apparently fairly unique for much of the surrounding area and maybe even the state. It'll be interesting to see how long it survives before urban sprawl wins out.


Otherwise, it's been very cool to be Down Under, and see the sights of the city before we head back. The Royal Botanical Gardens are exquisite, with plenty of excellent views of the harbor and other landmarks.






And you spend 10 minutes trying to get a picture of the first cockatoo you see...until you keep walking and realize they are not much more than pigeons down here in some areas.




Still looking for shrimps on barbies. Haven't seen one yet, but it is winter, mate.


Road Report: since we're only here a couple days, no more driving! Thank goodness, because I think I would have died three times over in this town. As it was we've stuck with public transportation, which has been good, minus the fact that all the downtown trains were closed this weekend for maintenance work. Of course.


Here's to a lot of walking.

As we head into the last few days in New Zealand, we'd been saving one of the largest segments of agriculture for last - the sheep industry. As Kate and I are both born to sheep ranching we were very interested in seeing how NZ sheep stations and operations compare to home.


However, where you are makes a big difference in a country dominated by coastline. The climate changes literally every 10 kilometers as you head east or west, so different types of operations can be found. We ended up visiting three, and the topics of discussion, questions, and sights could fill up a great number of website real estate, so we'll stick to the highlights.



High and Dry = Merino Country

If you are familiar with sheep, you know there are two 'types' that our sheep breeds today go back to: the open-fleece, meat types of England and the fine wool breeds that harken from the highly coveted and guarded Merinos of arid Spain. The high country of New Zealand (as seen in the second Lord of the Rings - it's all the brown hills and fields) is where Merinos can be found, and in force.



We pulled into a sheep station whose drive is literally the 55 kilometer highway that runs up to the base of Mt Cook, NZ's highest elevation. There 20,000 hectares stretch most of the valley, and is home to 8,500 ewes. Which you can see they move up and down the road when necessary.


The other interesting thing about this place is how they shear. Mark, one of the guys who were working the sheep that day, told us that all these sheep were shorn by hand with blades -not the motorized handpiece you usually see but with the old fashion method. The crew of eight shearers who come in can do nearly a 1,000 a day this way; a conventional crew would be getting nearly 2,400 done in the same nine hours. But the hand shearing leaves more wool on the ewe, as they shear in the winter, and also the heat from the handpiece is purported to damage the wool follicle, and limits regrowth. A very interesting way of doing things.



"The Customer is Always Right"

Later that day we continued our way east, away from the rain shadow of the Southern Alps and closer to the Canterbury plain. As the average annual rainfall increased, so did the number of meat-type breeds. We were most fortunate to be able to meet with and be hosted by Anne and Phillip, two long-time sheep and cattle ranchers. Both have a great deal of experience in agriculture; Anne currently sits on a national beef and lamb industry board, and both are very engaged in what markets and trade are doing to and for NZ's meat animal industries.


A clear focus of their operation is improving quality of product and best management practices so that they can fulfill the needs of more valuable contracts for retail stores overseas. This commitment to quality and meeting those demands of the customer - who as Anne said is always right - allows them to market their product at a higher value.


Staying with them was an excellent, and I'm afraid we only scratched the surface with our questions of what we could learn from them. It was very interesting to see how these folks who were very engaged in what markets and trends were happening and were helping to promote and improve their industry.



"200% Lamb Crop with No Triplets"

After an evening and morning with Anne and Phillip, we headed another 20 kilometers eastward and stopped in on a farm that has been in the same family for a hundred years. Warren was a contact made from a college roommate who spent some months down here his senior year. While the family place has grown a great deal since they started there, sheep have always been on the place.


Warren is also running his operation as a "Demonstration Farm," which there are about 12-14 of across NZ who are supported by the beef and lamb industry group (same one Anne is part of the leadership of) to develop and demonstrate best practices. This support allows him to try new things and collect data while doing so. There are three things he is working on with his farm:


- Achieving 200% pregnancy in scanned (ultrasound) ewes with no triplets. Possible? Yes. Probable? No. But collecting the data on which ewes twin, when they twin, how soon they are bred, etc is working to that goal. The large amount of data they are collecting is meant to help find those factors that make the difference. They are using electronic ID tags (EID) to track information on the ewes.




- Achieving 100% bull calves born using natural service. Again, are there factors in nutrition, timing, age of bull, behavior, etc that can lead to more bull calves?


- Using fodder beet as winter feed for cattle. Many people here use kale or brassicas for winter feed, but this crop may have some large benefits. They are currently trying it with cattle.




And Then There Were Cows

An interesting conversation that was had with Anne, Phillip, and Warren was the rise in dairy cattle and dairy grazing happening, especially with sheep, beef, and deer farms. Both of their operations have some dairy grazing happening, which is where a dairy farm ships them their replacement heifers to be grown out until they are ready to calve and be milked. The ranches who graze these cattle are paid on a head/week basis. This has provided a high level of consistent income year round, compared to volatile markets and once-a-year livestock shipments. While this helps the bottom line, it also competes with sheep and cattle for land.


Only time will tell how long NZ is known as a 'sheep country' and instead Kiwiland is known as Dairyland.




Road Report: icy, but not too shabby. We've been moving right along, and up a few steep hills for the views. Although my streak of hitting the windshield wipers at least once trying to make a turn signal has been consistent. And after driving through about 50 of them I finally understand two-lane roundabouts! Too bad/just fine that we have very few of them in Oregon, and even if we did I would probably drive into them in the wrong direction...

Wes Crawford

A 10,000 Word Essay

Posted by Wes Crawford Jul 10, 2013
















Over the last couple days we've had the chance to sit down with some of our Kiwi counterparts and talk shop. It has been incredibly illuminating, and we appreciated the time we were allowed to spend with some great folks.




We started Monday morning at Lincoln University, as mentioned previously. First, we wandered around like tourists freezing our tails off. We did see one lecture in session; the topic was (no joke) the history of beer (I'm starting to see a real theme here). But after a bit of poking around, we had the chance to talk briefly with Dr Alistair Black before he headed to class. From there we made it to the Agriculture Science department office, and we burned through a couple hours with Dr Jon Hickford in what seemed as no time at all.


I couldn't begin to fill the page all we talked about, but I have prepared a handy (subjective, I know) cliff-notes for you. We were interested in understanding not only the agriculture the school was involved in but the education system itself; from the recruiting of students to placement in the industry. So in so many bullet points:


- Over 70% of NZ's exports are agricultural products. You might call it important.

- NZ's agriculture industry operates in one of the most free-market economies on the planet, with virtually no subsidies/insurance programs/etc from the government.

- The Lincoln Agriculture Department struggles with student recruitment as high school science teachers tend to consider it as 'low-achieving' and tend to steer capable students towards areas such as medicine. Thank goodness we don't have that problem.

- An open immigration policy has brought in a diverse workforce. Rising populations have also pushed up land prices, where good dairy group on the North Island in the Waikato region is worth $58,000 a hectare (2.5 acres; that's nearly $20,000 an acre in US dollars) and kiwifruit ground is now valued northward of $200,000 (yes, 5 zero's) a hectare!

- They don't use EPD's here; it is EBV's or EBW's. - Data is used similar to the US in sire selection, minus using different forms of data. This could be CT scans of rams (instead of body composition ultrasounding), genetic testing, etc. Or some dairy producers just breed to what is literally called the "Bull of the Day", which are more less expensive semen straws from AI technicians. Oh which there are 70,000 of in the country, by the way.

- When looking at groups of people by occupation, two groups in New Zealand have the most education - teachers and farmers. Almost all producers have some sort of tertiary (post-secondary) education.

- The industry groups, not the government, covers much of the cost of various programs, including insurance. In fact, just this week apparently China is now requiring New Zealand meat products be inspected again on arrival in China, which will add cost that will likely be picked up by producers or the trade groups. This is in accordance of the course with the 'free trade' agreement with China. Needless to say the idea isn't very popular here.

- And if you have dorper sheep, you really need to get your sheep tested for the dermatosporaxis recessive allele. And it makes a great genetics teaching example (long story short -skin becomes as fragile as tissue paper).


Tuesday afternoon we were able to stop in at James Hargest Senior Campus in Invercargill, in the south bit of Southland (guess where that is on the island?). Thanks to the Horticulture & Agriculture Teacher's Association (HATA) of New Zealand, we were able to make contact with Mrs. Jean Hesselin, one of the teachers at the 2,000 student high school. She very kindly allowed us to see her school and sat down to discuss various aspects of ag ed in NZ.



It was fascinating to see just how alike our systems are, but at the same time very different. The highlights:


- They have standard objectives they have to meet, which are tested at various levels almost exclusively through essay exams. A great deal is based around these.

- They struggle with getting the perceptions of what agriculture is out there (even in a country that is this agriculture-intensive).

- They have student groups known as Teen Ag, an offshoot of their Young Farmer organization, that includes social aspects and competitions.

- They have a professional development conference every other year, rotating between the North and South Islands. The format sounds very similar to ours - speakers, workshops, tours, etc.

- They grow Douglas Firs here (from Oregon), on the south faces of hills. If you're from Oregon, you know why that is weird/cool. Otherwise, consider this irrelevant to you.

- Their break begins Friday for winter. They can't wait for such things either.


There was a lot more to both conversations, which will be put to great use hopefully throughout the rest of the trip and when we get back home. The bottom line was this - clearly, we have much in common with our Kiwi counterparts. Maybe its type to revive some exchange programs...if you could leave yours for a year.


Road Report: apparently it may snow down here in the uplands, as it is winter and all. We'll see how that goes. The scenery is keeping up well. Now that we are in Southland, there tends to be a lot of sheep. And some other horned livestock that I'm trying to finagle my way onto a farm to find out more about. So far the closest I've gotten is on my dinner plate.



The last couple days have seen us hauling down the South Island, starting from Blenheim to Chirstchurch yesterday, and then down to Dunedin (pronounced Duh-knee-din, apparently) tonight. Along the way we' ve been able to meet with a great deal of the locals, and have had some excellent experiences with both fauna and faculty.


At the Kiddie Pool

Thanks to a tip from the gent at the hotel, we stopped at Ohau Point Sunday morning on our way down. The unassuming gravel widespot is along a highway that is threaded along the beach and skirting the footslopes, and has a small sign pointing out the trail that hikes inland along a stream. However, you wouldn't believe what you find up there.


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The area is a nursery where baby seals hang out and grow up as mums stay out on the rocky beach and hunt, only meeting up so the pups can nurse. The hike was about 300 meters up a shallow, rocky stream, but that doesn't stop these guys. They climb up the darndest hills along the stream as well, perched all around you as you hike up. And the pool at the end, below a sixty foot waterfall?




Christchurch and Lincoln University

For the record, when they say Lincoln University is in Christchurch, that is like saying that Baltimore Airport is in DC. It's actually in Lincoln, but we stayed in Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island.


You may have heard of Christchurch from the massive earthquakes here from 2011. What you may not expect upon arrival is the utter destruction that is still prevalent. We walked from our hotel the 15 minutes to downtown for dinner as well as to see the town. We saw more than we bargained for.




Roads are torn up and still fenced off from utility work. Empty lots of gravel lay behind signs advertising churches and stores that once stood there. Cargo containers are stacked like legos next to freestanding remnant walls of historical buildings to prevent them from falling into the street and causing more damage.




What was the eeriest was one row of stores that have not been touched since that day in February. Shops still had piles of groceries heaped at the bottom of broken shelves. Newspapers and magazines with dates such as February 19, 2011 lay on window front counters in cafes. And in one restaurant, dirty dishes still sat on diner tables, waiting to be cleared.


Some stretches of the town are still closed down, but the work is underway for restoration. And some of the finer things survived, such as the Churchill Cathedral (but still is under heavy restoration).




Heading Home

Well, after that somber note brought to you by natural disasters, today was a bit more upbeat. Firstly we started at Lincoln University, site of one of the two major agricultural universities. We had an excellent conversation that ate up two hours in a hurry with some fine faculty, but that conversation was great enough for its own post.


This afternoon as we approached Dunedin we caught up with two other very neat natural attractions. First was the Moeraki boulders, a unique set of five-foot stone marbles piled up on the same beach. A wonder of sedimentation, rock formation, and now erosion.




A few kilometers farther, and with a little insider info we caught up with a few other NZ residents who were just getting back from a 35 mile swim out into the ocean for the day.






What a place.



Road Report: So we got a new car when we came across the ferry, which has been fun trying to find all rearranged (and still backward from home) controls. Besides the fact the AC comes on all the time on its own (its winter here people), it's working out well. And it's diesel, which is great because it is 30% cheaper than unleaded! Again, better to be lucky than good.

We just wrapped up a couple days of travel south through the North Island, and tonight we find ourselves in Blenheim, at the north end of the South Island. I meant to type this up while crossing on the ferry from Wellington across the Cook Strait to Picton, but instead I was distracted by the views.


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And I say 'ferry' because that's what they call it, but 'small cruise ship' would be a better description. It had plenty of space and windows below, but I spent 2.5 hours of the 3 hour trip topside taking in the (extremely windy but sunny) views.




So today was a transition day, with the morning spent seeing the capitol and driving around around the bay a bit. Yesterday we trekked from Hawke's Bay on the east coast and headed south to Wellington. We followed the "New Zealand Classic Wine Trail" along the way. Seeing how vineyards are popping up our area, and as I sit on the advisory committee for the viticulture and enology program our local community college, we thought this a likely track to take.


However, the label "Classic Wine Trail" may be an exaggeration. And by exaggeration, I mean in four hours of driving we saw three signs for wineries and saw one vineyard. But oh well. We made the most of it. And even so, we found that our three stops that day all had a bit of the Wine Trail theme.


Stop #1: Tui Brewery

It's better to be lucky than good. We were especially lucky when we stopped in a tiny town with a very old brewery. We arrived at the original Tui Brewery in some town I can't pronounce (not a rare occasion, that) just as the tour started. When you're from Oregon, you've been on a brewery tour before. In Kentucky, you tour distilleries. In Oregon, breweries. But we hadn't seen one on bottling day, and that was impressive to watch.


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Interesting note - almost all the hops they used came from a small area on the South Island. They also had a fermentation setup that was called 'continuous' fermentation that was designed about 50 years ago and is purported to be the only one like it in the world (according to the tour guide's note cards. She really couldn't get into it beyond that). But the tour was good, we saw some near things, and the end rivaled the refreshments at the 2011 NAAE State Social.


Stop #2: The Only Vineyard We Saw

That afternoon we stopped in to a small vineyard and winery that was a full-service set-up - the vines, the wine vats, the tasting room, dining area, everything. The Wairarapa region only has 3-4% of NZ's grapes, but is similar to Oregon in that it has smaller, higher-quality production. We were able to talk with the owner and compare notes to how things are done here compared to home. Suffice it to say they are in the start-up phase, which is similar to much of NZ's wine industry - it is young.




Stop #3: The Home of the Golden Shears

Our last stop of the day involved a segment of agriculture that has a long and storied tradition here. We drove through Masterton, which is home to the Golden Shears, the national shearing competition of New Zealand. In a country of sheep, where the majority of its post-war export income came from wool, shearing wasn't born here but certainly came of age.




New Zealand is a place I've known about as long as I can remember, because growing up my father was a sheep shearer, and was down here twice before I came around and was part of contract crews. The second time was after my parents were married, and I grew up with pictures, sheep skins, and stories from their time down here. Personally, I've sheared more than the average guy, but I lacked the physical aptitude or the mental fortitude to gain it. And in a couple decades my back will probably thank me for that.


So what did shearing have to do with the wine trail? Well, while we are at the Shearing Museum for the Golden Shears in Masterton we learned that beer is a tax deductible shearing expense for farmers who hire contract crews. Who knew.


Retracing Footsteps

So while most people wouldn't turn down a chance to come this way, for me it has a special role, as I retrace the footsteps of my parents through towns such as Eketehuna and up and down the country. Right before I left my dad said there was something he needed to show me before we came down here. I thought it might be some place he had visited or someone he had known.


Nope. It was to show me the brand of shearing moccasins he wanted me to find for him and bring back because they were too hard to get in the US.


Nostalgia or practicality, I suppose.



Road Report: I'm happy to report that I think I've settled in fairly well here on the road. One way I can measure this growth is that I find myself yelling at other drivers who are timid at roundabouts or driving erratically. We'll call it progress.

We've successfully finished a second day on the far side of the world. Today was a fantastic one in both weather and what we saw, and most interesting in what we learned. We split the day with two visits in the north central part of the North Island.


This Morning's Lesson: We've Missed Out on A Lot of Income, Folks


This morning was spent at the Agrodome outside Rotorua. This tourist attraction is on a 400 head sheep farm, and goes back 40 years. In fact, my parents stopped by when they were in New Zealand. And that was before I was born. The attraction includes a shearing museum, tours, and a sheep farm show.


So what was the opportunity we've all missed out on, ag teachers? The show was about an hour long, and the first 15 minutes or so was an introduction to 15 rams of different breeds that are raised in New Zealand, starting with Merinos and ending with South Suffolks and Dorset Downs. In other words, people paid for them to teach them about sheep breeds. And we give it to our students for free...dang it!




Of course, you probably don't have a podium and 15 rams in the room when you teach breeds. Sounds like a missed Ideas Unlimited submission to me.




Overall, it was interesting to see a tourist attraction that is 100% based on a livestock commodity. While my wife and I didn't learn a ton about sheep we didn't know, it was very interesting to see this agricultural literacy piece in action and speak with some of the farm workers afterward.


This Afternoon's Lesson: What the Future Holds


This afternoon, we actually caught up with some folks who originated from our part of the world. Gary and Jeri have been in New Zealand for decades and spent most of that dairy farming, and have been outside Tirau for the past 12 years. Thanks to mutual connections from home, we were able to connect with them while here and visit their dairy operation.


Firstly, while I've heard that dairy farms have supplanted sheep stations as the dominant form of agriculture in many parts of NZ, especially the North Island, seeing farm after farm of black, white, and tans drove the point home. The farms tend to be around 400 head with small milking sheds with carousels (rotaries) being the dominant form. All the cattle are in the paddocks and run into the sheds down raceways. Gary and Jeri's farm was divided into 43 7.5 acre paddocks that are rotated through.




What was very interesting was the amount of regulation they have to deal with here. While we are most familiar in our part of the world with effluent, non-point source pollution, run-off, and the like, here it is monitored to the point where they come take water samples from every (fenced-off, by the way) ditch, stream, or drain and fly over routinely in airplanes looking for fields where too much effluent is being spread. In fact, New Zealand even has a 'fart tax' for methane emissions from cattle.


On one hand, I fear this is just a vision of where we are heading in the US. On the other, one can hope that sustained efforts to improve agricultural literacy and spread agricultural education can allow us to have just enough support and understanding on our side.  We'll see how it goes.


I am glad to report that the whole driving-on-the-left is settling in well. I'm even hoping that tomorrow I'll make it the whole day without turning on the windshield wipers by accident when I go to hit the turn signal.


No promises.

So to beat the heat, my wife and I flew to New Zealand.


Actually, that's not true. We were flying to New Zealand anyway. The fact that it is winter here and 100 degrees at home did soothe the pain of 13 hours of plane. In fact, I may never leave; one, it's pretty nice here so far, and two, I don't want to do that much plane followed by that much standing in line (queues) just to have my shoes inspected for a long, long time.


However, a better use of my jet-lagged typing would be to explain why we're here in the first place. We submitted a team application to the Rural School and Community Trust Global Teacher Fellowship. I actually stumbled across the opportunity here on CoP while preparing for a grants workshop. On a whim, I submitted an application and -literally the same day I threw away all the application copies because I assumed we weren't selected - we received an email that can be summed up in two bullet points:


- We were going to New Zealand!

- Someone was going to learn how to drive on the wrong side of the road.


Never in my life have I focused so much while driving than I did today. We arrived at 6am this morning into Auckland, at the north end of the North Island. After the literal shoe inspection, we found our rental car, loaded up, struggled to figure out how to start said car, got that sorted, and pulled out on the road. Then swerved.


Because the largest metropolitan area in the country is the best place to learn how to drive again.


For the record, we really didn't see much of Auckland. After 60 minutes of poor directions from our Garmin knock-off, and the tension radiating from the passenger seat as we navigated our way through morning rush hour, I gave up seeing anything and got the heck out of dodge and out in the countryside. And that suits our purpose here just fine.


Our mission while here for the next two weeks is to connect with as much New Zealand agriculture as possible, with the goal to bring as much of it back to our students as we can. And we've already gotten off to a good start today, with a little tour of an oddly famous place that happens to be in the middle of a 1250 hectare Romney sheep farm.




Oh, and the other thing we already have to take back? History lessons. I am convinced after 3.5 hours of driving here today that after Britain's tyranny of oppression, taxation without representation, and the ilk, the backside of the Declaration of Independence has written on it 'driving on the wrong side of the road.' I wouldn't doubt it if round-abouts are mentioned too.  Happy Independence Day, all.


ON THE ROAD: we'll keep posting pics, allegories, incriminating bits of evidence, and the like as we head south. Through the North Island. Then onto the north bit of the South Island. Right. I mean Left. Of the Road. Wait, which lane should I be in?*



*My entire day, summed up.

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