Forty-five farmers from Idaho have been touring Northland, trying their hand at shearing, watching sheep dogs at work and learning which end of the cow to avoid in a milking shed.
The visit sprang from contacts made by Okaihau farmers Neil and Hazel MacMillan during two recent holidays in the US heartland. While the MacMillans were in Idaho they contacted the state's farm bureau to see if they could visit a few local farms, and were so impressed by the hospitality they were shown they resolved to return the favour.
The visitors - a mix of potato, grain and cattle farmers - spent four days in Northland visiting Tane Mahuta, the Kauri Museum at Matakohe, Hole in the Rock and a kumara farm at Dargaville.
Tuesday, March 5, was their chance to learn about farming in the Mid North, starting with a tour of a small dairy farm on Kerikeri's Puketotara Rd where Ann Kearney explained efforts to protect waterways by planting and fencing off riverbanks.
Then, at the MacMillans' Utakura Valley farm, they were treated to a working dog demonstration with Claire Thomson and Peter Campbell showing how they used whistle commands to direct the dogs as they rounded up sheep. At Ron Lewis' woolshed nearby only Paris Penfold was game enough to try his hand with a shearing comb.
Next the Americans travelled to Neville Rule's dairy farm at Waimate North to see how a rotary milking shed works; and at Leonie and Trevor Bedggood's intensive sheep and beef farm, lessee Paul Baker explained how he prepared for drought by growing crops.
However, it was the little things that most intrigued the visitors, such as sheep dogs' ability to leap gates or into troughs to cool off, and the cicada shells they found on tree trunks and discovered were rather effective at scaring the ladies. Idaho-born funeral director Aarlen Armstrong, of Kaikohe, joined the group for the day and was amazed to find he had gone to school with some of the visitors.
In the evening they had lamb on the spit and met more Northland farmers during a get-together at Te Ahu Ahu's dog trial centre. They are now on their way to the South Island via Pukekohe's potato fields, Matamata and Rotorua.
Mrs MacMillan said organising the visit was well worth the effort.
''They were very appreciative. They were interested, but also hugely interesting. We all became good friends in a very short time.''