It seems unlikely that common sense will succumb to the almighty dollar as New Zealand again, albeit fleetingly, ponders the issue of bulk live sheep exports to the Middle East.

As Prime Minister John Key wrapped up his historic meetings in Saudi Arabia, farming leaders agreed that while the returns from live sheep shipment are better and offer a competitive option for farmers, resumption of the live sheep trade on the scale it existed in the 1980s, 1990s and up to 2003 is too much of a risk to the wider meat export economy.

Hawke's Bay farmer and former Federated Farmers national president Bruce Wills says he watched with interest the reports of Key's negotiations over the settling of a free trade agreement, which stalled more than six years ago after a failure to get the shipments going again.

"If it were to resume I'm not sure what percentage of the sheep meat export it would grow to.


"From what I hear it might be less than 5 per cent.

"Would you put a really good economy at risk?

"There's a balance between risk and return, and when you see something like 4000 sheep suffocating around the equator it's not a good look."

Part of the balance is, however, that the New Zealand meat market with Saudi Arabia is $120 million, the fifth largest.

There have been some notable disasters, with 4179 sheep reported to have died of suffocation on the Bader III en route from the West Australian port of Fremantle to Qatar in January last year.

Even greater numbers perished in August 2003 as the Cormo Express found itself short of ports en route from Fremantle to Saudi Arabia.

The losses were much greater than accepted mortality rates, which had been under 3 per cent, and in many cases under the legal requirement of 2 per cent. The 2003 incident led to a Labour Government ban on shipments to the Middle East.

It was just a few months earlier that the last bulk live sheep shipment took place from Napier, with 40,000 gathered from the central North Island and shipped to Saudi Arabia on the Corriedale Express.

This was after drought in Australia meant farmers there were unable to meet the demand.

Hawke's Bay company Awassi NZ, formed in 1995 and which had averaged as little as 0.02 per cent mortality, later prepared at least one shipment at a feedlot near Tikokino, in 2007.

But this did not go ahead and the sheep were taken to abattoirs in New Zealand.

Napier Port commercial manager Andrew Locke says the port could be set up to handle the live sheep trade if it resumed.

"The trade is somewhat dormant," he says, agreeing that much is in the hands of the Ministry of Primary Industries.

Cattle continue to be exported live from the port, with the number of shipments expected to be similar to the nine last year and 10 in 2013.

However, New Zealand has an agreement to support sheep exports for a breeding project in Saudi Arabia.

Isolation no problem

The remote location of the property of BNZ Ahuwhenua Trophy Maori Excellence in sheep and beef farming finalists Bart and Nuku Hadfield was little problem with more than 200 attending their finalists' field day at Mangaroa Station, inland between Wairoa and Gisborne.

Organisers said it was an impressive sharing of the story of how the couple and whanau acquired Mangaroa and used it as a stepping-stone for other members to buy their own properties.

After a morning welcome and presentations, visitors were taken on a farm tour and saw first hand how the Hadfields and their family have developed their hill country property over the years.

The judges who selected Mangaroa as a finalist said they liked the clear vision and core planning that the Hadfields displayed to achieve their costs, and above-average performance for a hill country property of its type, including a 141 per cent lambing percentage.

It was one of three field days throughout the North Island presenting the star properties before the prizegiving in Wanganui this month.

It also came the day before the Silver Fern Farms Hawke's Bay Farmer of the Year field day at the property of winners Chris and Trish Sinclair, at Kohurau, west of Napier.

Barley record broken

Timaru-based farmers Warren and Joy Darling have entered the book of Guinness World Records after producing the world's largest crop of barley, breaking a 25-year record.

Warren Darling.
Warren Darling.

The couple produced a staggering 13.8 tonnes of barley a hectare, smashing the previous record of 12.2 tonnes, held by a Scottish grower, Gordon Rennie of Stockton Park, since 1989. This is equivalent to the weight of more than 17,000 loaves of bread a hectare.

In New Zealand the average yield for winter barley, the type grown by the Darlings, is about 9.5 tonnes a hectare.

The record 13.8 tonnes is 45 per cent more than the average yield.

A crucial factor that enabled the harvest was the use of a range of innovative products from Bayer CropScience, including the entire seed treatment, the weed and disease control programme and fungicides and herbicides.

Dr Holger Detje, managing director and head of CropScience for Bayer New Zealand, says: "There are many factors that determine the success of a great harvest like this: soil, climate, technologically advanced farming machinery as well as farm inputs like the seed variety, nutrients and crop protection solutions.

"Applying all of these factors with skilled farmers like Warren and Joy means we can produce a staggering amount of food."