Not for the first time, the hard-working farming fraternity is feeling hard done by – particularly the royal and ancient order of teat-tweakers.
Here they are, diligently evacuating a warm bed at four o'clock every morning rain, hail or frost – or at least their sharemilkers are – to do the hard yards down at the milking shed, and what response do they get for all the sacrifice and travail? Nothing but public ingratitude and ordure. Hoboy, talk about tugging a tough teatie!
Why keep doing it? Well, someone's got to keep the country solvent and feed the world, don't they?
But here's the thing. Now and again in quiet times I sometimes think that as a nation we mayn't be the sharpest tool in the shed.
Our entire national dairy production revolves around consuming vast amounts of water - arguably the second most valuable commodity on the planet, after oxygen. Even more valuable than smartphones and electric towel rails. Without either of them – water and air, that is - we'd be in deep moo-poos from the get-go. But ingesting all this water means that the milky end product is itself composed of about 99 per cent water.
In reverse, we then squander huge amounts of precious energy in removing this self-same humongous quantity of water to achieve a more portable - and thus more exportable – vestigial powdery substance. But how dumb is that?
If we had any sense we would have long ago bred cows which could skip the H2O middleman and simply excrete organic sachets of ready-to-go milk powder. Specialist cows could also be bred to produce either 1kg or 3kg packs, so overseas consumers would have the choice they rightly deserve. If nothing else, think of the huge savings in eliminating all that pesky teat work.
But there's another important element at play in the dairy farming equation – the Gordon Gekko factor. Undoubtedly there's a proportion of dairy farmers who went into the business purely because they wanted to feed the world and keep the nation solvent. This proportion would amount to about 0.002 per cent of the dairy farming fraternity.
Conservation comment: From waste to win-win-win
PFAS source not exhausted, plume will continue to grow
Comment: Turakina and Whangaehu backbone of the farming community
The remainder would be comprised of those allergic to sitting behind office desks, or who like having lots of dogs and animals around, or get off on playing with assorted machinery, or who just want to make heaps of dosh like most other people. Or all of the above.
With regard to the dosh category, a while back there was what's technically known as a spike in milk solid returns - in lay terms, a big upward lurch in milk powder prices.
In time-honoured fashion, this had two predictable outcomes. Firstly, many farmers suddenly saw dairy dollar signs dancing before their eyes, and secondly, they naturally thought these prices were the new default price setting below which prices would never again fall.
Consequently, bank doorways across the country were soon jammed with farmers wanting fat loans to either expand existing dairy farms or convert to dairy. Gordon Gekko famously said "greed is good", but if memory serves right he also said "never give a sucker an even break, especially if it's an unweaned Chinese infant". Nek minnet, we had industrial scale over-intensive farming predicated on roll-of-the-dice volatile milk powder prices. While windfall profits were privatised, the increasingly wasted waterways were conveniently socialised – a bit like South Canterbury Finance operations.
Of course, the rest is history. Surprise surprise, the bonanza milk prices soon evaporated, and now squadrons of disillusioned dairy farmers find themselves stuck with eye-watering loan repayments. Even more soul-destroying is the realisation that they're doing all the hard yards to not so much feed the world as feed the banks – exhaustingly keeping them in the manner to which they wish to remain accustomed, not to mention certain ex-Fonterra CEOs and about 6000 Fonterra executives.
Ohhh the perils of philanthropic investment in the stock market - especially the udder variety!