COMMENT: By Jamie Mackay
My final chat on Newstalk ZB with the laconic Larry Williams was a great excuse to take a trip down memory lane.
Larry was stepping down after 27 years at the drive helm on ZB, while I was blowing out the candles on an accidental radio career spanning a quarter century in rural broadcasting.
For our penultimate ZB cross the week earlier I'd turned the tables on Larry and, without warning, asked him some unscripted questions. Much like his metronomic golf swing, he's sometimes hard to get off script, but on this occasion he took up the challenge with good humour.
"So Larry, rank the best three Prime Ministers in your 27 year tenure on ZB, dating back to Jim Bolger?" We both agreed on Key, Clark and Ardern - in that order. What about the greatest New Zealand athlete? He went with John Walker. I plumped for Peter Snell. And the biggest event in our radio careers? That was easy - 9/11.
But back to our final chat last week. I thought I'd change it up a bit again by looking back on the 10 biggest stories in farming over the past 25 years. So in a rough chronological order, going back to 1994, here we go:
1. With climate change now well and truly upon us, looking back, the Marlborough drought that peaked in 1998 was probably the worst of the past quarter century. However, every bone-dry cloud has its silver lining and the Big Dry thrust two great talents into the national media spotlight – weatherman Augie Auer and the "Resilient Farmer" Doug Avery. Sadly, Augie is no longer with us but Doug continues to do God's work for mental health.
2. The formation of Fonterra in 2001. When two tribes go to war, you get the formation of a huge dairy cooperative from the hitherto warring factions of the NZ Dairy Group and Kiwi Co-ops. Despite the very best intentions, Fonterra has often been better at paying its chief executives than its farmer shareholders, who have watched their share price plunge while sharemarket darlings A2 Milk and Synlait boom.
3. The 2003 Fart Tax fight. Who can forget Myrtle the Ferguson tractor being driven up the stairs of Parliament by Shane Ardern. He went on to replace Bolger as the Taranaki-King Country MP then disappeared off the radar before another Ardern ascended the steps of the Parliament all the way to the ninth floor of the Beehive.
4. The dairy boom pre-GFC and then the realisation of reaching "Peak Cow" after it. In the 1860s it was the gold rush. In the early 2000s it was the white gold rush. Too much, too soon? In hindsight probably yes, but let's not lose sight of the $17-18 billion the dairy industry brings to the nation's coffers. That builds a lot of hospitals, schools and roads.
5. The 2010 Kiwifruit Psa outbreak. Although the battle has been largely won in the orchard it's still being waged in court as disgruntled growers take MPI to task for letting in the dreaded disease that brought our biggest horticultural industry to its knees – an industry that promises to be worth $4.5 billion by 2025.
6. Selling half of our biggest meat processing co-operative Silver Fern Farms, to the Chinese. Overnight our most indebted meat company became debt free and with markedly better access to our biggest market. But if you're to believe Winston, there's always a price when you sell your soul to the devil.
7. The M.bovis cattle disease outbreak in 2017. This is the Mother of all biosecurity incursions if you excuse the unthinkable scenario of Foot and Mouth Disease. If we're successful eradicating it, we will be the first and only country to do so.
8. The boom in forestry, horticulture and viticulture and the absolute demise of strong wool. Half a century ago strong crossbred wool was our biggest export earner. Now it languishes behind Manuka honey.
9. The threat of militant vegans, animals rights groups and alternative proteins. Ignore them at your peril. We all know that millennials love their smashed avocados on toast but are they prepared to eat dinner at the expense of an animal that's made the ultimate sacrifice for their dining pleasure?
10. The advent of strong environmental regulation. I remember, in a past life as a young farmer, sowing superphosphate alongside a waterway and using the pellets landing in the creek as an indication that the spreader was working at optimum level. We were ignorant. We didn't know any better. We do now and there are no excuses. Farming can, and must, do better but we've come a hell of long way in the past 25 years when it comes to looking after our environment. This is a battle urban and rural New Zealand must fight together rather than against one another.
Jamie Mackay hosts "The Country" weekdays noon-1pm on Radio Sport, Newstalk ZB, Hokonui & online via iHeartRadio.