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Posts Tagged ‘Farming

Some type of heaven

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Home. Today is a Fell day. I’m up on my beloved Howgill’s treading a familiar path. My company is that of Shadow, sheep and swifts that whirl then twirl about the folds of gentle fells. Warm winds blow that tangle hair. Saturday a day for solitude and silence.

The photo above is from the Twitter account of a woman who has become a bit of a social media phenomena over the last few years.

Luckily for her the exposure is just enough to help her business of making woolen clothing from her flock in the Howgill Fells of Westmoreland in the Yorkshire Dales.

Her farm is just 37 acres. I find it incredible that she can make a living from it, but I’m glad she does. I’m reminded of the book, Durable Trades, which rated the number one trade as being “Shepard”, which I still doubt, but perhaps it’s true, judging by Alison O’Neill.

You can read an overview about her here, and look at this video made in 2014.

Her website is here at Shepherdess.

Written by Tom Hunter

September 20, 2021 at 8:07 am

Posted in Britain

Tagged with ,

A small example of National’s failures

Readers will be aware that I’m not too hot on the National Party, despite having voted for them fairly consistently in both Party Vote and Electorate Vote since returning from the USA twenty years ago.

Frankly I’m not too keen on ACT either, despite having thrown my Party vote to them as recently as 2008 and 2020, and possibly again in 2023. Seymour’s recent talk on matters of Chinese Lung Rot responses has been disappointing, even as I understand the needle he has to thread with a fearful and frightened public.

But this latest piece of news, courtesy of Elle over at Homepaddock in her latest Rural Roundup, raises in one more area, just why National has been so poor in supporting their voters over the years. The link is to a specific National Party announcement, “Labour must stop flooding rural NZ with pointless and onerous regulation”, with this part in particular of note to me:

“As it stands, the Water Services Bill would expose tens of thousands of rural water schemes to disproportionate bureaucracy, just so they can continue supplying water between, for example, a farmhouse, a dairy shed and workers’ quarters,” Mr Luxon says.

“Despite warnings from National and major sector bodies at select committee, the bill will require Taumata Arowai to track down and register around 70,000 farm supply arrangements, each of which will need to write safety and risk management plans.

Well yes, we can all see where this is going. Bureaucratic boxes to tick that, like the OSH forms on worksites and dairy sheds (parlours darlings) across the country, will be filled in so that backsides are covered.

As an aside I was amused during my tractor/truck driving ag contractor work last season to so often brush past farm signs reading:


But once more I have to point out that National has already failed in this regard. Before the Clarke administration left office they passed legislation that would tighten up considerably on water schemes in general (Drinking-water Standards for New Zealand 2005 (Revised 2008)). Throughout the nine years of the Key administration the implementation of this moved closer and closer to rural water schemes.

It finally reached our district in 2018, when all the farmers of our district were called to a meeting held by the local Council to discuss the fate of our scheme.

The system was designed by the Council in the early 1980’s and then built largely by the farmers. From 1984 it was providing a gravity-fed, year-round, drought-resistant water scheme. To farmers like my Dad it was a god-send after decades of faffing around with springs, wells, dams, crude flitration systems and pumps.

And now we were told that the regulations had finally caught up with us and the system would require millions to upgrade to the new standards and even then, the houses would have to be disconnected from the supply, pushing us fifty years back into a past of spring, wells and pumps. This despite individual farms having steadily added increasingly better filtration systems to back up the system’s original ones.

Fortunately the Council were very much on our side in understanding what crap this all was – in forty years of operation not one sickness, let alone death, has been traced to the system. They concocted a letter to government explaining in classic Sir Humphrey fashion that, given all the new water discussions going on with Labour, the Council regretfully could not possibly move on changing the system until they were sure what was needed.

It bought us three years.

I’m afraid that I rather offended a National party woman farmer at the meeting who wanted to conduct a petition that could be carried to government by our local National MP. My suggestion instead was that if we all dug in our pockets for a few thousand dollars each we could easily get $150K or more together and – considering his “good looking horses” tax legislation – get it to NZ First on the understanding that Winston Peters could get a similar change made to the Black Letter law by specifically excluding our district from the Act.

It got a hearty laugh and “hear, hear’s“, but went down with her like a cup of cold sick.

The truth is that this legislation sat on the books throughout National’s nine-year reign. Perhaps we were not sufficiently aware of it ourselves but surely our National rural MP’s were? A huge cost impact for no effective gain in safety or water quality. Havelock North we are not, with farmers keeping a close eye on the system.

So now I’m expected to get all excited and revved up about National’s “fightback” against this new legislation? At this stage I’m looking at National and thinking, why bother now? The damage is done and will be further done before National returns to government.

At this stage the best we can hope for is that our spendthrift government may throw a few million our way so the system can be upgraded to meet their imposed standards, but even then, from a nation-wide perspective, it’s a waste of money that could be better applied to other things, like ICU beds perhaps.

Written by Tom Hunter

August 25, 2021 at 5:30 pm

No Chips, no motion

A couple of weeks ago in The Veteran’s post on Taiwan, I included a graph showing the degree to which the world relies on Taiwan for silicon chips.

I also made the point that the world would likely not even be able to feed itself if there was a major, lengthy disruption to the production of silicon chips, given the degree to which tractors and other farm equipment depend on them to work nowadays.

Here’s the latest evidence, from The Truth About Cars:

Have you heard the one about the dead cars? No, not the ones we find in junkyards, but the ones that haven’t had life yet, thanks to the chip shortage.

These so-called “dead” cars are vehicles that have rolled off the assembly line, otherwise ready for sale, sitting in fields or on lots near the factories that produced them, just waiting for chips.

… that number is set to grow, as GM announced that plants in Indiana, Michigan, and Mexico that produce the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra will halt next week, thanks to, you guessed it, the chip shortage.

GM had so far avoided chip-related shutdowns by skipping some features, and by … building some trucks and adding the chips in later

Written by Tom Hunter

July 24, 2021 at 11:55 am

A distorted economy

Two graphs that summarise where we are economically as a nation, and without even looking at the tourism numbers, which are bad enough on their own.

First up, real estate prices for residential properties.

Those increases, in one year, are staggering. In dollar terms they exceed any “help” that any government, even one as spendthrift as Labour, can give to young, first-time home owners.

The price to income multiplier increased during the “nine long years of neglect” of National from 5.05 to 6.08. Under Labours stewardship it’s now at 8.61.

It’s been common wisdom for twenty years now that Aucklanders were cashing up and heading to the Waikato and Bay of Plenty. But since when are retired Aucklanders or Wellingtonians cashing up their houses and moving to Gisborne (almost 50% increase) or for that matter the West Coast (33.6% increase). There will be specific reasons for this inflation but they all boil down to factors driving the basic economic law of demand exceeding supply.

In Auckland those factors have been population growth increasing faster than homes can be built – which in turn is based on government immigration decisions on the demand side vs. building regulations and costs, and even more so the land-banking of city planning causing huge lifts in the cost of land, far beyond the increase in house value itself.

But can those factors be driving demand exceeding supply across the whole nation this time? Immigration has been basically zero for the last year and while land-banking and city planning are a nation-wide supply restricting problem there have not been dramatic changes in those factors in the last year, and some areas have always been more relaxed than others. So what’s driving this recent nationwide inflation?

  • Government changes on investment deductibility and the increased time over which the bright-line test can be applied (basically a Capital Gains Tax) mean that investors are deciding now it’s not a great time to sell, reducing the number of listings (supply)
  • Sensitive people are feeling the breeze of general inflation and take positions to protect their own capital base by lifting those sales from the market, further tightening supply. Better to sit on the potential capital gains, increase the mortgage and use that money to buy a new boat. Notice the increase in prices for second-hand boats, caravans and motor homes.
  • Interest rates pushed down in 2020 as the classic mode of Keynesian response to a potential recession. That increases demand, at least for a while.

The government must be hoping that this is just a one-off and that once the housing market has adjusted to a post-Covid world, things will settle down. We should all hope for that but I see merely the results of a “critical mass” of factors that have finally come together at one point in time rather than individually affecting the market at different times. Even if this spike cools down, the ongoing house price increases will still be greater than we can cope with.

Then there’s this:

That’s Fonterra’s share price in the last three months. An awful drop from $5 per share to $2.82 that exceeds the percentage drop in 2018. That last was caused by financial problems at the company. Problems that, like the housing situation, had been bubbling away for years, but which hit critical mass that year.

Fonterra has since cleaned up many of those problems and was looking pretty healthy internally, with a good payout. So what’s happened?

Professor Keith Woodford is on the case as usual with two articles in May that discussed what might be coming.

You can read the details in those two articles . The summary comes to five points, the first two being around proposals only.

  1. Reduce farmer requirements to own shares, with them needing to hold one share for every four kg of Milksolids supplied, compared to the current one share for every kg of supply. That last is a hangover from Co-op days when the shares were a nominal $1 that never changed as farmers joined and exited co-ops.
  2. Shut down or cap one arm of its two-armed share investors world, the Shareholders Fund. This Fund and the related Trading Among Farmers (TAF) scheme allowed a two-way flow of “units” and shares between the Fund and the Farmer share trades, which kept the price of shares and units within a cent or two of each other and supplied vital pricing information to both farmer investors and external investors.
  3. The Fund allows non-farmers to buy shares and get a dividend but with no shareholder voting. While there was talk about enabling the company to raise capital this way without trying to get cash from cooperative members, the real reason was to remove the redemption risk as farmers exited the company. Under the old co-op model they would not have had the cash to pay them out. The Fund and TAF would shift the risk.
  4. The flaw was that the only way TAF could remove the redemption risk should Fonterra lose a major number of suppliers was by taking on a new risk of losing control of the company to non-farmer investors.
  5. The risk now is not from exiting farmers but from a substantial and ongoing reduction in production, perhaps in the order of 10% to 20%, primarily driven by future environmental regulations around herd sizes. That’s one rock. The other is that farmers still want to control the company.

While only proposals, they did suspend trading before the announcement and they have cut the link between farmer share trading and the external fund, showing the future to investors.

Those investors, the market, have reacted badly to all of this and although it would be easy to say that this is just frippery that ignores the now “healthy” internals of Fonterra, the fact is that share prices tell us what the market thinks of any company’s future.

Clearly Fonterra’s and perhaps the rest of the dairy industry’s future in NZ is not good. What that means exactly for the wider NZ economy is another question, but clearly for some environmental and economic extremists like No Right Turn the message is the same as for the Huntly power station and the fishing industry: Let It Die.

Written by Tom Hunter

June 19, 2021 at 12:24 pm

The Harvest has passed (but we are not saved)

So that’s it. The last of the maize has been chopped and dropped into bunkers, pits and stacks all across the Waikato.

I’ve finished my first, and likely my last season, on the harvesting teams. As always with such work it seems that time has run much faster than a start last September factually shows. About the only slow period was in January as the huge machines were prepped for the coming chore and eyes closely watched the growing maize to pick the right time for gathering.

This time of year has always been celebrated, so let’s start with Bruegel’s classic from 1565.

Which painting inspires me that I should throw a Harvest Party for the men and woman I’ve worked with these long months.

At least those who remain. As things have wound down in the last two weeks the departures have gathered pace, as people leave for the fields of Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, Oklahoma, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Britain and Ireland. The only exception to such destinations has been one guy who has left for the Mt Isa mines in Australia, where he will laughingly swap the little twenty ton crates he’s been driving here for two hundred ton dump trucks – for vastly greater money too.

This harvest has also reminded me of this incredible story from The Smithsonian Magazine of a Russian family that was isolated for forty years in a part of Siberia where they were 150miles from any other humans. They were only discovered in 1978 by a geology team exploring the area with helicopters, and even then spotting them was a fluke in the rugged valleys:

But, peering intently through his windscreen in search of a landing place, the pilot saw something that should not have been there. It was a clearing, 6,000 feet up a mountainside, wedged between the pine and larch and scored with what looked like long, dark furrows. The baffled helicopter crew made several passes before reluctantly concluding that this was evidence of human habitation—a garden that, from the size and shape of the clearing, must have been there for a long time.

A team was sent in on foot to investigate and what they found was even more astonishing than the cleared garden.

Slowly, over several visits, the full story of the family emerged. The old man’s name was Karp Lykov, and he was an Old Believer–a member of a fundamentalist Russian Orthodox sect, worshiping in a style unchanged since the 17th century. Old Believers had been persecuted since the days of Peter the Great, and Lykov talked about it as though it had happened only yesterday; for him, Peter was a personal enemy and “the anti-Christ in human form”—a point he insisted had been amply proved by Tsar’s campaign to modernize Russia by forcibly “chopping off the beards of Christians.”

And that was before the atheist Bolsheviks got stuck in:

Under the Soviets, isolated Old Believer communities that had fled to Siberia to escape persecution began to retreat ever further from civilization. During the purges of the 1930s, with Christianity itself under assault, a Communist patrol had shot Lykov’s brother on the outskirts of their village while Lykov knelt working beside him. He had responded by scooping up his family and bolting into forest.

Agafia Lykova (left) with her sister, Natalia.

But it was this part of the story that I was reminded of as we packed away thousands of tonnes of chopped maize:

Famine was an ever-present danger in these circumstances, and in 1961 it snowed in June. The hard frost killed everything growing in their garden, and by spring the family had been reduced to eating shoes and bark. Akulina chose to see her children fed, and that year she died of starvation.

The rest of the family were saved by what they regarded as a miracle: a single grain of rye sprouted in their pea patch. The Lykovs put up a fence around the shoot and guarded it zealously night and day to keep off mice and squirrels. At harvest time, the solitary spike yielded 18 grains, and from this they painstakingly rebuilt their rye crop.

Is that not astonishing? To be so much on the razors edge of life.

As of today only one member of the family survives, Agafia, now in her seventies but still living in the same place, with her God and her loved ones beneath the tiaga. But read the whole incredible story.

I’ll leave this with one more harvest image, this one from America, specifically Winslow Homer, and the description of it by one critic:

Homer’s canvas depicts a farmer at work, his back to us, his concentration focused on the work. The discarded jacket, knapsack and canteen reveal him to be a Union war veteran. His old-fashioned scythe evokes the Grim Reaper, recalling the war’s harvest of death.

But to counter that we have the golden field, the blue sky and the bountiful wheat being gathered in. This powerful image references both life and death – a meditation on a country’s sacrifices but also its potential for recovery.

Even though I’d merely filled some gaps in the workforce created by our country’s sacrifices during the pandemic I was asked the other day if I’d be returning next season, but I explained that I’m a very lazy man and they all work too hard for me. However, I’m sure that won’t affect our national recovery.

See also:

Rain and Newton’s Laws
Big Toys for Old Boys

Written by Tom Hunter

April 23, 2021 at 11:03 am

Posted in History

Tagged with , ,


Hours that is. One hundred and seventy two hours is what shows up in my last fortnightly pay slip for the agricultural contractor I work for.

I finally have a Sunday off. A beautiful, lovely, empty Sunday after twenty consecutive days of 5am wake ups and 11pm bedtimes.

Others have more hours and I’m informed by those who’ve worked here for several years that two hundred plus hours per fortnight is a more normal harvesting season. We assume that it’s because we’ve had a long stretch of fine weather and started a little earlier than usual, so the load has been more spread out than in the past. The boys – and most of them are boys – are not happy about this since such incredible hours are a bonus on top of their other income earned on random jobs during the rest of the year. Without such work, times would be tough.

I’d probably be working longer hours were I on the chopper crews (maize chopping) that use tractors and trailers. Suitable only for short road runs from chop site to stack site, those drivers work deep into the night to get the job done.

By contrast my crews are all trucks because we’re serving customers located fifty kms or more away from the chop sites. The hours are limited by truck driving regulations: a thirty minute break after five-and-a-half hours driving; a ten hour break after thirteen hour driving; a twenty four hour rest break after seventy hours. The thirteen hour daily limit means that they have to be off the road by 7 or 8pm, having started at 6 or 7am – and “off the road” counts even when they’re being driven home by someone else.

Of course my specific work, and those of other members of the crews, like the chopper and stack tractor drivers, means that I’m still left with a one-two hour pack up and commute routine, but at least I’m getting home before midnight.

An alternative title for this post would be: “Rabid capitalist discovers the joy of government regulations” ! I doubt we’ll ever see a union though.

The technology may have changed but harvest has always been intense. I recommend a relatively unknown New Zealand book called Nearly Out Of Heart and Hope”, by the New Zealand historian Miles Fairburn.

It’s based on the 800,000 word diary crafted by one James Cox, an itinerant labourer who came to New Zealand in 1880 and died in 1925. The title of the book is one of the phrases he occasionally used when things were dark. Here’s a short sample of the dairy itself, which he wrote every night for thirty seven years, crafted by candlelight with pencil on little strips of paper (not being able to buy sheets) which he then folded up into tiny booklets:

“my shoes are got very bad… I have only one shirt I can wear, nearly worn out so I am in an evil case and cannot get either money or goods from the firm. Most of the fellows… are getting doubtful if they will get their wages at all. The firm appears to be nearly bankrupt.” 

After an even lower period of poverty in 1892/93, during which he took to the roads as a “swagger”, he found new work:

Things improved a little in 1894 when he found work with a Carterton agricultural contractor. He worked on traction engines harvesting grain until 1902. This was a harsh and unreliable form of work which was anything but romantic.

That sentence barely covers the raw detail provided by Cox himself and the more concise descriptions of such work by Fairburn: unrelenting days of tough physical effort in the heat and dust of Wairarapa summers with no showers at the end and just a shared tent with the other unwashed men. I get to return to a solid home and a hot shower and food, such are the wonders of the modern world. By comparison to that man I’m just slumming it.

James Cox

The book quotes only those portions of the diary that Fairburn can use to make his points, like any good historian. He struggles most of all with why this well-educated, sober and hard-working man never advanced his life beyond such toil. He was probably more suited to clerical work but he could have been in charge of the crews, indeed he was offered such work by his employer, yet for some unknown reason he did it only reluctantly and occasionally. He didn’t like it.

I think the reason Fairburn struggles is that he is trying to imposing rationality on yet another irrational human being (rational humans are the basis of economics and much other social science). When he turns to examining the ideology of the times and how it may have worked in the mind of Cox he fares little better. Niether does the sympathetic reviewer:

His account of the way in which the potent and pervasive Victorian ideology of self-help shut off opportunity for Cox is the best piece so far written in New Zealand on the way in which ideas influenced individual behaviour. Cox never realized that hard work and self-discipline were insufficient means of climbing out of the poverty trap.

Once he recognized that failure was probably a permanent state from about 1893, he maintained the code as a way of ordering his life and reinforcing his sense of superiority over ‘rough’ workmen. It seems that ideology not only justified the success of winners in the social laboratory: it also shaped the actions of losers.

I agree that hard work and self-discipline are not enough on their own. But the unspoken assumption of that reviewer is that they’re not really necessary either if those implied other factors exist: presumably things like unionised wage rates, unemployment benefits, free healthcare and other social welfare assistance (housing!).

In fact without self-discipline and the ability to work hard all those other things will also be found to be “insufficient” for lifting up the James Cox’s of the world. I think we’re seeing that around us every day.

No, in Cox’s case, despite all his admirable qualities, there was a strange seed in his mind that prevented him from rising and doing better in the world. Nothing that any government could have done would have changed that.

… labour reforms which also helped earn New Zealand the title of a ‘social laboratory’ apparently did not reach much beyond city limits and brought little help to Cox. Fairburn wonders if Cox was unusual but the reader is left with the feeling that many New Zealanders on low wages have long struggled to do little more than survive, and ended their days without savings or assets.

The sad and terrible truth I see every day is that this is still the case almost a century after James Cox departed this world.

This is his grave in the Greytown Cemetery and it was unmarked until 2013 when a Wairarapa historian, Adele Pentony-Graham, paid to have his headstone installed, “I felt it was the least I could do for him,” she said.

So say we all.

Written by Tom Hunter

March 28, 2021 at 9:30 pm

Rain and Newton’s Laws

After two relentless weeks of sixteen hour days the rain has finally given me a day off, a brief respite before our teams plunge into the fields of maize once more.

I was lucky enough to grab the controls of a maize chopper the other night as I helped the young driver detach the head for a well-deserved cleaning of Ole Sassy Pants as he calls her. It took us many minutes and he told me that the latest John Deere models can detach the head in less than a minute.

The chopper head alone weighs several tons, and yet it is controlled from the now-standard “joy-stick” on the side of the chair armrest. Thumbing a smallish button “up” lifts the thing with a precision of centimetres: no levers to the hydraulics now. Similarly with moving forward or back as twenty tons of machinery can move as slowly as a snail – or at 40km/h – with just slight pressure on the stick. It really is like flying a plane.

The energy required to perform all these feats is also incredible; at the end of the day we refill her with hundreds of litres of diesel fuel. I’m sure Elon Musk would welcome the challenge of running this thing on batteries, but they’re going to have to be something much better than lithium-ion. Graphene batteries perhaps, packing up to 1,000Wh per kilogram compared to 180Wh of energy per kilogram for Lithium-ion.

Unfortunately diesel fuel powers in at almost 13,000Wh per kilogram.

It’s going to be interesting to see what the next generation of engineers can produce – assuming they can still do physics and math, which is not as much of joke as you might think:

The science program at Fieldston would make any parent swoon. The electives for 11th- and 12th-graders, according to the school’s website, include immunology, astronomy, neuroscience, and pharmacology.

But physics looks different these days. “We don’t call them Newton’s laws anymore,” an upperclassman at the school informs me. “We call them the three fundamental laws of physics. They say we need to ‘decenter whiteness,’ and we need to acknowledge that there’s more than just Newton in physics.”

That’s a quote from an article by Bari Weiss, The Miseducation of America’s Elites. Weiss was fired from the NYT some months ago for the crime of speaking some non-Leftist-approved ideas and, like fellow Leftists Matt Tabbi and Glenn Greenwald, has taken to writing articles on substack, a place where increasingly you find real journalists, people who actually investigate claims and news before writing about them, as opposed to the poorly educated, ignorant political and ideological hacks of the MSM who increasingly act as little more than stenographers for Leftist governments and ideas.

In this particular article you might not feel sorry for the parents who appear in it since they’re wealthy and determined to pour as much money as possible into getting their little darlings off to a good start in life:

These are America’s elites—the families who can afford to pay some $50,000 a year for their children to be groomed for the eating clubs of Princeton and the secret societies of Yale, the glide path to becoming masters—sorry, masterx—of the universe. The ideas and values instilled in them influence the rest of us.

“These schools are the privilege of the privilege of the privilege. They say nonstop that they are all about inclusion. But they are by definition exclusive. These schools are for the tippity top of society,” a young mother in Manhattan tells me.

What’s happening is that these parents, most of them “Liberal” upper-income folks rather than Bezo’s level billionaires, people who undoubtedly voted for Joe Biden, have only just begun to realise what’s happening to their kids and it’s scaring the shit out of them:

“I grew up in L.A., and the Harvard School definitely struggled with diversity issues. The stories some have expressed since the summer seem totally legitimate,” says one of the fathers. He says he doesn’t have a problem with the school making greater efforts to redress past wrongs, including by bringing more minority voices into the curriculum. What he has a problem with is a movement that tells his children that America is a bad country and that they bear collective racial guilt.

“They are making my son feel like a racist because of the pigmentation of his skin,” one mother says.

The teachers also, at least some of them:

“I am in a cult. Well, that’s not exactly right. It’s that the cult is all around me and I am trying to save kids from becoming members.” He sounds like a Scientology defector, but he is a math teacher at one of the most elite high schools in New York City. He is not politically conservative. “I studied critical theory; I saw Derrida speak when I was in college,” he says, “so when this ideology arrived at our school over the past few years, I recognized the language and I knew what it was. But it was in a mutated form.”

This teacher is talking with me because he is alarmed by the toll this ideology is taking on his students. “I started seeing what was happening to the kids. And that’s what I couldn’t take. They are being educated in resentment and fear. It’s extremely dangerous.”

Three thousand miles away, in Los Angeles, another prep-school teacher says something similar. “It teaches people who have so much to see themselves as victims. They think they are suffering oppression at one of the poshest schools in the country.”

Sure. But it’s working, as the kids themselves know:

One Los Angeles mother tells me that her son was recently told by his friend, who is black, that he is “inherently oppressed.” She was incredulous. “This kid is a multimillionaire,” she said. “My son said to his friend: ‘Explain it to me. Why do you feel oppressed? What has anyone done to make you feel less?’ And the friend said: ‘The color of my skin.’ This blew my mind.”

I’ll bet she still voted Democrat and Biden in the 2020 election though, and probably all the way down to Mayor.

Woe betide the working-class kid who arrives in college and uses Latino instead of “Latinx,” or who stumbles conjugating verbs because a classmate prefers to use the pronouns they/them. Fluency in woke is an effective class marker and key for these princelings to retain status in university and beyond.

For them, it’s not just the fear of getting a bad grade or getting turned down for a college recommendation, though that fear is potent. It’s the fear of social shaming. “If you publish my name, it would ruin my life. People would attack me for even questioning this ideology. I don’t even want people knowing I’m a capitalist,” a student at the Fieldston School in New York City told me, in a comment echoed by other students I spoke with. 

“The kids are scared of other kids,” says one Harvard-Westlake mother. The atmosphere is making their children anxious, paranoid, and insecure—and closed off from even their close friends. “My son knew I was talking to you and he begged me not to,” another Harvard-Westlake mother told me. “He wants to go to a great university, and he told me that one bad statement from me will ruin us. This is the United States of America. Are you freaking kidding me?”

Heh. It was the United States of America. Now it’s a Beatles song, only it’s not a parody. But that first statement is also what’s driving the fear in trying to fight back against this racist, totalitarian ideology:

The parents in this story are not parents with no other options. Most have the capital—social and literal—to pull their kids out and hire private tutors. That they weren’t speaking out seemed to me cowardly, or worse. The cynical answer for their silence is two words: Ivy League. “There are definitively rumors that the school has like, say, three picks for Duke and that if you stand up against this your kid will get blackballed,” says one mother.

And their own social networks of course:

To question any of the curricular changes, parents say, is to make yourself suspect: “Every group chat I’m on with school parents, with the exception of my concerned parents’ group, they have a pattern of shaming anyone who shares anything remotely political or dissents from the group narrative,” one Brentwood mother wrote to me. “Once someone shames one person, many chime in agreement. The times I speak up to defend those they shame, they attempt to shame me.”

Well shaming was always a key part of the struggle sessions, which makes the following quote a keeper:

One private school parent, born in a Communist nation, tells me: “I came to this country escaping the very same fear of retaliation that now my own child feels.”

As I often say to people when I talk about the insanities of the USA; don’t kid yourselves that this crap is not heading for New Zealand as well. In fact it’s already here. But read the whole thing and understand that this is happening in US public schools also.

About the only consolation I have is that even if this system fails to produce the engineers needed to build machines like the John Deere chopper, there is no way such education will stop the rain falling, or Newton’s Laws of Physics.

Written by Tom Hunter

February 25, 2021 at 12:09 pm

Beauty and Terror

Right now we’re in need of beauty more than ever, so here’s a couple of photos to feast your eyes on, starting with one that looks like it could be an oil painting by Edwin Landseer or perhaps Winslow Homer.

The second has a similar quality to it, in this case something that could come from a number of the artists from the famous Hudson River School in the USA.

Meantime, after almost two months of quiet, harvesting season is upon us and I’m about to re-enter the grind of six day weeks and 15 hour days. Fortunately I won’t be driving my rigs anywhere like this. Photos taken at Dingleburn Station in the South Island.

H/T to fellow blogger HomePaddock for pics one and three.

Written by Tom Hunter

February 16, 2021 at 10:15 am

Big Toys for Old Boys

Attentive readers of this blog – especially our TDS-infused Lefties – will have noticed that I haven’t been posting as much as normal, even as an important US election has been playing out.

There’s a simple reason for this, and it’s based on something I spotted some months ago via our linked blog, Home Paddock.

With the border closures in early 2020 every agricultural contractor found themselves in trouble because they had come to rely upon a flow of young English and Irish guys who knew how to drive combine harvesters, side-dressers, planters and the rest of the complex, computerised machinery that is the basis of modern farming. Think of them as the harvesting version of snow bums who follow Winter around the world’s skifields.

As a result of this, contractors have been forced to call on guys like me; old bastards who last drove tractors decades ago. But the call had gone out, so in the manner of the Soviet call for all hands on deck in 1941, I decided to give it a crack.

The following photo is a good example of what this has involved. On one customer’s farm I discovered, sitting beside the cow shed (sorry, “Dairy Parlour“) and still in working order, the classic farming tractor of the 1970’s and 1980’s. The Massey Ferguson MF 135. All 45Hp of it. My baby from the age of 13 until I quit at 21, with years of earmuffs, mask and goggles as some protection against dust and pollen.

Beside it is one of the beasts I drive now. A John Deere 6145, (145Hp) loaded up with a 1Tonne fert hopper with remote-controlled release and a 3Tonne tray on the back with water, chemicals and so forth. It has an insulated, roll-proof, fully enclosed cab with air-conditioning, USB and Bluetooth connected systems. It can even be over-pressurised to exclude dust, like a silicon chip factory.

You will notice that the back tyres of the MF135 are smaller than the front tyres of the JD 6145! Thus has the world advanced. I’m not worried about getting injured in an accident but that I may end up squashing some poor bugger in his toy car.

Driving one of these things is like driving a child’s bouncy castle. It’s not just the seat but the entire hydraulic system. It’s as if there is no physical connection of cogs and gears between the wheels and the engine – and really there isn’t.

Then there’s the computers in the middle. In the 1970’s the F-16 fighter plane introduced the concept of fly-by-wire, where the pilot’s “joy stick” is connected to a computer rather than wires, cables and hydraulics. Same here.

Driving on highways involves not a foot on the accelerator pedal but a hand on an aircraft-like joystick with multiple buttons and a dial where each thumb-click up or down is a 1km/h difference. It’s a strange way to drive any machine on the road, but you get used to it. Even when you have to pull over seven times between Hamilton and Te Awamutu to allow the traffic to pass.

The larger tractors have an additional tank for something called Adblue, which is a nitrogen-based compound used in diesel engines to reduce emissions. Run out of Adblue and the computer in the tractor will instantly cut power to just 20% of capacity., effectively ending the day’s work. At one point one of our planters broke down somewhere around Te Kuiti – and the solution was a ute that headed South with a USB stick. Plugged into the system the problem was solved. Physically there wasn’t a damned thing wrong with the machine.

But physical work is still involved. After days of hauling 20-30kg bags of seed into a planter’s hopper I found that even after twenty minutes in the shower I could not scrub out the dirt ingrained into the skin of my hands. Not to mention the back pains of unused muscles. One can see where Oxycontin subscriptions come from.

The days are long: 15-16 hour days are not uncommon and it’s Monday-Saturday, limited only by the rain. A few weeks ago, having collected my paycheck of 117 hours for the two-week period, I saw one driver grumbling with humor about how he’d only hit 172 hours, while an English lad on the sprayers chided him with his 224 hours. Two hundred hours a fortnight is not uncommon during planting and harvesting and one of the Irish guys said that he felt things were slow this season. They are young men and women – and they know exactly what they’re doing. Winter will be when they rest.

After some laughs from my mates about running into airline pilots that’s exactly what happened: an Air NZ Boeing 777 pilot in his forties who’s been doing the Auckland-SF/LA/Houston run for several years. He said it does feel strange to be driving a 10tonne rig at 40km/h (max road speed allowed) rather than 300 tonnes at 800km/hr. He was recently called back to his flying job.

But there are plenty of other even older guys than me around. A trucker who is 75 and sharp in exactly the way Joe Biden is not. The planter whom I supported for several weeks: sixty four years old and working hours his body can’t cash because, as he puts it, “I can’t afford to retire next year without more money”. And that was simply a continuation of a recent past:

“Forty years ago I was able to raise a family on my wage, doing fencing and general farm stuff. But my wages haven’t improved in all that time. Fact is they haven’t gone up as fast as most of the costs have gone up. Cars and TV’s are cheaper but overall it’s worse. I haven’t seen anything I care about improve in my life. But what really worries me is my kids.

My daughter did a specialist nurses diploma. But when she finished, Key’s government reduced the programs, so that was that. Even at the graduation, the head of the program said there’d be no jobs for them.”

That’s a hell of thing to hear from a fellow New Zealander, especially when he merely sounds matter-of-fact in his description rather than angry or bitter. There are more like him that I’ve met. Too many.

There was one other thing I found that threw me. A few weeks ago we were planting maize on a 50Ha block. It was a so-called “run-off”; 50Ha purchased by a large dairy operation owned by a rich family with perhaps 2000 cows. We were parked near the old cow shed, which had clearly been the centre of that 50Ha dairy farm, and during a break I took a look at it.

It was like the Mary Celeste. Everything was there intact; rusted equipment, rusted tools on the floor, even the smocks worn in the pit, all covered in birdshit. A tractor and more in similar shape. Whoever owned this place did not sell willingly. I can only imagine that the bank told them that a deal had been made and they just walked off, owing no debt to cleaning up.

We planted the 50Ha in maize as stock food input for the new high capacity, rotary-shed owners and departed late at night. I knew I had seen not just the present but the future of New Zealand farming and it felt melancholy.

I doubt I’ll be doing this work again next season. By the southern Spring of 2021 the borders should be open and things will be back to normal with contractors able to once again use their young, foreign, expert labour.

But there are more days behind me than before me and every experience life has to offer should be grabbed with both hands, as this one has been.

Written by Tom Hunter

November 29, 2020 at 7:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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The Perils of the Modern Supply Chain

Two of the more interesting courses I did at varsity involved Operations Management and at that time the West was only just starting to come to terms with the Japanese Kanban system in factory processing – often called the Toyota system because it was invented by an engineer working for them.

While it’s just one way of doing Just-In-Time (JIT) manufacturing, we dealt with it primarily because our lecturer had obtained his PhD in that specific subset of the techniques.

Since then of course it has become ubiquitous around the world, together with its cousin, lean manufacturing, which was coined literally as we were studying the Kanban methods. There has also been the usual plethora of consultants trying to coin it by making slight changes and applying a different name to the process.

One of the biggest impacts of JIT systems was that factories would no longer have to keep an inventory of parts for building things, or at least only a very small inventory. This produced huge cost savings; no longer were huge warehouses for parts needed; no worries about the parts or materials deteriorating while waiting to be used; forcing efficiency on the entire production line because there was no longer “slack” in the system. Every material and component arrived “just-in-time” to be used.

And the system has been applied far beyond the world of factories making cars and other machines. You can apply the method to almost anything – including food production.

Which is where our latest crisis comes crashing into the picture, courtesy of the CEO of Tyson Foods, one of the largest food producers in the USA:

“The food supply chain is breaking,” John Tyson wrote in a full-page advertisement published Sunday in The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. 

“There will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed,” he wrote in the advertisement, which was also published as a blog post on the company’s website.

But because those factories employ JIT systems there are kickbacks all the way up the production chain to the farmers themselves:

I am a poultry grower in Sussex County. My integrator (the company I contract to grow chickens with) is depopulating 3.2 million market- age chickens right now. The reason we are doing this is because we are running at about 1/3 of our production capacity due to employee absences at the processing plants. Many of these absences are not due to sickness but to fear and childcare issues. 

The farmer does not own the birds. We grow them on contract. They are not ours to give away. The company and farmers have liability concerns about people coming on farms to remove the birds before they are depopulated. 

It is not feasible to remove large numbers of birds to “sanctuaries”. I have two feed bins that hold 10 tons of feed each for each house. At market age those bins are filled every couple of days. Do the math and you will quickly see how financial contraints make that not a realistic option, not counting the transportation issue.

He notes that this will also happen for pigs. Put simply, the chickens, their eggs, and pigs are all being grown at fairly precise rates to enter the production system of Tyson and other such companies.

The days of the “Freezing Works” having vast paddocks into which to put stock temporarily have vanished under the JIT system. As soon as they’re ready in terms of size and finishing those chickens and pigs must be sent from farm to factory.

And with regard to those pigs here is a specific example from a farmer of what is about to happen because of those shuttered facilities:

“They cannot ‘hold’ them. Plants aren’t designed for over fat pigs. Buildings aren’t, either. First the gates and feeders will be wrecked.. then the slatted floors will start collapsing into the pits below. There’s simply no other way.

“Last weekend, [name redacted] and some friends and I processed 5 pigs in my garage. This was a huge undertaking. Small locker plants/butchers are running 6-7 days a week and are still booked for 3-7 months out. The Heartland has done all we can. It’s time to start the dozers, dig the pits, and embark on one of the most horrendous undertakings the American farmer has had to do in history.

“I know of one farm wife who bought a hardware store out of .22 ammo (8,000 rounds) because they have 7500 market ready pigs and no outlet for them.

It’s been confirmed that large scale euthanasia of market ready hogs will begin in earnest this week. I’m estimating one million within 100 miles of me… worst case 10 million total nationwide. Poultry numbers will be much higher. Some people think beef could start in a month.

Based on that plea from Tyson, President Trump issued an order under the Defense Production Act to get the factories re-opened. Naturally that’s going to mean the spread of COVID-19 but at this stage it’s either that or:

Expect wide spread meat shortages in the next 10 days. This could extend for months.

A lot of things are going to be re-examined in the wake of this pandemic, which has revealed less a problem with human resistance to disease than a frighteningly thin level of resilence in many of our public and private systems. Turns out that reliability has a cost all its own.

I’ll leave the final word to the two farmers, starting with the chicken guy:

When I hear people dismiss the consequences of this quarantine as nothing more than me wanting to “go to bars and restaurants” they have no idea that we farmers of America are concerned with putting food on your table, not wining and dining ourselves.

And ending with the ‘hog’ guy:

“Our food supply chain is broken. The whole system is broken. And today, I feel very broken.  “‘Cheap’ and ‘convenient’ food supply is not necessarily a reliable one.”


Written by Tom Hunter

May 1, 2020 at 5:40 am

Posted in New Zealand

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