The Realities Facing NZ Farmers: a Collection of Excellent Articles

Farmers Weekly Interactive, published in the UK, has a special feature section dedicated to IFMA18 written and produced by Mike Abram, including youtube videos – I encourage you to check them out!

Topics include:

PRECISION FARMING: Paying dividends – The use of innovative precision farming techniques on two New Zealand arable farms is paying dividends.

SHAREMILKING: Shared risk and rewards – Many successful dairy farmers in New Zealand started their management careers sharemilking.

FARM STRUCTURE:Stronger industry – Subsidies ended almost overnight in New Zealand. But what does its agriculture sector look like 25 years later?

GLOBAL DRIVERS: Influencing factors – What are the most significant drivers of supply and demand in the global market and how do they feed into higher pricing and increased volatility?

ENVIRONMENT: Emission benefits – Sheep farmers in New Zealand could make improvements in their carbon footprint by incorporating greenhouse gas emission traits into their genetic selection tools.

FEEDING THE WORLD: Global free trade – Denying global free trade will prevent farmers from supplying the food to feed the world.

NITROGEN INHIBITORS: Nitrogen on dairy farms – Applying a product to prevent nitrogen leaching from urine patches from pasture is helping some New Zealand dairy farmers both increase grass production and reduce their environmental impact.

UNSUSTAINABLE: Farming with subsidies – Farming with subsidies funded by taxpayers is fiscally unsustainable, said David Carter, New Zealand agricultural minister, at the opening of the 18th International Farm Management Association Congress in Methven, Canterbury.

IRRIGATION: Variable rates cut costs – Irrigation systems that allow each nozzle to apply variable rates of water according to soil type and moisture deficit are improving New Zealand farmers’ water use efficiency.

Happy viewing!


CFBMC’s Agriwebinar® – an international star!

Good news!

The paper that I presented in NZ: Complementing Tradition, Managing Change: Using Communication Technology to Connect an Industry; The Case of Agriwebinar™ has been selected for the first edition of the International Journal of Agricultural Management (IJAM).

IJAM is a new journal, formed by combining the forces of the Journal of Farm Management (published by the Institute of Agricultural Management) and the Journal of International Farm Management (published by the International Farm Management Association).

The purpose of the new journal is to provide an international forum and source of reference for those working in agricultural management and related activities, including social, economic and environmental aspects of food production and rural development.

IJAM does not yet feature on the internet – that will come.

For more information on the Journal, please contact:

International Farm Management update from the CFBMC!

Greetings everyone!

It is hard to believe that the 18th International Farm Management Congress was already a few months ago – it seems like we were in New Zealand just yesterday.

Here are a few updates of what has transpired from IFMA18 for the Canadian Farm Business Management Council. 

Since returning from New Zealand, we have participated in a number of meetings with producers, agricultural organizations and Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada to report what we learned, bringing international best practices to advance Canadian agriculture. We have also produced articles and radio interviews, and we’re spreading the word about IFMA coming to Canada in 2015!

Our bi-monthly journal, the Canadian Farm Manager, features an article by Richard and me on the NZ experience.

To read the June 2011 edition, click here.

You can also subscribe to receive the hardcopy version of this newsletter via regular mail (within Canada only) or electronically by visiting our subscriptions page or click here.


Our Annual General Meeting is taking place in Ottawa, Ontario on August 4th and 5th. We will be showcasing farm business management programs, services and success stories and also revealing our new look! We will also be giving a presentation on our NZ visit. We encourage you to attend. This event is open to members and non-members. To become a member, and for more information on the event, please contact Mary Blue ( or visit our website,

See you soon!

A Fond Farewell to Worldly Friends

The Congress Comes to an End
Today marked the last day of the 18th International Farm Management Congress. It’s hard to believe we have only been here for 2 weeks, and at the Congress for one – as it seems we’ve learned a lifetime of information! From hog production in Denmark to risk management education in the United States, podcasting in Australia, dairy farming in China, consumer awareness in the United Kingdom, and of course the wealth of agriculture and methods of diversification in New Zealand – arable farming, dry land farming, irrigation, dairy, deer, sheep, forestry, wine, fruit and agritourism.

It feels like we’ve seen it all, and yet I am sure we have merely scratched the surface. The International bug has been born! So many more questions and curiosities.

The International Farm Management Association truly is a remarkable organization, to be able to  facilitate learning, networking and a true dedication to farm business management best practices and ideas from across the globe.

Our sincere thanks and congratulations go to the IFMA18 Congress organizers for putting on such a wonderful event, in and amongst recent tragedies. The friendly faces and hospitality of New Zealand will remain in our memories, and hearts, forever.




Next Stop: Poland
IFMA19 is set to take place in Warsaw, Poland in 2013 at the University of Life Sciences. I encourage you to visit to find out more information, and sign up to receive alerts as more information becomes available.

Mark Your Calendars – 2015, IFMA20 Coming to Canada!
That’s right! We have confirmed with IFMA Council that in 4 years IFMA will be coming to Canada!

We couldn’t be more excited and look forward to your suggestions for locations and stops along the way.

We will certainly keep you advised of our progress, and will be putting together an organizing team to keep things moving. I am sure the next 4 years will simply fly by!

Should you have a keen interest in being involved in any capacity, please be sure to let us know.

Thank you!
We wish to thank everyone who followed our blog and contributed comments and questions along the way. We are proud to report that we have had nearly 4000 visitors to the blog (including both the English and French side) in these two weeks.

We’ll be looking at put together some articles on and arranging some speaking engagements to transfer the knowledge we have acquired! Including at the August AGM and through the Agriwebinar system.

Thanks again, we hope we have served you well Canada!


Managing Risk, Managing Water


The Canterbury growing season sees 450mm in rain fall, however 750mm is lost in evapotranspiration from high winds.  

The use of water from rivers or underground aquifers in New Zealand and particularly Canterbury is controlled by water use consents. However, water use for irrigation is contested by recreational users (fishing, sports), conservationists and other agricultural users. This presents 25% of water unreliability (potential unavailability).

We visited a site today where water was being pumped from the river into a gravity-fed distribution scheme that harnessing the power of the natural flow of the water to produce the electricity required to pump the water for irrigation. An energy-efficient system, to be sure.

Some farmers are building on-farm ponds and water storage units to augment the unreliability of water from rivers and aquifers. Some farmers have turned these on-farm ponds into value-added opportunities such as water skiing sites.

Risk Management

The reasons for irrigation were summed up nicely by the Lill Family – a 5th generation arable farm here in Canterbury.

Reasons for Irrigation:

  • Reliability of water availability from one season to another
  • Reduce the risk of drought
  • Allow greater land use options including vegetables
  • Assist in the transition of a viable business to the next generation
  • Capital development of land preferable to additional land purchase

While the capital investment required for irrigation reduces ROA in the short-term, it mitigates low performance drought years. Dry land farmers run the risk of hitting a drought year, from which it can take 5 or more years to recover.

 Dry land vs. Irrigation Land Value per Hectare

    Dry land                         Irrigated land

$20,000-$25,000             $30,000

The Lill Family believe that building the capacity of the land and business for the long-term for reliable performance and the small capital gains achieved year over year will be key to the success of their business and the sustainability of the family farm.

NZ Young Farmers

Last night we were invited to Lincoln University to enjoy a BBQ featuring the local flavours of lamb, beef and venison. We also enjoyed a skills demonstration put on by the NZ Young Farmers. Students from Cornell, Massey Lincoln and other young participants joined in the fun! Lots of fun, joining people together from around the world to exercise teamwork and national pride.

The NZ Young Farmers consists of over 2000 members and gives youth the opportunities to be part of a social club and learn and enhance their skills in agriculture, public speaking and debate.  The Young Farmers have just embarked on a new program that introduces primary school children to agriculture.

We are back to plenary and contributed papers  – signalling the last day of the 18th International Farm Management Congress.


Consumer Focus: Customer-led, Farmer-adopted

A question was received from a reader of our blog: What kind of extension services exist in New Zealand, and how are they funded?

This topic has not been explored by speakers, so we surveyed advisors and farmers.

We had a presentation on DairyNZ, who conduct research, knowledge transfer and provide consulting services to dairy farmers. This organization is very similar to our Canadian centers of expertise in dairy production such Valacta, Canwest DHI, and others. Farmers must pay for services at the farm and workshops for groups or conferences. Research and support to DairyNZ is funded in part by government, universities and other industry partners such as Fonterra.

Universities play a major role in supporting producers by providing continuous learning to farmers, advisers and other industry stakeholders. They are funded by industry and government.

There are also private consulting firms that offer their services by the hour. There is no subsidy to receive consulting services. Producers are aware of the importance of the advice and use it as needed. Some farms in NZ are sufficient enough in size to have full-time professional management services.

Consumer Focus: Customer-led, Farmer-adopted
Many of today’s plenary sessions focused on meeting market demand, and thoughts turned to consumer demands and trends.

In agriculture there is, for lack of a better description, a distinct difference between beliefs and reality. The fact is, people want to see cows in pasture – this is how they’re pictured – this is what sells the product. Consumers want to believe their purchases are for the right reasons and meet their values, but also meet their wants and needs as per lifestyle. Products must align with values, practices, and trends. Trends indicate consumers are valuing health, origin, and also convenience of agri-food.

Awareness is Power
This is good news. Once you know what the consumer is looking for, you can value add to your product (including through promotion and branding) to communicate the right messages to get the desired result.

It’s easy enough to do when you’re direct marketing to the consumer and there is a face behind the product. However, how do you achieve this when you’re further removed from the product on retailer shelves? How are retailers communicating the message? What can be done to create value that feeds back to the farmer and the image of agriculture? What can you do? And, how does this change when your market includes the retailer?

I do not believe it is as prescriptive as finding out what consumers want and providing the product. Or at least, I do not want to believe this – where is experimentation? Innovation? This is the ‘how’ factor. It is essential to understand the consumer before you can understand the value you can offer them. I believe in many cases there is room to give consumers something they didn’t know they needed. Take for instance mushrooms. If someone asked you today whether you would pay a premium for sliced as opposed to whole mushrooms, what would you say? Surely we can slice our own mushrooms! And yet, when the product is made available, it flies off of shelves. Why? Convenience. 

Another clear message from today was the need to improve on-farm return, increase efficiency, and reduce ‘channel noise’ in the value and supply chain thereby potentially losing the connect between the producer and the end user.

Two Canadian Stars in NZ!

During today’s activities, Richard and I were interviewed by member of the local press. Our interview will be featured in the Courier Country paper in a fortnight and can be accessed on!

Tomorrow we’re off on farm tours again, fingers crossed for sunshine!


Thinking Big? Keep it Simple!

Pastoral Dairying
Today we toured two dairy operations: Alistair and Sharon Rayne, and Lincoln University’s best practices farm, and for both visits, the majority of our time was spent standing out in the pasture. We were not shown fancy buildings with fancy equipment and high tech machinery, and numbers did not focus on volume. It is clear that these farmers take great pride in the greenness of the pasture and ensuring efficiency.

Here the focus is on profitability, low-cost production, and ensuring the longevity of the cows and the natural resources such as fields and water. The figures presented are based on the production costs per kg of solid products (milk solids, dry matter forage, etc.).The volume produced is not important, but rather, the net profit – the bottom line. 

Can a similar, intensive pastoral system be adopted or adapted for Canada? This thought sparks many questions, and as we have tried to answer, we are left with more questions. The NZ system is a low-cost production model, yielding fantastic results. Genetics are sought for profitability, not production volume. Genetics are based on choosing more rustic genetics, improving the fertility, immunity, etc..

The main cause of infertility is the reform of the cow. After 10 weeks of insemination (avg.), empty cows are culled, and those that become pregnant late in the season are sometimes induced to abort, to keep the calving cycle for the herd efficient. Since fertility is an inherited trait, genetics are key.

Cows are fed grain, however very rarely and only when the price of milk on the world market is high and farmers want to produce more. And although rarely and minimally, forage silage is used to finish the season.

Although there are many variables to consider, and differences between Canada and NZ, when looking at the dairy farm debt in Canada, coupled with expenses, there are surely lessons to be learned. After discussion with some milk producers in NZ, the vast majority seem to be happy in their intensive pastoral farming system.

Are Canadian dairy farmers happy with their system? What future challenges and opportunities do you foresee, and how do we take advantage?

Dairy Facts and Trends (as we see them!)

A few quick facts on NZ dairy:

  • 4.4 million dairy cows
  • 2.81 cows per hectare
  • 3 staff persons, including the farm manager for the average operation (322 cows)

Speaking with various farmers and congress participants, we’re noticing a few trends:

  • Farmers tend to move from apprenticeship/mentorship to share-milking to equity partnership to ownership
  • Professional development – staff are encouraged and mentored to build their capacity, resulting in a high turn-over rate.
  • Incentives are implemented to keep staff on property if desirable, but farm managers and owners also see the benefits of new staff with new ideas. Farming seems to be a very fluid, ever-changing environment for the farmers in terms of what they’re producing, where, how, etc.
  • Maximize pasture production and utilization, minimize silage or grain feeding
  • Farmers seeking low-cost, grass-based profitability systems (minimal ties up capital)
  • Daily and weekly farm walks coupled with sensory data intake
  • Cows are bred for condition over production
  • Induction (abortion) is used to keep calving on schedule and reduce empty cows (difference between 5% and 13% for the two farms we visited – using induction, and not, respectively)

As a side note, during our travels, we drove through the site of New Zealand’s September 2010 earthquake. In one spot, the road had completely shifted 3 metres!

Tomorrow, back to the conference, out of the rain!