Thursday, December 17, 2009

Getting The Pip

One of the pleasures that come with the start of summer is the arrival of new seasons fruit. After months of controlled atmosphere apples and kiwi fruit, it is such a relief to see fresh strawberries, peaches and plums available again.

In winter and spring fruit prices usually rise along with tomatoes, but over the last few years I have been pleased to see apples and pears remain at affordable prices. Sadly, I heard in the news that apple and pear orchardists have been suffering to make this possible. Some of them are pulling up their trees because of very low returns in comparison with other land uses.

One of the major complaints seems to be the loss of ENZA as a co-operative with single desk overseas marketing powers. Today, there are many exporters who compete to get overseas customers and this has apparently made them price takers instead of price makers. As a result, apple and pear growers are expected to cope with second and third world incomes.

A similar situation now seems to exist in the meat and wool sector after the disbanding of the Wool Board. On the other hand, Fonterra (dairy products) and Zespri (Kiwi fruit) appear to have done much better. I suspect that this is due to the unified grower support that helped them to successfully fend off the packs of asset stripping monetarists that were let loose the 1980s.

Ever since then, I have noticed the name of Tony Gibbs frequently appearing in the headlines as he accumulated a fortune as an entrepreneur. Lately, his connection to Turners and Growers has led him to take on Zespri after successfully supporting the privatising of ENZA.

So far, over eighty percent of Zespri’s share holding growers have stood firmly against changes - with many stating their fear of sharing the same fate as apple growers. Our Government has noted that support and also rejected any changes, but Tony Gibbs is not a man to give in easily. It looks as tho’ he ‘got the pip’ and is now off to the Courts to force a legal settlement.

Kiwi fruit growers have every reason to be concerned and I hope the Government will maintain its power to over rule the courts if a decision goes against Zespri remaining a co-operative with sole exporting rights. I have yet to be convinced that monetarist theories of wealth producing “Free Markets” (whatever that means) without regulation actually work in practice.

In the New Zealand situation, competitive inputs (e.g. private land ownership, market set costs) and co-operative outputs (single desk marketing) seem to produce consistently rising farm gate incomes. On the other hand, fragmented competition in all areas of production and marketing seems to produce falling incomes – due largely to powerful corporate overseas buyers being able to depress prices.

You can see this sort of thing in nature as well. If we did not have national parks and wildlife sanctuaries then most of our unique native birds and trees would soon become extinct. I would be surprised if many tourists would come here just to see the same sparrows and pine trees that they have back home.

Perhaps Mr. Gibbs does not fancy sharing his home patch at Matakana with the Kakas and Bellbirds that are spreading out from Tiritiri Matangi and Little Barrier island reserves. If I was in his shoes I would be delighted to lose a few mandarins that way.

Until the day when Fair and Free Trade is agreed on by all the great economic powers in the world, I think co-operatives like Fonterra and Zespri should continue to get Government support. Why mess with organizations that work well for their members and produce overseas funds that enable us to maintain our standard of living? If it means paying a bit more to keep them going, then so be it.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Scotch On The Rocks

Scotch On The Rocks

“When you reach my age my boy, I think you will find that you will enjoy eating raw oysters, join the Lodge and even get to like the taste of the finest whisky.” I looked up at my father and wondered what the heck he was on about. After giving it some thought, I decided that it must have something to do with the amber coloured stuff that he was sipping from a cut crystal glass.

“Enjoy raw oysters!” he must have been pulling my leg. No way was I going to let something, that resembled the insides of a squashed hedgehog, go down my throat. As for joining a lodge, well I could see no attraction there either. Who in their right mind would want to dress up like a penguin in a tuxedo and recite mysterious texts wearing an apron covered with gold embroidery?

Of course, in time, things change and some of his prophecies have come true. I am sure he would be pleased to see that I do indeed now enjoy raw oysters dipped in vinegar. But I would think he would be sad to see my lack of interest in Freemasonry. I suspect tho’ that he might put his disappointment aside over a wee dram or two of whiskey, if our conversation shifted into the lofty realms of politics and ideas.

I bet he would have been as intrigued as I was when I heard that a team of Kiwis are heading down soon to the Antarctic to unearth a box full of Shackleton’s whisky. Shackleton must have left it behind after an abandoned attempt in 1909 to be first to reach the South Pole. It was buried beneath a building (which is still there today) and has remained stuck the permafrost ever since.

Whisky connoisseurs all over the world have shown a lot of interest in the expedition, especially the present owners of the McKinlay brand that made the whisky. They might even be able to extract some and perhaps recreate a kind of ‘Polar Explorers Brew’. It is likely to be peaty in flavour (a style trend at that time) and hopefully the bottles were stored standing up, which would minimise any cork damage that might allow air to leak in to spoil the treasure.

The descendents of Scottish emigrants to New Zealand are the second largest cultural/ethnic group here and they have had a huge impact on our culture. Curiously enough, many of their hardy Scots ancestors showed a strong preference for plain living and religious Puritanism and wanted to see the end of whisky as a legal beverage. In 1919, a referendum almost banned the consumption of alcohol, but returning troops only just tipped the balance the other way.

It all seems very strange now, however I have seen alcoholism destroy lives and I can see why the prim and proper wowsers wanted to take the dreaded alcohol away from us all. Like many other tempting drugs, whisky can mask underlying social ills and personal problems. The poet Robbie Burns certainly did not help matters when he wrote this poem in 1785.

Gie him strong drink until he wink, that’s sinking in despair;
An' liquor guid to fire his bluid, that’s prest wi' grief and care:
There let him bouse, an' deep carouse, wi' bumpers flowing o'er,
Till he forgets his loves or debts, an' minds his griefs no more.

These days we have other methods and medications that help us cope with sadness. So let them deal with that and allow us the pleasure of sharing good company with a drop or two of Caledonia’s gift of liquid amber. Robbie Burns was fond of whisky and it certainly did not stop him writing his amazing poems and songs. He was against pointless suffering and injustice and also opened our eyes to appreciate the natural beauty and the joys of life.