24 Dec 2014

Year of contrasts for rural New Zealand

4:02 pm on 24 December 2014

It has been a year of contrasts for rural New Zealand, weather-wise and in other ways.

Jacqueline Rowarth

Jacqueline Rowarth Photo: Supplied

In Northland, for instance, while some farmers were emerging from drought, others were battling floods.

And dairy farmers saw record milk payments for the past season plunge from above eight dollars a kilo to below five dollars in a few short months.

Pondering on that is Waikato University's professor of agribusiness, Jacqueline Rowarth.

"Hooray, hooray for good prices and then far more of a crash than actually was predicted by any of the analysts, though the banking ones were saying 'watch out, we don't think it's going to be as good as you're saying', but of course they're still saying that and there are some fairly dire predictions by the end of the year.

"So I'm hoping that Fonterra's right when they think it will start picking up again and that we haven't just seen a dead cat bounce with the latest one (global dairy trade auction) just before Christmas, with the slight increase.

"So we really need some good news for the farmers, particularly as they're looking around and thinking, drought".

Professor Rowarth said, though, one of the positive developments during the year had been the on-going recovery of the kiwifruit industry from the effects of Psa vine disease.

"Oh, isn't that good. There's a great form of permaculture, good soil carbon at depth because of those roots and because of lack of tillage at the surface, so tremendous.

"A massive effort in terms of science, breeding the right cultivars for resistance and also innovative farmers doing good technology to try and stop the spread of the disease, so a terrific story there."

And in her teaching role, Professor Rowarth had also been heartened by the growing interest students are showing in careers in agriculture.