Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Clive Bibby: Are you sitting down!

We sold most of the farm to our Iwi neighbours some time ago. Failing health and an interest in our colourful heritage combined to point what we retained of the farming partnership in a new direction.

We had to do something and here's why!

While we are greatful for the fortnightly New Zealand Superannuation payments, it is difficult to imagine people our age (76 this year) surviving on it alone - even if the home is mortgage free. So, for those of us who have (for whatever reason) not planned well enough for these twilight years, the prospects are not good - especially when something as disruptive as Covid 19 suddenly controls what happens to us all.

Recognising that our reduced circumstances after the farm sale would require some innovative thinking in order to supplement our modest income, l had developed a Heritage Consultancy that was fast becoming a reputable addition to my CV and also a meaningful contribution to our bank balances. Our prospects were definitely improving.

I thought we had averted a crisis that is the lot of far too many kiwi couples who may have made a few bad choices during their careers when they could have done things differently ie. preparing for retirement.

For a couple of years the future looked bright. We didn't want much - just enough to enable us to visit family and friends and maintain interests that would keep us motivated.

How things change!

I write this because l believe my wife and l represent a large slice (possibly even a majority) of senior citizens who are collateral damage of the way this virus has been handled in this country. Those who have worked hard only to see their investments and retirement savings hurtle into oblivion. In our case, my consultancy is collateral damage of the pandemic. It is unlikely to be resurrected and must be viewed as a good thing while it lasted. Tough!

This group of decent citizens who view their new found state of dependency with horror are now amongst the most vulnerable, yet appear not to be part of the Government's planning when designing the nation's recovery.

These sort of situations require innovative thinking that encourages people to pick themselves up and try again. There are and will be options that we hadn't thought about. Individually and collectively, we need to revisit what is left of a once viable personal and national economy in order to find something that works. It won't be easy but we can do it.

However, just being kind to one another is not going to do anything when seeking a replacement for one of our traditional major export earners.

eg. Is the government not aware of the perilous state of the wool industry?

Most kiwis will appreciate the history of this great commodity, ranging from the period when the returns were at their highest during the Korean War years down to the present where the fibre is actually a liability on any property that runs sheep as a major part of the farming operation.

Take my personal experience which, although minor even in the context of my own forced financial restructuring, does highlight the theme of this column - "how do we make ends meet when something we depended on for survival is no longer there."

Back to our place.

On what remains of the original farming operation, l fatten about 300 lambs each year, killing them in late September when they are at their most valuable.

Part of the process involves shearing these sheep about now which is designed to stimulate growth leading to optimum weights prior to slaughter.

Traditionally, the cost of shearing is covered by the returns from the sale of the fleece wool.

Not any longer - not even close.

My shearing costs were $5 per head. The wool earned me $1 per head.

As Charles Dickens' character Mr McCawber would say - the result is " misery".

Not so long ago, the wool clip on an average sheep and cattle property would have contributed about one third of the farm income.

These days it simply adds to the operational costs in a huge way.

While it is fair to say that the virus has had a major affect on world trade in this commodity, it is equally fair to ask why the Government doesn't appear to be including the industry in its plans for a post pandemic economic restructuring.

Surely, it would be in the Nation's interests and as such, easily justifiable, to add another decree to the mix of controls that are being signalled for life after Covid.

Presumably the Greens would be happy to see our most celebrated natural fibre used exclusively in all buildings requiring carpeting and home insulation. Why is it not?

Why do we allow the synthetic product competing with wool on the world stage to continue doing so much damage here at home. We need to find a way of at least covering the costs of harvesting what has now become an unavoidable by product.

And please don't suggest we should switch to breeds like Wiltshires that moult in the paddock. The yards on the properties where this change has taken place look like an explosion in a mattress factory.

There is nothing wrong with the current system. Just that the end use of our crossbreed wools need to be incorporated in our strategic planning where the benefits can be enjoyed by everyone.

It might also help those of us still committed to the agricultural industry to remain in business a little longer.

This item should be top of the agenda at next Monday's cabinet meeting when my guess is that there will be a paucity of ideas about what to do next.

Clive Bibby is a commentator, consultant, farmer and community leader, who lives in Tolaga Bay.


Tinman said...

Cross-bred wool has been a non-starter for 25+ years.

No one wants the stuff because man-made fibre is cheaper and more convenient.

If you want to sell the stuff, don't rely on the gummint to create a market for you, get out and build one yourself.

Mike L. said...

Surely you don't believe that there will be anybody at that cabinet meeting with any practical knowledge of farming practices? They are all career politicians, with little useful real-world experience, and certainly no experience of running their own business. They don't even have an economist or accountant running the country's finances, a medically-qualified person acting as Minister of Health, or someone with wide business experience running the whole thing!

Beryl Good said...

Well said Clive. I am sure Judith would agree with you.
KInd regards Beryl Good
PS what about starting a home stay or bed and breakfast on your property

dobegoo said...

Well said Clive. I am sure Judith would agree with you.
KInd regards Beryl Good
PS what about starting a home stay or bed and breakfast on your property

Mervyn said...

Clive, I refer you to an interview on Uncommon Knowlege by Peter Robinson of Thomas Sewell. If you are not aware of the latter you ought for his research into the effects of welfare on American blacks is as relevent to Maori and the cultural and political changes in NZ parallel the USA. At one point Robinson asks Sewell is there any good news, at which Sewell replies ,ask me my age. Robinson obligingly asked. Sewell responded he is eighty, and as such will inevitably be relieved of living through the coming social and economic calamities. It hasn't stop Sewell continuing to make a contribution.
Spend your financial and intellectual capital Clive and don't bother about the future because you are not going to be here. Let the next generation suffer the consequences of their choices. You cannot make any provision for them for which you can demand of them to be grateful.

lee said...

I lost all my disposable income for the initial 6weeks. The pension is an existence only.

Ewan McGregor said...

Whether we like it or not, wool is a commodity the world no longer wants – there are cheaper and more acceptable substitutes. This is the way consumers see it, and the consumer is always right. To demand that this is a problem for the government to fix, as Clive here claims, is to go back to the bad old days of state regulation in the economy, from which we departed, to this country’s great benefit, in the late 1980s.
The author offers no solutions, though hints with the question “Why do we allow the synthetic product competing with wool on the world stage to continue doing so much damage here at home”. So how do we frustrate the use of synthetics on global economy? Right now, the government has more important things to think about. Wool’s future, if there is one, is a challenge for the producer.
Ewan McGregor