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The high frontier comes to meat and fibre

The high frontier comes to meat and fibre

Speech by Jeanette Maxwell, Federated Farmers Meat & 2012 Federated Farmers Meat & Fibre council, Wellington

Good morning and welcome to Meat & Fibre 2012.

I would like to thank our wonderful policy advisor, David Burt and the Events Manager, Hannah Williamson, for putting together an excellent programme. To my Vice-chair, Tim Mackinosh and members of the Executive, thank you.

Above all, it is you, members of the Meat & Fibre council who deserve to be recognised by your peers.

Of course, behind every great farmer there are some truly great spouses who allow us to do what we do.

And nothing we do is possible without communication because in New Zealand we have serious challenges to solve and we need serious people to solve them.

Unfortunately, some of our critics are not the least bit interested in fixing anything.

They are only interested in two things, making Kiwis afraid of it and telling them who are to blame for it.

I am a Jeanette Maxwell and I am a farmer.

These are powerful words but before I go down the same path of Australian Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese, they are partially borrowed from the film, The American President. Apt given what is now happening in the United States.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but for power, it is now video imagery.

YouTube is now the most popular way young people listen to music. Its range and varieties are limitless and thanks to YouTube, we of course have Justin Bieber.

So there are many forms of communication; from the physical like, ‘No-Smoking’ and ‘Loading Zone Only’, no doubt to the delight of parking wardens, to ones increasingly based on technology.

It is here that momentum and innovation is fast. If you ever wished to live during a revolution, guess what, you are.

When IBM released its "XT" personal computer in 1981, the lowest configuration had eight times the memory of the guidance computer that took us to the moon, only 12 years earlier.

IBM who developed the PC no longer makes them. Hard as it seems to believe, the iPod was only introduced 11 years ago but has spawned a whole new industry.

We have also gone from dial up to broadband, if you are lucky.

Yet mentioning the iPod, it is thanks to downloads that the internet has killed the CD store. In the space of 30-years we have gone from VHS video to DVD and BluRay but these face extinction, much like the CD.

Eventually broadband will allow whole movies and television to stream ‘on demand.’

Of course, we farmers may want to watch movies, use Skype and download whatever people download, but there is more we can use this technology for. Much more.
The problem is that while 96 percent of Kiwis may be able to connect to the internet, the costs to connect and to stay connected, remain high in some rural areas. We may have the Rural Broadband Initiative aimed at schools, but some schools cannot afford the cost to go hot.

Then there are people like me in an internet ‘No Man’s land’. where wired is poor, wireless equally poor and I have something called Mt Hutt between me and a satellite.

Frankly, there are many rural areas that do not have reliable cell phone coverage. In this age of smart phones, computers, tablets and RFID for our animals, how can we make the most of these devices and make economic gains from what this technology promises.

Getting into software and farming app development anyone?

Every organisation today uses technology and Federated Farmers is no exception because all of its computers are in the cloud as they say. That is the internet to you and me.

There are downsides of course. In today’s world, replies are expected within hours, sometimes minutes. This is internet time. People get annoyed if a search or a reply is not instantaneous whereas ‘back in the day’, ‘snail mail’ would give you days of breathing room.

Gone are the days of only dealing with reporters too. Today, anyone with a smart phone and Facebook can report what you say or do. This weight of information means what military types would call a loss of situational awareness. We call it information overload and that means there will always be a role for the traditional media.

Even with a few whales now oiling the room for the truth.

Technology is the farmer’s friend. RFID can be used not only as a compliance tool in the form of NAIT, but it is also a means to improve on-farm systems. I was dubious of NAIT and I still am in some respects, but the work Federated Farmers did has made a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

In our personal lives we have emails, but increasingly New Media like Facebook and Twitter are means to communicate. It is here where we can inject ourselves into the debate but be warned. There is a lot of nastiness. Real nastiness that can be soul-destroying for this exception, if you don’t stoop to their level, you win.

We can use New Media and broadband tools to build our farms, outputs and industry as brands. As we have seen with TradeMe, business models will change but we produce something that is real and tangible and globally in demand.

You don’t need Superman to save the planet, when all you need is a Kiwi farmer and the lamb we produce instead.

Don’t forget we are all subject matter experts in meat and fibre farming, so take that expertise and communicate it to the world. It is better to learn how to write apps and software so we become global inventors in the New Media sphere.

There are the options of Skype and other video conference applications, which make the world an even smaller place. The world may be getting larger in terms of numbers but it is getting smaller in the way we can communicate around it.

Who knows, a few careers advisers may be pleasantly surprised at what they learn by us engaging.

Among this positivity and social connectedness, I must ask why our suicide rates are way too high? I thought long and hard about injecting this topic but if we don’t open up about a cause of death that dare not speak its name, who will?

In becoming a connected society are we losing the nuance of physical interaction? Are our emails, posts or tweets business-like and perfunctory sacrificing speed for quality?

Without face to face encounters we don’t have conversations, debate or get to enjoy plain old banter. This technology has given us more time to get things done yet we seem to be more time poor.

When was the last time you walked into your shearing shed and talked to the shearers? When ringing your shearer, do you discuss how you want you clip prepared, or let the shearers know when the sheep had their last lice treatment etc. Do you talk to your wool buyer about your clip, how it will be sold and is it fit for purpose intended?

Similar questions apply with the other products we produce on our farms. With HRH, the Prince of Wales in New Zealand with the Duchess of Cornwall, we have a golden opportunity to position wool as the greenest of green fibres.

We often say we want communication and information but do we, really?

Communication requires engagement and we need to do this more. Life will not come to you; you need to make it happen for yourself but we also need to keep our eyes and ears open for those who may be struggling.

There are also many ways to re-direct energies by getting involved, to participate in meetings, emails, chats and to step up into leadership. That requires us to get out there and be seen.

We need to inspire because we help to save the planet each time we export low carbon food. We are part of the life sustaining industry and don’t you forget it.

So tap people on the shoulder for our leadership courses or avail them of Kellogg Rural Leadership, Escalator for woman and the Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust among others.

For those who doubt what is possible within our industry and for those who see only the black where I see the light, I will end by telling the story of Apple.

In 1997, only 15 years ago, Apple was heading to bankruptcy. In desperation, it turned back to founder Steve Jobs, who in turn convinced Microsoft to invest US$150 million to keep the receivers at bay.

Not quite altruism, it was to stop Microsoft from being viewed as a monopoly.

Without that investment there would have been no iPads, iPods, iPhones, iTunes etc. With that investment, it sparked the greatest ever comeback in corporate history.

Today, Apple is not only worth more than Microsoft, its market cap is two and half times the GDP of New Zealand.

So, I need to ask, where is our Steve Jobs and what are we doing to find him or her?

Thank you.

© Scoop Media

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