Friday, May 28, 2010

Counter-clockwise current?

As a fun side-note, some members of our group had much discussion during bus rides and down time regarding which way the water currents ran down a drain in New Zealand and Australia. Here's a short video of a quick experiment done one of our last evenings in Australia showing the water draining counter-clockwise.

to Toowoomba

April 28 - We traveled by bus through the fertile Lockyer Valley to the Garden City of Toowoomba.

Check Spelling Our first stop of the day was to Kerwee Beef Feedlot. Manager Jim Cudmore explained Kerwee is part of a vertically integrated operation taking cattle through the feedlot and meat processing facility to supply beef to domestic and export markets. The 15,000 head feedlot also contains some Waygu cross cattle specifically for export to Japan. They supply grass-fed beef products to 84 countries around the world. At the feedmill on the property, they mill their own feed. The mix usually includes sorghum, wheat, sunflower meal, molasses and palm oil or sunflower/canola oil blend.

We enjoyed a traditional Aussie Bush Lunch at the Jondaryan Woolshed. Built in 1859, it is the oldest working wool shed in Queensland. After lunch, we toured the grounds, which include an old school house, post office, barns, antique farming equipment, blacksmith shed and more. We also were treated to a sheep-shearing demonstration. Our guide sheared that sheep in less than 2 minutes! The sheep was a rag doll, allowing the shearer to bend and twist him as necessary to get every last inch of wool.

In the heart of the Darling Downs, which is some of the best farming land in Australia, with thick black soils, we stopped at Cowan. Owned by the family of Graham Clapham, Cowan is mainly a cotton operation, but they also grow wheat, corn, sorghum, and chick peas when there is enough water available. We dropped by one of their fields to observe the cotton harvest. Their average yield is 4 bushels an acre.

Heading back into Toowoomba for the night, we saw more beautiful farmland and water holding tanks. At dinner, Andrew McCartney of the Condamine Alliance talked to us about the sustainable natural resource management initiatives for the Condamine River catchment at the head of the Murray-Darling Basin.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ag Policy, Ports & Cotton

April 27 – During breakfast we spoke with Charlie McElhone, Manager of Commerce and Trade with the National Farmers Federation, and Grant Pettrie, an Agricultural Counselor with the U.S. Embassy, about agricultural policy and trade.

Charlie explained how NFF works on behalf of farmers in Australia by promoting policy, trade, and sharing information on technological advancements, similar to American Farm Bureau. With a population of only 20,000 million, Australia is dependent on their export market and very interested in international trade. Grant said the Australia/U.S. Free-Trade Agreement signed in 2005 has greatly increased the amount of trade between the two countries. He also discussed the development of the Global Research Alliance by New Zealand to examine greenhouse gas emissions.

After the breakfast talk, we headed to the Canberra airport to catch a plane north to Brisbane. I knew Australia was a large country, but it surprised me to learn it is almost exactly the same size as the U.S. To drive from Canberra to Brisbane is close to 800 miles and would've taken more than 14 hours!

Upon arrival in Brisbane, we took a driving tour of the Port of Brisbane. The Port of Brisbane is Queensland's largest container port. It has 10 container and general cargo berths and four Deep-water bulk berths at the mouth of the river, as well as five wet-bulk and seven-dry bulk general cargo berths further up the river. Their largest exports are coal, refined oil, meat products, cereals, iron, steel and cotton.

From the port, we stopped at Dunavant Enterprises. Dunavant is one of the largest cotton merchandisers in the world based in Memphis, Tenn. In Australia, they operate three ginning facilities and provide a comprehensive marketing services to cotton growing regions. In addition to ginning facilities, Dunavant Enterprises has integrated warehouse and rail facilities at each gin site providing excellent ginning, warehouse and transport options for growers. As we've heard from almost everyone we've met with during our trip, water is an important issue for the cotton industry. Gordon Cherry, Managing Director at Dunavant, told us 90% of the cotton fields are irrigated due to the drought that began in 2002.

The evening was free to shop, dine and explore Brisbane. About half the group took a water taxi to a well-known local restaurant at the Regatta Hotel for a steak and seafood dinner.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Canberra & Parliament House

April 26 - Leaving Sydney, we drove south a couple of hours to Canberra, Australia's National Capital. Kees told us Canberra's name is thought to mean "meeting place", derived from the Aboriginal word Kamberra. It was selected as the national capital in 1908. Chicago architect Walter Burley Griffin won an international competition to design the city layout and plan its buildings. Before entering the city, we stopped at Mount Ainslie for a birds-eye view.

The original Parliament House was opened in 1927, with the new facility built in 1988. Australia's government is a combination of Constitutional Monarchy and two houses of parliament. Their senate is based on the U.S. Senate. The House of Representatives follows the green color-scheme of the British House of Commons and is decorated to represent the color of eucalyptus leaves. The Senate is done in the reds of the House of Lords, but is in muted tones to represent the dunes of the outback.

We all (and I mean all 28 of us - think "circus clown car!") loaded into one elevator and rode to the roof of the building. From there, we could look down the Australian War Memorial to Mount Ainslie. Our guide at PH asked if we knew why the Australian National symbols are the kangaroo and emu. We guessed it was because they are native animals, but it turns out the correct answer is because neither animal can move backward. Australia uses the animals as their reminders to "always move forward".

We left Parliament House and raced to the Australian War Memorial to observe the last posting/closing of the day. The closing ceremony was a bugler playing the Last Post. The walls lining the War Memorial are covered with the names of all Australian soldiers lost in conflicts. Since the day before was ANZAC Day, walls were covered with poppies.

This evening we spent the night in guest lodging at the Australian National University. Several of us walked into town for dinner and on the way back to campus, Kees pointed out the Southern Cross constellation - something never seen in our part of the world.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Touring Sydney

April 25 - Today is ANZAC Day, which is similar to our Veteran's Day. We began the morning with a walking tour of downtown Sydney. During our stroll, we stopped and watched the ANZAC Day parade. It was very patriotic, with veterans, soldiers, marching bands, and flags.

Our walk ended in Darling Harbour, where we boarded a Captain Cook vessel for a Sydney Harbour lunch cruise. The food was a good, but the 2-hour cruise around the Harbour offered wonderful views of the city including the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge.

After the cruise, we visited Mrs. Macquaries Chair, which is a carved rock ledge seat where the governor's wife used to view the Harbour in 1810, and then on to Bondi Beach, famous for its surfing crowd.

The evening we were free to explore Sydney on our own. A few of us ventured to the Wildlife World and Aquarium to view native Australian animals. Some of the highlights included kangaroo, koalas, crocodiles, dugongs (cousin of manatees) along with the world's deadliest spiders, jellyfish, snakes and more.

Friday, May 7, 2010

On to Australia

April 24 - We spent a cool, rainy morning touring and shopping around Queenstown, where I made a friend with a kiwi.

Next stop - the airport for our afternoon flight to Sydney, Australia. After arriving in Sydney, we checked into our hotel and walked to Darling Harbor for dinner at a club on the water. During the meal, fireworks were shot off over the water - it was a great show. We asked if they have fireworks every Saturday night, but our new guide with Quadrant Australia, Kees van Haasteren, explained they are random to keep crowds from packing the Harbor area. We just had good timing! Tired from our long journey, we all returned to our rooms to get some sleep before starting another day of touring.

Video of Lou bungy jumping

Lou bungy jumping from Kawarau Bridge, New Zealand

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Last full day in New Zealand

April 23 - Our first stop today was Glendene at Lake Hawea. Glendene is a high country sheep and cattle station owned by Jerry & Leslie Burdon. In a picturesque lake-side setting, they raise more than 7,200 Merino sheep, several hundred cattle and more than 2,400 deer on approximately 15,000 acres. The deer and Merino sheep are especially suited to the hilly land. They raise deer for antler velvet, trophy hunting and venison--this type of diversification has been beneficial to the Burdons. The Burdons's sheep produce a fine, bright, high-quality wool, which accounts for around 20% of their farm income. Jerry showed us their wool shed and explained about the types of wool quality. Some of their wool goes to an auction market, while the rest is sold through direct contract deals. Jerry's sheep dog, Spot, and his buddy, Luke, put on a sheep herding demonstration for us. The herding dogs respond to voice commands to steer the sheep in the right direction or round up any stragglers. It was quite entertaining.

After a wonderful lunch served by Leslie, we boarded the bus and headed on to Queenstown for our last night in New Zealand. Along the way, we stopped at the Gibbston Valley Winery for a look at their vines and a tasting. We also stopped Kawarau Bridge, where bungy jumping originated. One member of our group, Lou, took the plunge from the 43M bridge!

Our farewell dinner was on Bob's Peak. We took the Skyline Gondola to the top for a great meal and views of Queenstown. The Bob's Peak Gondola is reportedly the steepest lift in the Southern Hemisphere.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Beautiful Country!

April 22 - In the morning, we visited Lincoln University in Christchurch, home of our international partner Keith Woodford, to learn about the agriculture industry in New Zealand. As we'd heard from the producers we spoke to, water is a huge issue in New Zealand and Australia. He also told us dairy ownership is beginning to change in New Zealand. Smaller farms are consolidating with more than 15% of all herds containing more than 500 cows.

We continued South across the plains and stopped at the Davey farm. Bill and Linda Davey irrigate 90% of their land and grow a variety of crops including cereals, white clover, freezer peas, grasses, as well as finish lambs. Part of their land is leased to a Dutch company that grow and process Lily bulbs for export to Japan. The Davey's gave us a tour of the operation and treated us to a delicious lunch.

The rest of the afternoon was spent driving through Burkes Pass on our way to Twizel in the heart of Mackenzie Country. Absolutely beautiful countryside!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

NZ Agricultural Education and Fonterra

April 21 -We met with MAB international partner Daniel Conforte at Massey University in Palmerston North. Conforte and other faculty at Massey gave us a briefing regarding their food technology research and education opportunities at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

A few shorts blocks from the University, AgRearch provided us a good picture of research being done to improve pastureland and create better grass feed. Goals of their research include: improving disease and pest resistance, extending seasonal growth, and forage quality.

Our final visit of the day was to Fonterra's Research Centre. Nicola Shadbolt, who is on the board of directors, gave us an update on Fonterra in New Zealand. Fonterra is the world's leading exporter of dairy products with more than 10,500 shareholders. Producers enjoy several benefits to being a member of this large cooperative: milk is picked up, they received the best price possible for their milk, and member capital is guaranteed a fair return. Shadbolt told us the strength of Fonterra is in their supply chain - they have the ability to move the milk to production and worldwide distribution.

A two-hour drive through the beautiful country-side of the North Island took us to Wellington for a quick shopping trip downtown before boarding a plane for Christchurch.

Sheep processing

April 20 continued - After leaving the Matuschka's deer farm, we stopped at CMP Rangitikei Meat Processing Facility. It is a state-of-the art facility that processes 900,000 head annually. With approximately 370 employees working year-round, they process about 4.5 carcasses per minute. They specialize in both frozen and chilled cuts and export lamb worldwide. In the U.S., their products can be found at Trader Joe's and Wholesale Foods. It was interesting to see the process from start to finish: from unloading the sheep from trucks to slaughter to cuts to packaging.

To get a glimpse of the finishing side of sheep and beef production, we toured the Strahan finishing property. The Strahan's farm 500 hectares where they finish 13,000 lambs and 1,200 cattle. Their herds are all pasture fed and rotate around paddocks to keep fresh grass available. They also grow some peas, wheat and barley. Their property has been used as a Monitor farm (demonstration farm) for Meat and Wool in New Zealand giving producers an opportunity to observe a successful operation and learn by example.