Make hay while the sun shines.

Farmers have had good news. Fonterra will make record payouts this season. There is a sense of celebration in the media (which has all the hallmarks of government propaganda). Instead of negative sotries about the pending housing market bubble burst cum meltdown - 'happy days are here again'.

The wave of ‘ha ha told you so’-economic back to basics thinking and comment has been circulating grossly misses the point.

New Zealand’s primary production is valuable but also vulnerable.

An outbreak of foot and mouth disease would have a devastating and lasting effect on exports and the wider economy. The hoax threatened release of the virus on Waiheke Island pointed to just how exposed we would have been had it been real - the damage would have been in the tens of billions.

With sustainability and carbon footprints at front of mind for most of the developed world (i.e. our markets) our distance from market may, yet again, be tyrannical. In spite of the logical argument that most of our exports are literally shipped that will make no difference to consumers who are increasingly concerned with ‘doing the right thing’. It won’t matter that factory farming in Europe and the UK may well be appallingly bad for the environment - let alone the animals - perception is everything. Farmers in the those markets will be releasing meme’s for all they are worth. Propaganda and spin might well win where tariffs and protectionism have failed.

The facts of New Zealand’s farming practices are also in opposition to our ‘clean, green’ proposition. The rolling green hills of New Zealand farmland (with more being created to profit from the milk solid bonanza) were once native forests. Nitrogen floods into our waterways and erosion is a major problem in many areas. Our myths could easily be punctured and exposed.

I have always argued that the issue is and/and, rather than either/or.

One of the issues surrounding the ‘knowledge’ economy is that it has been biased towards the provision of services rather than developing intellectual property that can be exported profitably and cheaply (what does a gigabyte weigh?). Profits from licences, royalties and residuals are the ultimate in sustainability. A kilo of mik solid can only be sold once.

It is little wonder that companies like Google, YouTube and MySpace have such stratospheric valuations - they consume few resources and cost virtually nothing to distribute. There is no reason why New Zealanders couldn’t have developed any of those ideas.

The current bonanza may bring with it the dark spectre of complacency. Why invest in education, for example, if the ‘traditional’ capabilities are all we need?

Question: why is it bad to buy toilet paper from Indonesia but New Zealand's environmental record goes unchallenged.


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