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SDARL alumni back from New Zealand

New Zealand ... Shown in a landscape between the ocean and the mountains, from left: Linda Smith, Lola Roseth, Bill and Pennie Slovek.

Four local residents have returned from an South Dakota Agriculture and Rural Leadershi alumni study of New Zealand. Those people are Lola Roseth, Linda Smith, and Bill and Pennie Slovek.

The 29 SDARL alumni left January 8. "We crossed the international date line, so the ninth disappeared and we got there on the 10th," said Smith. New Zealand is 20 hours ahead of western South Dakota's MT time zone. The 'kiwis' as New Zealanders are called, spoke English, but were quite hard to understand, said Roseth.

The group visited individual farms and ranches that dealt with kiwifruit, deer, sheep, beef cattle, dairy cattle and forestry. "We also went to Gallagher Animal Management Systems, which is a world leader in electric fence and security fence manufacturing," said Roseth.

Temporarily breaking from the group, Smith and Roseth took in a dairy auction market. Sales are three times a week in the busy season. "The foreman, dressed in shorts, a tank top and clog shoes, and was a very informative chap," said Roseth. Sales are held outside. The seller contacts one of six different commission firms to consign his cattle. That firm puts the livestock in their own pens at the market and they have their own auctioneer. Buyers climb on the pens or onto a no-rail catwalk to watch the auction. Cattle were sold by the head, not the pound.

New Zealand is crossed by the 45th parallel south, while South Dakota is crossed by the 45th north. There, except in its current drought, the average rainfall is 26 inches, though most farmers still irrigate. Slovek estimated that because of the soil, rainfall and year-round climate, only one acre is needed in New Zealand to raise one milk cow or six sheep, while approximately 22 acres is required in Haakon County.

Bill Slovek reported that New Zealand's population of 4.25 million raises enough food to feed 55 million people, thus exporting is a huge part of their ag. Dairy has become New Zealand's top ag product, at the expense of the beef and sheep industry. "At one time producers got 80 percent of their income from wool, now it's five percent," said Slovek.

Smith said, "The Americans were shocked at the lack of regulations. The dairies were open aired, and the cows stood on a turntable. The milk machines were attached and by the time the cows got back to the start, they were done being milked and were backed out of the stanchion by a spray of water in their faces," said Smith.

Smith said, "At deer farms, they harvest the velvet from the deer. We rode in the back of Toyota and Nissan pickups to where they were. Fences were very different, with the main posts about eight foot apart. Between these posts were many small ones about one to two feet apart that were laced into the six-wire fences. The fences were very straight and went up very steep mountains."

The main crops raised on the north island are wheat, barley and maize grain. Kale, a form of a cabbage, is raised to graze cattle for maximum weight gain.

All the farms we went to were very immaculate, some with hired gardeners. The door, windows, and terrace doors were kept open most of the time. They have no snakes, very few mice, and few bugs to get in, so why shut the door?

Slovek said that in the mid-1980s the government eliminated all ag subsidies, almost overnight, to create a true market system. It was a short-term trial, and the producers with high debt went out of business, but none of the producers now would want to got back to that system. Currently, similar to America's housing devaluation, New Zealand is experiencing an ag land devaluation. In the last 18 months, land value has devalued nearly 40 percent, with another 50 percent estimated before banks will again loan money on the land.

Cost is higher there. A gallon of gasoline is about $6 American. Minimum wage is $9. Though taxes pay for public health care, which increases faster than inflation, it is undependable. People still pay for their own private health care.

Mostly the people eat fish and lamb. Slovek preferred the deer, and, though pork is not a common item, the restaurant bacon was excellent. Kumara is a kind of sweet potato that the group seemed to be served quite a bit. The main dessert is pavlova, a meringue delicacy.

Roseth said, "We had no real language barriers, as the most of them speak English. However, they did not pronounce certain letters like we do; 'car' was 'caw,' etc.

Smith said that she, along with a couple from the United Kingdom, hired a float plane to take them over the volcanoes. "When the pilot turned the plane on it's side over the volcanoes so we could see in them, it felt as if we would fall in," said Smith.

Due to a hole in the ozone layer, the sun was very harsh. Summer temperature average between 60 to 80 degrees, but sunburning is a constant threat.

The group heard from Jim Sutton, former New Zealand minister of agriculture. The group met at the Bank of New Zealand with three of its ag bankers. The group toured PGG Farm Supply, one of the three largest farm supply stores in New Zealand.

One toured farm, Pohuetal Farms, is 6,500 acres with over 13,500 sheep, 3,500 finishing lambs, 2,300 young ewes and 2,000 cattle either red angus or red stabilizers. They are using a bull that Bill Slovek produced on his ranch near Philip. They have a contract with McDonalds, which uses their beef. Cattle are priced and contracted two years in advance.

One visit was to a farm that raises 1,500 head of red deer, which are native to Europe and are found in the wild in New Zealand. They are for venison sold mainly in Germany. Velvet harvested from the stags is sold to Asian countries for medicinal purposes. On some of the larger stags they are able to harvest nearly 20 pounds of velvet from the antlers, as they are formed and sell it for around $45 per pound.