The more one knows, the less one knows…

It seems sometimes, that the more one knows, the less one knows… that sounds an oxymoron… but really it just means that as we have been provided a tiny insight to different places and aspects of Brazil and its Agriculture sector, the more questions we have.  There is so much more, and we haven’t even begun to understand it yet.

Our brains are exploding; our eyes feel like they are permanently hanging loosely out of their sockets; and our faces locked with jaw drop, as we have been astounded, stunned, shocked, inspired and amazed at what we are seeing, hearing and experiencing.

It is very difficult to put into words a concise summary of Brazil.  To describe the numbers and scale seems so sterile… even having seen a glimpse of the scale and heard the numbers first hand, it is still too difficult to really grasp hold of what Brazilian Agriculture is.  There are not enough colours to paint the picture of the people, their successes, frustrations and dreams.  It is in moments like this when the English language seems inept.  Or maybe it’s a lack of ability to weave the language together to articulate the impressions and impact that Brazil has had on us.  Nevertheless, it’s going to take a while to process this experience. 

What can I do to respond to this? What is the future for New Zealand? …business as usual is not an option.  So what are our options, and how do we position our little nation in the global sandpit for the coming decades?  What are the right questions to be asking?  As farmers, do we really understand the global context we operate in?

The more I know, the less I know – which I suspect is exactly where Nuffield wants me to be right now.  As I sit on a bus traveling down an exceptionally bumpy main highway of Brazil, trying to reconcile my thoughts, I can confidently say that our farm tracks are in better condition than this piece of federal government infrastructure.  We are fighting with the big grain trucks for space on the road.  As every vehicle weaves its way across and along the road negotiating the potholes, each driver is in a mad frenzy of survival of the fittest… or the biggest – literally.  We have seen cars driven off the road to avoid colliding head-on with the so called, “kings of the road.”

As I’m entertained by a lightning storm in the distance, the warm tropical air is blowing through the window, carrying from our bus, the fumes of its clutch fighting for life, as we sometimes crawl along the road in the late hours of the night making our way to the next bed.  The team are all willing its survival as we fall into another fitful sleep, seizing every opportunity we can for at least some rest.

It’s all part of the adventure.  What an experience.

Inspired by Vision

Placed in a prominent position on the office wall at the Manapouri power station was a quote, “after all is said and done, more is said than done” Aesop.  Nevertheless at that very site, we witnessed the fruit of one man’s vision, which was put forward to the NZ Government in 1904. 

110 years ago, Mr P S Hay of the Public works department proposed the vision of the Manapouri Hydro Power station… many felt the obstacles were too big to overcome at the time, and his vision was shelved.  It was a remote isolated location and the scale of the engineering feat required to deliver the dream, was beyond what most thought was possible.

In another small isolated township, a great community man, who was determined to ensure key infrastructure and services would be provided to his community was faced with a problem… to find the solution, he thought outside the square… and had a vision of a ski-field… The land the time was utilised as a high country station producing merino wool.  Again many could not see what could be possible… many obstacles were in the way of success – regulation, red tape, and people that could not grasp the idea of building a new future.

Today, there is a fully functioning power station that produces 14% of New Zealand’s electricity.  They blasted their way through more than 10km of mountain rock – including schist and granite.  It took 1800 workers 8 years, and cost the lives of 16 men.  But from the beginning when Mr Hay first proposed the idea, it took 60 years until it was built.

We also have the Cadrona ski-field., an iconic ski-field whereby tourists come from all over the world to enjoy.

In both cases, to bring the vision to fruition, required the employment of highly skilled people, determination, perseverance, smart thinking to work within the regulatory environments of the time (sometimes influencing regulatory developments) and the ability to get the right team of people on the job of creating a new and different future.  One of these men has been called a modern day serial entrepreneur – an unassuming, inspirational man of the land… changing the course of our future.

Yes, inspired by vision, but not just talking about it – they did it!

Success with team & technology. January 2014

Less than 4weeks till D-day… Preparation, preparation, preparation!

We’ve had a phone conference to meet and greet most of our Global Focus Team and cover off on preparations for our tour.  Things like team money cards, gifts and tech gear such as tablets, i-pads, phones and apps were discussed.   Most of us were concerned about how we can best communicate to family, friends and our teams back home.

As we were all discussing the pros and cons of this vs. that, it occurred to me that the very first scholars never had the luxury of what we were considering… ‘Back in the day’, they were truly travelling to the other side of the globe – a world away from their respective homes.   Communication took anything up to 6 months from one side of the world to the other… if it even made it at all.  What inspirational, amazing people they were, and still are.  Even Lord Nuffield would have experienced this, when he sailed to the United States to find out what he could about American Car Manufacturing.

Now, with the advancement of technology and telecommunication systems, we can call home from another country, as if we were calling the neighbours just down the road.  And in some cases, we can call from the other side of the world cheaper than we can make a domestic toll call.    Imagine what it must have been like for the first Nuffield scholars, or before then, what it must have been like for the pioneers who colonised Aotearoa New Zealand.

One of the most important things to consider when an individual, or even small group travels off on an adventure, is the power of team.  The travelling group may not be entirely sure of all the details, who they will meet where they will go, or what they might specifically encounter.  Nevertheless that group has to work as a team, on the go… in our case we will meet each other only a week before the tour starts.

The most successful adventurers did the best that they possibly could to prepare.  However, a huge component of their success can be attributed to the rest of the team who did not necessarily physically travel with that group of adventurers.  But their tireless work, debating and defining the problems, linking with the right people, raising funds for the cause, promoting the issue, considering and preparing for all the scenarios, finding solutions, and all working for the same end goal, were critical to achieve success.

I can’t go past this point, without giving special acknowledgement and a huge thank you to the team at Beef + Lamb New Zealand who will be sharing my job while I’m away.  Also to my regional team – especially my farmer council – volunteers, who have willingly stepped up to the plate to cover for when I’m away.   Thank you ALL for enabling this to happen.

It is inspiring to see the successes of ordinary people who have done extraordinary things… and it is heartening to realise that they didn’t do it on their own.   New Zealand’s Sir Edmond Hilary needed a team to ascend his mountain; Madiba (Sir Nelson Mandella) leaned on a team of people to help change the nation of South Africa.  And William Wilberforce pulled together a team who all worked tirelessly to change the global trade of slaves.

So this Nuffield journey I’m embarking on, won’t be climbing Mount Everest, but nevertheless, it will be the biggest adventure and journey of this nature, that I’ve ever made.  So one of the things I’m trying to do is build a robust team of people, all with different knowledge, skill sets, experiences and backgrounds.  Why?  Because successful people don’t make the summit on their own!  Being part of a team is critical; it’s teamwork, underpinned by communication, determination, and sheer hard work that are key components that help to facilitate success.

This week has been largely traveling NZ talking to key people who are part of the team…  Sitting on the plane winging my way to Wellington from Dunedin, I felt so encouraged that the topic of “How do we capture value for NZ” is something that others in my country are grappling with – particularly around the export of our information & technology and the role that NZ will play in global agriculture in coming years.

Building the team and sourcing the right technology has been critical to helping me prepare for D-Day – when I leave NZ and winging my way on the next  part of the adventure.

Thanks to all of you who have made the time to consider & discuss the question… to those of you who have advised on the right gear to take, and the key contacts to approach – fantastic!

A stake in the ground

On the 31st October 2013 a stake was placed in the ground … it marks the start of a new adventure… a new challenge… a new journey…

In time to come, I will look back at these days and be able to start understanding the full significance of being selected as a NZ Nuffield scholar.   This is an honour and a privilege.  I fully intend on making the most of the opportunity, in order to do what I can to add value to New Zealand, and in particular to New Zealand’s Primary Industries.

You will discover that I am particularly passionate about the New Zealand sheep & beef sector – my husband & I run a 2500 Acre (830ha) Hill Country Sheep & Beef Farm, wintering about 8500 Stock units.  Farming is in my blood – I was born and bred on farm, and have fond memories as a child, riding out on my horse at 4.30 in the morning with my father to muster sheep; dogs in tow.

The New Zealand sheep & beef sector has a lot to be proud of…  Generally speaking in the NZ context, our sheep & beef farmers manage the greatest range of pastoral land classes, we manage numerously more stock classes than other agriculture sectors; we have lifted production significantly – certainly since 1990-91 (lamb sold kg/ewe is up by 78% 2011-12e, B+LNZ).  We’ve achieved this in challenging operating environments and without farm subsidies; the NZ farming family has proved over the years to be passionate, resilient, hard-working, innovative, creative and practical.  As an extension manager for Beef + Lamb New Zealand, I get the privilege of meeting awesome and inspiring people in our sector.

New Zealand has been built on the agriculture industry –  it is the backbone of our economy.  In fact, our innovative sheep & beef sector was integral in building our reputation as an exporting nation by shipping wool to Great Britain.  Once we sorted refrigerated shipping that worked to the other side of the world, we were then able to export frozen meat.  Now our primary industry sectors such as dairy, forestry, horticulture, viticulture and fisheries amongst others are also key exporting sectors, with the sheep & beef sector still a major contributor to the economy through its export earnings.

As a nation, we produce more food and beverages than our population of about 4million people can consume.  International trade has been and always will be an integral feature for New Zealand’s primary industry, for New Zealand politics and the New Zealand population.  Access to markets is critical, as we depend on the income earned from our exports to meet the standard of living the New Zealand’s people have come to expect.

For all that is good about NZ Agriculture, we do have our challenges.  Like many, as a nation, we are grappling with issues around land, environment & water, production and profitability, investment in science and education; succession, skilled labour and so on… these issues are relevant to nations and Agriculture sectors across the globe.

New Zealand is considered a leading light in pastoral agriculture by many throughout the world.  We must continue to build on the successes of our past, and create a new platform on which to build our future.  We accept that the methods used in the past aren’t necessarily what works in the dynamic and fast changing, global environment in which we now operate.

So in an environment where our Government is now actively working to export our brains and technology in order to leverage access to markets; how do we capture value for New Zealand from New Zealand, all the way to 2050 and beyond?  Do we have the strategic frameworks in place as a nation to work efficiently and effectively to define and grow our role as a nation in global agriculture going forward?  How do we capture value for New Zealand to keep building a highly productive and profitable primary industry?

The stake is in the ground, the Nuffield journey I am embarking on will explore these types of questions… who’s coming with me?