Thursday, January 14, 2010

Alliance Group Freezing Works

Friends and family,

Weather: Mostly cloudy. Temperatures around 54 degrees.

An early morning bus trip with our favorite driver, Robbie, led us to the freezing works in Christchurch. Freezing works is the New Zealand name for a packing plant. This name is fitting due to the "freezing" of the carcasses that takes place in order to export meat across the world in shipping containers. We toured the Alliance Group Stockburn Freezing Works beginning at 8:00 a.m. this morning.

The tour of the facility began with an overview of safety regulations and signing a safety release waiver. The plant manager, Kelvin Ashby, strongly emphasized the safety of employees and the meat produced. The Stockburn freezing works slaughters cattle, deer, and hogs. In addition to animal slaughter they further process value added lamb carcasses. Our group of 12 split into two groups of 6 for the freezing works tour. My group dawned on our fashionable white coat, white pants, hairnet, and white boot covers to begin touring the beef slaughtering process. Immediately I noticed a difference in the speed of processing. Kelvin said approximately 33 head are processed per hour, equating to 240 head per day. Bryttni took me on a tour of Cargill Meat Solutions in Schuyler, Nebraska about a year ago. In contrast, Cargill processes about 4,000 head per day. Workers at the freezing works were mounted on hydraulic lifts that allowed them to make cuts to break down the carcass. Much of the beef produced out of the Stockburn works is exported to the United States to fast food chains such as McDonald's and Burger King. The chilling room had around 50 carcasses on display weighing approximately 300 kilograms. A dark yellow, grass-fed fat cover easily differentiated the New Zealand beef from United States beef.

The second part of the plant tour focused on the venison operations. Thanks to Bryce's Sausage Kitchen in Kinnear, Wyoming, I had a general idea of what to expect in the deer slaughter process. The freezing works harvests 170 head of deer per day. This process is slower than the beef line due to more manual labor during harvest. Most of the venison is shipped to markets in France and Germany. The works was just finishing their high demand holiday season during our visit. Different from any packing plant I know of, the carcasses were not transported with a "wheel" on the rail. When we asked Kelvin about this, he said it was a new system that greatly reduces the need to clean the rail system. The carcass hooks are conveyed through the production area with a hydraulically powered chain. Deer carcasses in the chilling room were very uniform and showed little to no fat cover.

As an Iowa cattlemen, I really question why we import so much beef. Our corn-fed beef is high quality and provides outstanding taste. Is my southwest Iowa beef not consumed IN the United States due to political reasons or consumer knowledge and understanding of our product? With my experience at Cargill Meat Solutions, I know that our beef slaughter process in the U.S. is just as safe, if not more safe, than what we saw today.

Following the freezing works we visited CRT. This is a farm supply store in New Zealand, similar to Tractor Supply Company or Orscheln's in the United States. They had Gallager electric fencers for sale with a power of 60 joules for nearly $6,000. This would definitely pack a punch!

Our next stop was the Antarctic Center near the Christchurch Airport. This is where the United States and several other countries headquarter their Antarctic exploration teams. Our group had the opportunity to experience arctic weather conditions, watch penguin feeding, and discover the history of Antarctic exploration. I felt like it was a preparation for returning to the winter conditions of the Midwest from the summer weather conditions we have come to enjoy here in New Zealand.

A three hour bus trip brought us to our current location of Kaikoura, New Zealand. Tomorrow morning our group heads out on a ship to whale watch. I am excited for this opportunity, but I will need to be careful of sea-sickness on the voyage. I hear the ocean is quite rough!

Sleeping fast,


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Wool and Auction

Friends and family,

Weather: Partly sunny. High around 63 degrees.

Yesterday morning our lecture by Neil Gow focused on entrepreneurship in New Zealand. One of the discussion points centered around the farm crisis of the 1980's. The country of New Zealand greatly reduced their number of farmers during this time. Before the financial burdens of the 1980's the country boasted nearly 43,000 farmer clients and after the debt crisis; less than 1,000. This was a difficult time for the farm economy, but led to New Zealand establishing themselves as a niche market in many areas. Neil reminded us in class that differentiation is a key to successful marketing and I strongly agree. Following this decade New Zealand agriculture developed with the cultivation of kiwifruit, blackcurrants, and deer farming.

Following lunch, our study tour group headed into Christchurch to visit a wool outlet store called Swanndri. Our Lincoln University coordinator, Errol and our bus driver, Robbie, said this was the best quality and value wool store in the area. I quickly agreed when I found a wool, olive green hunting cap with ear flaps. I snatched up the last one that they had in stock and quickly become the envy of my peers. I can't wait to show all of you when I get back to the states.

One of my goals of the trip was to visit a sale barn. Errol graciously agreed to drive me to the Canterbury Livestock Auction Yards after our trip to the wool outlet. Joe and Taylor accompanied me on the trip. Their was no sale while we were there, but they were loading out sheep on double-decker strait trucks. The facilities were extremely nice; nicer than any sale barn I have seen. Errol couldn't tell us the total capacity of the yards, but it was quite a few. The pens were all covered, similar to that of the Iowa State Fairgrounds. This has been one of my favorite stops on the trip. I made it official with a picture of myself auctioneering from the block.

A few of us were craving Mexican food and decided to find a restaraunt for our evening supper. I ordered a taco salad and it turned out to be enough for the entire group! What large portions! The rest of the evening consisted of a movie in our Hudson Hall lounge and a game of pitch. Dusty and I got back on track with another win bringing us to 7-3 on the trip. Tomorrow we head to Christchurch for a tour of the freezing works and then an overnight bus trip for whale watching the next day.

Sold on Canterbury,


Monday, January 11, 2010

Milford Sound

Friends and family,

Weather: Mostly cloudy, showers. Temperatures around 50 degrees.

My day started with a 6:00 a.m. alarm and breakfast at 6:15 a.m. Milford Sound; here we come! Our study abroad group boarded the bus and settled in for a 5 hour bus trip across the southern part of New Zealand's south island. The weather is much colder here and it rains nearly every day. At Milford Sound it rains 360 out of 365 days each year. Needless to say, I packed my rain jacket and umbrella.

The Southern Alps mountain range in the Fiordland region of New Zealand was the best part of the trip. These mountains are simply remarkable! They dwarf any of the Rocky Mountains I have ever seen and waterfalls seem to appear out of nowhere on the face of the rocks. Another stop our buses made was at Mirror Lake. Mirror Lake is so clear you can see to the bottom from nearly any part of the lake without any difficulty at all. During out stop it was cloudy and rainy, so we did not have the opportunity to view the "mirror effect" of the mountains on the lake.

We arrived at Milford Sound just minutes before our tour boat departed. Everyone had packed a lunch the night before to provide a cheaper option than purchasing our lunch on the boat. Peanut butter and jelly, a bag of chips, and a granola bar suited me quite well. The name of our touring boat was the Spirit of Milford. It didn't take me long to make friends it the Captain; Max Derroch and secure an interview for the Rural Radio Network. Be sure to listen online at: Other sites I enjoyed during the two hour outing included sea lions and mountains reaching one mile above the water level. Max told me the average depth of Milford Sound was around 1,000 feet. The scenery I witnessed is something I will not soon forget.

While traveling the countryside back to Queenstown, I couldn't help but noticed their round hay bales. Not a lot of hay is baled and put up in New Zealand due to the intensive grazing systems they utilize. This was not the case throughout the area we traveled. I am curious to find out the weight of their bales. They are much smaller than those produced throughout the Midwest and nearly all of them were entirely wrapped in plastic. Our buses returned to Queenstown around 7:00 p.m. A few of us headed to town for supper at McDonald's and then stopped off at a wine tasting shop to take in more of the New Zealand culture.

Tomorrow we head back to Lincoln University for the remainder of our stay. It is hard to believe how quickly the time has passed. Classes begin at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln again tomorrow morning and I will not be in attendance. I guess I will have to study twice as hard when I return.

Heading to bed,


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Queenstown Rain

Friends and family,

Weather: Cloudy and rainy. Temperatures around 50 degrees.

Today our group enjoyed a free day in Queenstown. This city is definitely a tourist area, filled with visitors from all across the world. Along with the tourists come very high prices! Everything is very expensive and the town is one of the greatest marketing giants I have ever seen.

The morning began with six of us heading to the Queenstown booking center for our 9:30 a.m. Shotover Jet Boat experience. This involves a "Big Red" jet boat that has two Buick engines that generate 500 horsepower and move 750 liters of water per second to propel the boat and it's 14 passengers. The jet boats operate in the magnificent Shotover River Canyon, just outside of Queenstown. The river was high this morning and the weather was cloudy and rainy. It was unbelievable how close the jet boat driver got to the walls of the canyon as we cruised at 40 km/h down the river. The boat even provided numerous 360 degree spins. As many others from the UNL and Missouri groups enjoyed bungee jumping or sky diving, I felt that this was "high adventure" enough for me. I try not to climb anything higher than a grain bin. This means skydiving from 15,000 feet or bungee jumping from 134 meters were definitely out of the question.

When we returned from the jet boat adventure we spent time touring around downtown Queenstown. This provided an option for staying out of the rain. After grabbing lunch at a favorite local restaurant, Fergburgers, we stopped in at a local rugby tournament. It took me a while to get the hang of how the game is played. It is extremely rough! No pads, just an all out free for all. The game were an enjoyable and affordable way to spend the afternoon.

This evening we had a barbecue. Our coach drivers for the trip helped grill bratwurst and the cooking committee fried potatoes and provided ice cream. Tomorrow morning we start out with breakfast at 6:15 a.m. and the bus is leaving at 7:00 a.m. for Milford Sound. According to my high school agricultural education instructor, Mr. Spencer, it is a great sight.

Take care mates,


Friday, January 8, 2010

Franz Josef Glacier

Friends and Family,

Weather: Rainy and partly sunny. High around 63 degrees.

I am sorry I haven't been able to keep up on the blogs lately. We have been on the road traveling on the west coast of New Zealand. Tonight we are staying in backpackers accommodations in the town of Franz Josef. The town is just down the mountain from the famous Franz Josef glacier.

Today our study abroad group climbed the Franz Josef glacier. The amount of ice in the glacier was amazing! Pictures hardly do the experience justice. To climb the glacier we were each outfitted with rain jackets, boots, and genuine crampons. The weather started out warm and clear, but turned cloudy and misty later in the expedition. The hike from the entry trail to the mouth of the glacier was 2.6 kilometers and the entire hike was approximately 3 hours in length. The glacial ice was even more blue than I had anticipated and the "ice trail" provided some interesting moments of maneuvering and climbing techniques. No worries, I did make it back down the mountain safely.

For supper I ate a pizza at the Blue Ice Bar and Grill in Franz Josef. Their were not many options, but this proved to be an excellent choice. I haven't had pizza since arriving in New Zealand and this hit the spot. Tomorrow morning we are leaving at 8 a.m. for Queenstown.

I will try to blog again soon, depending on internet availability.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Rangitata Rafts

Friends and Family,

Weather: Fair weather, partly sunny. A few showers throughout the day. Temperatures around 65 degrees.

Sleeping on the third level of the bunk beds in the cabin was a unique experience. I am not sure if I was worried about falling out, but I did not sleep very well. This could have been partly due to a group of people running through the cabin at 1:00 a.m. playing loud music and spraying the water hose. My ability to sleep went downhill from there.

Following breakfast the entire UNL group along with 6 additional students from Missouri were outfitted with a helmet, wetsuit, undershirt, windbreaker, and boots. We boarded a Mazda-mini bus (reminded me of an extended version of my friend, Mark Leonhardt's monster mini) and headed for our whitewater raft entry point into the Rangitata River. Due to the excessive rainfall over the past week our entry point was further down the river than originally planned. We ended up rafting on stage 2 rapids instead of stage 5 rapids in the river's gorge.

The raft I was in included myself, Marcus, Dusty, Kayla, Kyle, Nora, Nate, Pate, and our guide, "Chunk". Since we had 8 people in our raft we didn't all need to paddle. I rode on the front of the raft for the beginning of our trip down the river breaking many of the waves. Chunk was all about a great adventure and let us capsize the raft at one point on the trip. Aside from loosing my shoe and Kayla being trapped under the raft for a brief time, I really enjoyed the experience. The water was colder than I expected and provided an additional "shock factor".

The scenery on the river was well worth the trip. Sheep and deer farms lined the riverbanks in paddock pasture systems. We all felt a bit close to home because of the many pivots in operation throughout the pastures to keep the grass green and growing. After about a two hour rafting adventure, we loaded up the rafts and headed back to the cabin. We enjoyed a traditional kiwi lunch and boarded the bus to head for Lincoln University.

On the bus ride back to Lincoln we stopped at a little church around Mount Peel, New Zealand. There me met a fourth generation New Zealander, John Acland. John's ancestors originally staked 250,000 acres of land in the area and were the first to farm the plains. It was the Acland family that built the church we were in called, "The Church of the Holy Innocents." Through a radio interview with John I learned that he has served on many boards including the Chair of the New Zealand Meat Production Board. The Acland's started an ear tag company in 1972 spurring from a tag design they saw in Brighton, CO from John Ritchie. The ear tag company provided a unique design and saved the operation from bankruptcy.

Another stop took us to a new irrigation system installed on the Canterbury Plains. The system was impressive, consisting of several dams in the irrigation canal that powered turbines to efficiently pump water through the center pivots and irrigation sprinklers. Our University of Lincoln coordinator, Errol, said the new irrigation system would be paid off in approximately 7 or 8 years. Prior to this new system, diesel engines had been used to irrigate the wheat fields in this area of the Canterbury Plains. Errol explained that all of the wheat grown in New Zealand stays on the island. This accommodates about half of the country's needs and all of the additional wheat is mostly imported from the United States and Canada. This sounds like a positive for our wheat growers in the United States.

Tonight will consist of supper and more cards. Tomorrow we head back to the classroom.

Take care,


New Zealand Dairy Farm

Friends and family,

Weather: sunny and hot. High of 82 degrees and a low of 52 degrees. Sunscreen needed! I haven't blogged about this yet, but people in New Zealand have the highest rates of skin cancer due to the thin ozone layer here. Without sunscreen, you can burn within 10 minutes.

Yesterday the study tour headed west from Christchurch for Mount Peel, New Zealand for a whitewater rafting experience. On the way we stopped a dairy farm to learn more about the New Zealand dairy industry.

The operation we visited was Clovernook Farm, LTD. The owner, Jeff Stevenson, described how the dairy is set-up and answered all of our questions. The dairy milks approximately 750 jersey cows two times per day in a carousel type milking parlor. The cows are on grass nearly the entire year due to the paddock grazing system that is used. The pastures are irrigated using wells with a pumping capacity of about 1,000 gallons per minute, but rarely operate at full capacity. Any hay produced or work that requires outside machinery is hired out. It was made very clear that, "steel does not make money." Is this the case in the Midwest?

The New Zealand dairy industry is unique due to an agreement called share milking. Share milking is very common and involves full ownership of the dairy by one person (Jeff) and managed by another person (Derek). For every dollar the dairy takes in, 70 cents goes to Jeff and 30 cents goes to Derek. Jeff invests his money into capital and Derek uses his for the day to day management costs associated with the dairy. Veterinarian and some other miscellaneous costs are shared on a percentage basis between the two. Derek owns three percent of Clovernook Farms, LTD. with this share milking set up and hopes to generate enough revenue to obtain a 50 percent share in the future. It was interesting see the distinctly different duties of Jeff and Derek. Although Jeff does own the operation, he is in charge of the bottom line; i.e. milk sales, purchasing cows, the budget, etc.

The milk sold from Clovernook Dairies is sold through a co-op of milk producers called Frontier. An amazing 24 percent of New Zealand's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is dairy. Wow! Milk is sold a bit differently here than in the United States, being sold by a milk solids price here as opposed to being sold by the pound. Market volatility is not a large factor with the milk market in New Zealand. A milk price estimate is produced by the Frontier dairy cooperative for dairy producers to generate a budget. The price paid to the producer is only modified by the co-op if a change occurs in the international trends of the export market. This would cause Frontier, in this case, to backdate the newly adjusted milk price to an earlier time.

Profitability for Clovernook Farms, LTD. is approximately 2 to 3 percent of the total cash flow. Jeff compared this to an 18 percent average return on an investment in with a broker. Like the agriculture I am familiar with on our farm, you have to enjoy what you do. Farming does make money, but we aren't going to become extremely rich.

This has been the best part of the trip so far. It was great to spend one-on-one time with a New Zealand producer and have the opportunity to ask questions about their operation. Be sure to visit for the latest radio interviews from the UNL Study Abroad Tour to New Zealand.

After touring the dairy farm we loaded the bus and headed for our whitewater rafting destination, Rangitata Rafts. We stopped to take a look at the Rakaia River where we would be rafting the next day. The river is truly a beautiful site. It is a wide river similar to the Platte in Nebraska with much more water flowing at a higher rate of speed. The water was murky due to the sediment being carried into the river from heavy rainfall in the Alps. Rock layers of different colors stacked up in the canyon providing lots of color in the river basin.

When we reached Rangitata Rafts, bunk-bed accomodations and family style dinning were available for the group in our cabin. A group of six guys took a hike up the nearest mountian to take in the view. A relaxing evening of supper and multiple games of "pitch" followed. Tomorrow we will be ready to hit the rapids!

Having fun in the sun,