9th January 2012 by , | 1 Comment
After a while away from the area in which I grew up, it is with refreshed eyes that I view what the locals, while appreciating their good fortune, probably take a little for granted. As I headed up hill away from my Mum’s place it was the intense green of the pasture, which is largely aseasonal, that stood out; fifty cows in one paddock, apparently luxuriating in what was growing up underneath them, almost as fast as they could eat it. A couple of kilometres further, my pulse now rising with the incline, a herd was heading back out from morning milking.
The top of my journey reached I started to cut across heartland dairy country. Its been that way for over a hundred years. The dairy industry though is a classic example of a combination of both continuity and change. The continuity is the interface between the fundamental environmental attributes that makes my home province such a wonderful place to produce milk: sun, rain, soil, warmth; and the animal husbandry of the farming community. The family farm continues to be the core basis of dairying in Taranaki. Farms have grown larger, taking advantage of scale, and a practical accomodation of the reality that not every son or daughter of a dairy farmer wants to follow in the family footseps.
The most striking element of change for me is less the farm amalgamation, rather the downstream processing and exporting of what leaves the farm gate as milk and ends up all over the world in many many different forms. The small towns that ring the mountain 10-20 kilometres apart grew as service centres in the late 19th and early 20th century; each one had a dairy factory, they processed milk for local consumption and were the starting point for production and export of butter and cheese. That is where change has been greatest. The science of milk has grown phenomenally over the past 30-40 years. The New Zealand dairy industry still exports butter and cheese, but that scientific advance has meant that milk powder, baby formula, protein products, and component products going into an ever increasing range of foods require scale and capital investment. Those small dairy factories are no longer running and have been collectively replaced by a major processing plant in Hawera (about 50 miles from New Plymouth).
It is that variety of produce, combined with the growing demand for quality proteins across the globe, especially in Asia, that is driving high commodity prices, happy farmers in Taranaki, and a wider community that derives much of its livelihood from servicing the industry.
All that said, there is one thing I have to do when I hit the 3 kilometres-to-go mark of my ride. The New Zealand equivalent of a corner store or 7/11 is, appropriately enough, called a dairy. The Iona dairy is legendary for its ice creams, both with regard to size and variety of flavours. My daily constitutional any time I am in Taranaki is a double scoop boysenberry ripple. 100 per cent full cream milk.