Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Get your kids into agriculture.

Professor Jacqueline Rowarth from Massey University highlights the lack of New Zealand students interested in a science career in agriculture  She councils against filling the gap with overseas graduates, "some positions could not be filled by migrants as they require a hands on knowledge of NZ's agriculture and it would be smarter for the government to look after its own people".  I couldn't agree more.

All the signs point to agriculture being a smart career choice for young people.  With the world's population fast approaching 9 billion, and an even greater growth rate of middle-class,  food price rises seem inevitable. Great news for NZ because farm profitability has at long last started to improve.  The industry is adopting IT rapidly and this will lead to leaps in productivity and innovation.  Agriculture is the exiting place to be.

Unfortunately, it is an uphill battle to get our kids inspired in NZ's primary industries.  It just doesn't compete with  the warm fuzzies they see on TV such as conservation, psychology, small animal vets, cooking etc. I often ask students how they rate a forester on a scale from 1 - 10 where doctors and nurses were number 10 and used-car salesmen were say 1.  Students from New Zealand, Australia, USA and Canada universally put foresters a 2 - 3, (not respected).  A sad reality given that the world desperately needs better forest management and many more trees.  Interestingly, students from Europe often rate a forester at 8-9 just below the medics.  Agriculturalists have not had such bad press as foresters but I doubt they rate much above 5 on the popularity stakes.

Poor public perceptions of agriculture is by no means new. Even Massey University, years ago, dropped the good old Ag. Sci degree much to my chagrin at the time.  I went to Massey University straight from high school, a decision I have never regretted.  The B. Ag. was just what I needed.  It produced graduates who were true generalists, understanding a wide range of subjects such as;  biochemistry, animal/plant physiology, economics, statistics, management, ecology, mechanics, construction, microbiology, genetics, hydrology, dairy, meat, wool industries.  Best of  all, Massey taught us to think independently.

The great advantage of this degree was to open our eyes to possibilities we'd never heard of before. Graduates of my year dispersed into all sorts of careers in the primary industries, in my case, forestry science.  Massey taught me so much and shaped my thinking throughout my career.  I am always grateful for that.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Flying adventures.

A recent article (How far behind me is that 737) brought back similar memories from my flying career.

My experience was at the end of a flight from South Westland to Christchurch International Airport.  After an awe-inspiring but otherwise uneventful flight over the mountains, I reached  Dunsandel checkpoint and was cleared by the Tower to join "long final" for the main runway, 02.  Great I thought, feeling chuffed that my dusty old Cessna 172, CKN, was equal with the big boys.  The whole city should see I'd arrived.

Dunsandel is quite some distance from Christchurch so I kept up my speed gradually loosing height and scanning the airspace for other traffic. Over the radio came a call from a 747.  He was given permission to join "final", number 2 to the Cessna.  Mm mm! that's me!  I glanced behind and sure enough I could just make out the outline of  the 747 miles away.   Apart from a little tension that I didn't have the sky and airport to myself, things went smoothly.

For a bush pilot landing at an international airport is not all beer and skittles.  You need to sharpen up mentally to deal with radio traffic, several other aircraft in the sky, and funnily enough, decide where to land on the enormous expanse of tarmac ahead.  I had learnt that if you land too early you end up taxing for miles.

After a few more minutes the Tower cleared the 747 to land again behind the Cessna.  By this stage I was comfortable at 70 knots on "short final", setting up for a landing well down the runway.  The next radio call was the Tower clearing me to land and please clear the runway immediately to the left.   I glanced behind again - YIKES - the 747 was bloody enormous and was approaching fast.

Woowee! I immediately selected full flap, cut the power, and pushed down the nose for a short landing.  Once stable on the ground, I applied  full brakes and charged off to the left across the grass as instructed. Then followed 300 tons of high speed aluminium thundering down the strip, the crew no doubt laughing at my reaction.

Well so much for my hoped for dignified and notable arrival.  I taxied humbly along the access way well back from the 747 and slunk over to the private apron.  Back to the bush ASAP.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Humble Pipi

Its Xmas holidays and outdoor blokes find an irrepressible urge to escape and provide food for the extended family.  Despite the fact there is enough food around here to feed Africa more food must be gathered.

An easy way where the whole family can be involved is collecting pipis.  Mudflats are a great place for city kids to engage with nature - muddy water that hides crabs to bite small toes, plenty of sharp shells and small wriggly fish.  All adds up to lots of squeals, oohs and yuks.

The humble pipi is one of those strange life forms that some of us find a delicacy.  But unless exposed to shellfish as a child, most people are turned off by their weird shape and plainly visible intestines. "DISGUSTING" is the classic uninitiated teenager response to watching seafood lovers gorging on a pipi feast.  All the more for those who love them, I say.

Pipis and cockles were standard holiday fare at my grandfather Bill James's bach at Tameterau on the Whangarei harbour. My grandmother, Mary, would boil a great pot full and empty them into a large bowl on the table.  Bill would hold a stick and no one dared move until he said "GO" and the feast would begin.  We ate them plain with a little vinegar but bread was a compulsory accompaniment to stop us kids eating too many.

From that childhood grounding, whenever I moved to a new place in later life one of my first tasks was to locate kaimoana.  And it was Maori who often led me, either by direct invitation or my surreptitious observation.  The West Coast is not notable for extensive shellfish beds, nor do many locals seek them.  The pipis in the Okarito lagoon are hard to find because they are surprisingly mobile.  They prefer moderately loose fine sand with not too much glacial silt.  This habitat moves with every flood and the spring tides, as do the pipis.

I'm always a bit cautious about gathering after a flood or fresh in the river because of the risk of food poisoning even here at remote Okarito. While we have relatively few farms or septic tanks in the catchment (95% native forest), there are wild animals in the bush so it pays to be cautious.

Debbie's recipe for pipi patties.

Ingredients:   Throw into the blender;  two eggs,  one chopped onion, cup of herbs to taste e.g. parsley, basil, chives and some coriander (whatever you've got), salt and black pepper to taste, three tablespoons sweet chili sauce, teaspoon of crushed ginger, teaspoon of crushed garlic, two cups of pre-cooked pipis.

Mix and fold in approximately half a cup of flour until the mixture is firm.  If there is not enough flour the patties will not hold together.  Fry in olive oil in moderately hot pan being careful not to blacken.  Pipis burn easily.