Opinion & Analysis
OPINION: If you want to know what what it is at heart to be a Kiwi, then you must visit the National Fieldays.
This year's Fieldays, a massive four-day celebration of all things agricultural at Mystery Creek near Hamilton, has ended, and if you didn't get there, put it in your diary for next year.
For a town-bred New Zealander, it is a life-affirming experience. For an overseas visitor, it is the ideal introduction to what is unique about this country.
Don't judge us by the pathetic drunk and violent yobbos you have seen staggering out of central city bars. Or the rude and aggressive drivers you have had the misfortune to encounter on the highways.
This is a chance to meet the real Kiwis – innovative, hard-working, friendly people who make their living on the land.
The innovative aspect of rural life is given full rein at the Fieldays. Middle-of-the-night brainwaves, brought to life in a corner of the barn or woolshed with a touch of ingenious engineering, are taken to Mystery Creek.
There, these sons and daughters of Gallagher (electric fence) and Hamilton (jet boat), Hicks (rotary milking platform) and Baker (cross-slot seed drill), meet others like themselves.
They aren't rubbished or laughed at. They are encouraged, praised and honoured.
This year's entries in the innovations awards were a mix of the simple bright idea – a bolt-on step for easy access to the milking platform – the quirkily practical – a gumboot aerator that pumps cooling air into sticky (and stinky) boots – and the highly technical – a two-way rotating wind turbine that generates electricity as the tips of the blades pass each other.
A constant stream of visitors wound their way slowly past these inventions, stopping to chat to the inventors, who sported wide grins as they bonded with like-minded backyard tinkerers.
Judged the winner was a brilliant life-saver of an idea by Vernon Suckling, of Dargaville, whose LifeGuard quad bike rollframe bends to protect the thrown-off rider from being crushed in an accident.
The strong but flexible fibre frame has received a lot of government and industry interest and Suckling hopes to have it on the market by the end of the year.
Among the others were the ingenious (a balage trailer that releases feed at the push of a button), the useful (a method of composting animal waste), the slightly odd (a motorised wheelbarrow), the answer to the question "What do you get someone who has everything?" (a drive-in quad bike wash) and the "are you having a laugh?" (a cream separator consisting of a jug with a tap on the bottom).
And then there was the simply charming. Twelve-year-old Jasmine Creighton of Tauranga couldn't carry many electric fencing reels and standards when she went out to move the cattle on her parents' lifestyle block, so she adapted a golf trundler.
Her excitement at being in the innovations centre with all the other inventors was evident. She hopped from foot to foot, eyes glowing and grinning from ear to ear, rushing to chat with everyone who stopped.
Over in the huge central pavilion, she would have been able to see where an inquiring mind could lead.
On the AgResearch stand, the latest in agricultural science was featured.
This is the other end of the innovation spectrum from workshop do-it-yourselfery: hours of rigorous study and testing in laboratories and in the field, overseen and peer-reviewed by exacting taskmasters.
It is also where New Zealand leads the world, in which we can have considerable pride.
I saw a prototype infrared camera, destined for cowsheds – to reveal the hotspots that tell when cows are on heat, or developing mastitis, lameness or respiratory problems – or watertroughs – to read the changes in sheep eye temperature that indicate the onset of facial eczema – or on cattle and deer crushes to test the effectiveness of analgesics when debudding horns or cutting velvet.
I talked to pasture scientists about trials of 30 species of grasses, clovers and herbs to improve hill country production.
And I was fascinated by research into deep-rooted grasses and fine-rooted clovers that will mean more efficient use of fertiliser.
The grasses, which delve as much as 50 centimetres down into the soil, will intercept nitrogen and moisture better, while the clovers will have an improved phosphate uptake.
Innovation and science tend to get overlooked among all the shiny new machinery, flashy gimmicks, food stalls, clothing bargains, and the fencing, chainsaw and tractor races – but they underpin it all.
Take my advice.
As an antidote to the ails of winter, predictions of international economic doom and the whingers of talkback radio, internet chat and newspaper letters, and just to refresh your faith in your fellow Kiwis, the Fieldays can't be beaten.