Brad Markham: The excitement of a Fieldays roadie
OPINION: It's 4am and my alarm clock is piercing the pre-dawn silence. I haven't been jolted awake this early since the spring. But there's a good reason I'm up before the birds; it's Fieldays.
The four-day event in the Waikato is the largest agribusiness expo in the Southern Hemisphere, attracting a crowd of 130,000 people.
A frost has made the lawn crunchy under foot and coated the car windscreen with ice. We hit the road at 4.35am. About 270 kilometres later, we pull into the iconic Mystery Creek, just as gates are opening to the public.
It's hard to describe the excitement I get standing on the hill overlooking the sprawling 114-hectare site. Every June it transforms into a pop-up city of marquees, housing 1500 New Zealand and international exhibitors.
READ MORE: The tills are ringing at Fieldays
Attending Fieldays has been an almost annual pilgrimage since I was young. I'd help my parents shift the cows in the dark, before we'd pile into the car and head for Hamilton.
Inspecting shiny new tractors and rows of farm machinery never interested me. I could always be found admiring the livestock in the Holstein Friesian Association tent.
Live animals chewing their cud or snoozing on hay seems to be a thing of the past at Fieldays. The only animals I spotted this year were a couple of goats. Apparently, there was one dairy cow, but I didn't see her.
It's a huge missed opportunity to capture the interest of children on school trips.
The careers and education hub was also a chance to convince city kids that a career in agriculture can be rewarding. To be honest, I found the site underwhelming. The entrance resembled an unfinished underpass.
Inside, a group of high-school aged children were perched on wooden benches, trying to stay awake during a dull presentation.
A stone's throw away, the Rural Bachelor of the Year contenders set hearts aflutter, as they took on a group of school girls in tug of war.
The irony of the last few sentences isn't lost on me. On one hand, we're trying to make the primary industries an appealing career prospect; on the other a group of young, hard-working farmers is struggling to find love because their professions can be heartbreakingly lonely.
The most enjoyable thing about Fieldays is our annual catch-up with friends, mentors and NZ Dairy Industry Awards alumni.
I also relish the opportunity to talk to companies about new technology in the pipeline. I'm a big fan of website tweaks and new smartphone apps which help make our business more efficient and save time.
Livestock Improvement Corporation's innovation team took us through an exciting new feed management programme, which will assist with feed budgeting.
The expansive site was dotted with exhibitors from about 20 countries, including Ireland, Korea and China. I was surprised one was trying to woo New Zealand dairy farmers.
I got chatting to a field officer from dairy giant Saputo, which earlier this year took full ownership of Warrnambool Cheese and Butter in south-west Victoria. The company was here spruiking the benefits of cheap dairy farms in Australia.
One of the ads displayed on its wall was for a 211-hectare farm at Colac. It had a 40-bale rotary and is selling for $13,585 a hectare. By comparison, the asking price for dairy farms currently on the market in Taranaki, ranges from $31,000 to $59,000 a hectare.
DairyNZ had a stand in the same pavilion. As a dairy farmer, it was awesome to see a huge constantly-changing digital collage of photos from farms across the country. It was a refreshing change from the negative images circulated by Greenpeace.
The Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett used Fieldays to launch the Dairy Action for Climate Change, which lays down the foundation to reduce greenhouse gases on dairy farms.
Tackling on-farm emissions won't be easy - especially with millions of belching dairy cows. But a number of dairy farmers already have a strong drive for sustainability. Whether that be planting trees to help soak up carbon, or fitting solar panels to the rooves of their milking sheds.
There are never enough hours in the day when you visit Fieldays. We didn't finally hit the road to head back to Taranaki until about 4.30pm.
Last year we grabbed a bite to eat in Otorohanga. This year we stopped at the Stoked Eatery in Te Kuiti, which is located in the town's former railway station. The place was packed. It just goes to show how far the economic ripples of Fieldays travel.