Official Opening, Texel Sheep Breeders Conference
Golden Gate Lodge Cromwell
Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Thanks for the invitation

I'd like to start by acknowledging your national chairman, Robert Gardyne, Otago Texel Breeders' Club Chairman Joe Barker, and New Zealand Sheepbreeders Association Secretary Greg Burgess

My job is to officially open your conference, which I understand is the biggest ever national conference, and the second to be held in Otago … and that's because Central Otago is such a great destination – nothing to do with the sheep!

I'd like to congratulate the Otago Texel Sheepbreeders Club for hosting and organising the conference, and welcome delegates from around New Zealand to Central Otago, and to Cromwell

I'm not going to talk about sheep – I'm not a farmer, and your guest speaker is much better qualified than I am on that subject

But I thought I'd take a minute or two to talk about what's happening in Central Otago, and how pastoral farming fits into that picture

We are living through remarkable times here in the south, and particularly here in Central Otago. We've never had things so good

As you travel around the district over the next few days, you'll be looking for sheep, but you'll see grapes. You'll also see lots of new deer fencing, and depending on where you go, you may also see some very big dairy herds

You'll see, but probably not recognise, the pip fruit and summer fruit industries busy re-inventing themselves

Our agricultural and horticultural landscape is being transformed, with a speed and to an extent we've never before experienced

That's a story of innovation, and experimentation, and about matching what we produce to the demands of local and world markets

When we tell that story, and I tell it all the time, it's easy to forget that our major source of wealth is still pastoral farming, and it's mostly, still, about sheep

If you listen to the experts – the armchair academics and Wellington economists, pastoral farming based on sheep should have been dead years ago. It's a commodity business, they tell us, and prices have been sliding downhill for decades, and the best thing you can do is get out

Certainly, if you put aside the past couple of years, that seems to have been the case.

But you could also have said that, until recently, about pip fruit and summer fruit.

Not any more. And the why of that is interesting.

It's not about big, revolutionary change, and it's not about radical new varieties and large-scale reengineering of the industry … it is about marginal improvements in production methods, slightly better tree and fruit management, small improvements in crop characteristics, careful listening to what markets actually want, and about efficient management.

Innovation in the fruit industries is not rocket science, and the same can be said about our animal-based industries.

What will save pastoral farming – if it needs to be saved – is the same as what saved pip and summer fruit.

Aside …as I've read a bit about Texels over the past couple of days it has occurred to me that Texels are the cherries of the sheep industry … cherries are designer fruit, they flower late, ripen early, are pest and disease free, easy to grow, and our prime overseas markets just love them. Texels are the same – they're easy to care for, mother well, are clean, pest and disease resistant, and our prime overseas markets love them

Texels offer opportunities to add enough value to our primary products – to innovate and improvise – and help us produce what our increasingly picky markets want.

Not through big leaps and breakthrough products, but by careful, incremental improvements that get us just far enough in front to beat our international competitors.

And that's what conferences like this are about

Other breeds may be down to a conference every two years, or none at all. You are getting together every year, and the business you do at these conferences moves you all forward another small step. That's how innovation works in this industry.

But I'm not here to tell you how to do your job.

I'm here to say welcome to Central Otago and to Cromwell, and to the Golden Gate.

I hope you enjoy and profit from the conference, enjoy your stay in Central, travel home safely, and come back again.

And here's the official bit – it's my pleasure to declare the 2002 New Zealand Texel Sheep Society's Annual Conference officially open!

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