mandag den 7. januar 2013

Australia XXXXI – Farmin’!

For min egen, nogle af mine læsere, og i særdeleshed mine værters skyld skriver jeg dette her indlæg på engelsk. Indlægget kan læses med Google Translates ubehjælpelige oversættelse af mit haltende engelsk 

Grunden til at skrive indlægget på engelsk er, udover den umiddelbare læsbarhed for de australiere der har taget så godt imod mig i Adelaide, at nogle af fagudtrykkene (især dem fra mit eget fag) kun eksisterer i mit hoved på engelsk.

Out of courtesy to my hosts in Adelaide this post will be in English. Google's awkward translation of my wanting English into Danish can be read here, if anybody feels like exposing themselves to that doubtful pleasure.

Another reason to write this post in English is the fact that some of the words I've used and learned here does not have corresponding translations in my Danish vocabulary.

And with that extensive lead-up, here goes:

As mentioned I took the (semi-) early flight from Sydney to Adelaide on 2. January. I had a vey exhaustive list of instructions, starting (almost) with 'unbuckle your seatbelt in the plane' to 'sit your ass down in the white Toyota', so finding my way out of the airport was no problem what so ever. The list of instructions came from Deidre Fischer, who is a new character in the tale of my Australian Adventures. Deidre is another exchange student in the Fog Family. Well... Actually Tracey is another exchange student, since Deidre stayed with my great grandparents in 1978, two years before Tracey stayed with my grandparents.

Anyway: according to Deidres sister-in-law Deidre has something of a nack for planning. Hence my slight exaggeration of the instructions for my arrival in Adelaide. Deidre had gotten my first day I Adelaide pretty packed, which meant that after a quick stopover at Deidres parents, Joan and Graham, a baggage drop-off at Deidres unit and another quick stopover at Joan and Graham's we were on the way to Victor Harbour, where Deidres sister Yvonne lives with her husband Kim and their children, Andrew and Laura. Victor Harbour is approximately 90 km south of Adelaide, a popular tourist- and retirement location and in the middle(-ish) of a wine district that stretches quite a way down south of Adelaide. Joan, Graham, Deidre and I spent a nice, warm afternoon down in Victor. Deidre had some errands to do in town. I didn't have any, so I found a nice lawn and did a thorough inspection of the inside of my eyelids for an hour before we went back to Yvonne and Kim's place and had a good ol' Aussie barbie, with lambs, bangers and everything that goes with it.

Among the things that went with it was a lecture on South Australian wine production. Kim is in the wine industry, and embarrassingly enough I did not catch his title. What I did get however was the fact that he supervises the grape growing in South Australia for one of the large Australian wine companies. On a side note: Adelaide is the capital city of one of the states in Australia, South Australia. Hence the capital letters.

Kim's job is essentially to make sure the grapes grow, ripe and are harvested at the right pace and to a satisfactory quality.

I sat next to him at dinner, and I felt it would be to miss out on a great opportunity not to have a lesson on wine with dinner. So Kim gave me one, and like everybody who has some proffesional pride did so very well. The atlas over the region didn't fit too well on the dinner table and we ate to fast for me to get everything, so I reckon I will have to come back for more when I have the opportunity. Not that I need an excuse to come back to SA, but the wine down here would definitely be a good one.

After that lovely meal and lecture Deidre drove a very appropriate number of people back to Adelaide (I.e. the same number that came), and Deidre and I pretty much went straight to bed in Dreidres unit. After a nice cuppa'tea of course.

The next morning was another one of those important life-lessons, that you will never get unless you go on exchange and is lucky enough to have an (acquired) family, who is willing to take care of you. I had breakfast with a very dynamic duo: Deidre and her friend Jan (I'm sorry if I got the spelling wrong!). Jan is the CEO of Sports South Australia and the chair of Netball Australia. To give my Danish readers an idea of who I had lunch with: The closest thing we have to Sports South Australia is the Danish Association of Sports, Netball Australia would be the netball equivalent of DBU for soccer.

Deidre is also an executive in her field and has been for many years. Having breakfast and conversation with two such ladies, one of them having done so much networking that she is, in her own words, 'over it' was another great lesson for a young man in the very spring of a hardly even started corporate life

When we had finished breakfast Deidre had to leave for her flight to Melbourne, so I did the only sensible thing: Spend a couple of hours at the beach. After the beach and a quick shower I went over to Graham and Joan, so they could take me to the bus station down town Adelaide. I jumped on the bus and around 6 in the evening I landed in Clare, where Deidres brother Trevor waited to pick me up and drive me to the outskirts of the Greater Hilltown Metropolitan Area. Hilltown, or “Metropolis” as Trevor calls it, is a tiny collection of houses some 20 kilometers from Clare, and that is where Trevor lives on the farm with his wife Kathy and their children, Jason and Ben(jamin). Their daughter, Sam(antha) has moved to Gawler to go to Uni, but was home for the summer holidays, so I had the pleasure of meeting her and her boyfriend Brendan as well.

On the way from Clare to Hilltown Trevor took me the long way. Hence there was plenty of time for my first lesson in farming and in doing business in general. Looking back at the three days at the farm I have a feeling of having learnt quite a lot more about my supposed field of expertise (business, that is) than I did in several of the lectures in Sydney. I came to realise, more so than I have this far, that running a farm is as much a business as anything. Being at Kathy and Trevor’s farm and having the opportunity to ask them and their neighbours all the questions I wanted has been like a three day case-study with heaps of fun build in, and has been immensely educative to me. So thank you once again, Kathy and Trevor, for having me!

Back to
Lesson number 1
Globalisation driven by technology is a real thing, and cultural differences DO matter

Trevor grows a lot of hay at his farm. Just the fact that hay is different to straw was a bit of a revelation to me. For everybody as ignorant as me: Straw is what is left after the crops have been harvested, hay is straw with the crops left on. That has not got much to do with globalisation. The fact that Trevor exports his hay to Japan does however have a great deal to do with globalisation. If transport costs had not steadily been declining in the past 50-100 years, and if communication technology had not made it possible for Japanese buyers to easily find and contact Australian sellers there would have been no hay exporting what so ever. It was Joan who first mentioned Trevor’s export business to me, and I have got to admit: it was bit of a mystery to me. Hay is not exactly one of the value-dense products that easily lend itself to profitable long-distance transport. There is for an example a fair bit more revenue in a cubic meter of laptops than there is in a cubic meter of hay.

When I asked Trevor how the business of shipping hay to Japan made sense he told me “I don't get it either, but if they want to buy it I'll grow it!”. That was very modest of Trevor to say; he knew exactly what was going on, and this is where the cultural differences come into play. The Japanese very much want to produce milk themselves. They have got the cows for it, but the Japanese landscape does a very poor job of producing the kind of crops that is suitable for feeding cows. So instead of importing milk they import huge amounts of hay to feed their cows. And there we have it: Cultural differences and falling transportation costs driving globalisation and international trade.

After we got back to the farm and I got to meet everybody we had tea and then Trevor took me for a drive around the area. There was a few wild roo’s around, and I got to take the most taken picture in the Greater Metropolitan Hilltown Area.

Second most photographed scene i Oz. Second only to the Sydney Opera House

Wild skippy with joe in the pouch

The next day I made another effort to not have any continuity in my sleeping hours what so ever, so I got up at Farmer’s lunch time: 0630. After the obligatory Aussie breakkie, Weet-bix, everybody sort of went of to do some work around the farm, and I trudged along. Kathy took me for a drive up to another farm, where we collected a fill-bin (that is used for temporary storage while harvesting)(FIELD bin, ed. 21/1-13 -corrected by Trevor), went back and got another car, put me in that and drove off to collect another fill(field) bin. The second one was so large that it is required by law to have another car driving in front with a signal on top, to show other motorists that something huge is coming along. So I did that. The driving of the second car, not the fill(field) bin. I am pretty sure several cows and a few skippys would have lost their lives, if I had driven the fill(field)-bin around the gravel roads.

When we were done with the fill(field) bins Trevor showed me the header he uses for harvesting. A header is only a header in Australian English. In America a header is just the front part of the combine harvester. They are very keen on making things difficult for themselves, the yanks.

I did not get a picture of Trevor’s header, so you have to make do with one of Dick’s (which I did not post either, ed. 21/1-13).

When we had had lunch it was so stinkin’ hot that we could not do more work around the farm without risking starting bush fires all over the place, so we spend the afternoon indoors watching cricket. Ben did tell me that he thought I had done a very good job of choosing the hottest day of the summer so far to come to Clare. I reckon he was a bit sarcastic, and in that case I completely agree with him: I am an idiot. Anyhow: During that afternoon I went from being an idiot to being an idiot who almost understands most of the rules of the cricket. Australia was on its second day of beating Sri Lanka in this year’s five-day test match, and Trevor and Ben did a very good job of explaining the rules to me.

When everything had cooled down a bit outside Trevor took me to see Dick, who lives (alone) on a farm near Kathy and Trevor (near in Australian terms = 10-15 minutes of driving. Which is pretty darn far away for a neighbour in Danish (and especially Copenhagen) terms).  The fact that Dick has not got a wife and is very hard worker means that he has heaps of flash gear. Among that a Danish-produced seeding sort of machine that basically does everything apart from making coffee. And is called “Bogballe”.

This is how we're farming in Australia!
(Cooper Pale Ale ad, spring 2013)

The only appropriate way of transport for a bachelor farmer is an aeroplane, and of course Dick has one of those as well.

Flying farmers

When we got back to the farm Ben and Jason had a barbie going for tea, and Kathy had prepared oisters as a sort of starter. The oisters were from a place that also ships to the fanciest restaurants in Sydney and Brisbane (edit, 18/1-13: They were from Cowell Oyster farm on the West Coast of SA). The catering at the Ballara Inn lacks nothing! I invoked an age-old tradition to repay the Fischers for the great meal: As the troubadour that I truly am I did magic tricks, to the general amusement of everybody.

Barbie brothers

While her brothers barbequed Sam painted her horse

After a few beers and a dip in the pool Kathy and Trevor have in their backyard I went to bed. 
On the Saturday all work was suspended. We got op at 0630 anyway, since we had a 90 minute drive to the Murray River, where my fantastic hosts had planned to go to water ski all day. We all went: Kathy, Trevor, Ben, Jason, Jason’s girlfriend Sarah, Sam and Brendan. It was an absolutely beaut of a day, and I managed to get up on both skis and wakeboard. The skis was however much more of a success. It is only due to the photo-talent and snappyness of Ben and/or Jason that a picture of me wakeboarding actually exists.

Sister Sam shredding it on one ski

Brother Ben bouncing on the same ski

Lunch is up

The appropriate way NOT to enter a boat. Kindly demonstrated by Jason


and waterski..

South Australian Sunset

That night ended with another great meal, Spaghetti Bolognese a’la Samantha Fischer, and pancakes (Crepes, the thin ones) and icecream with fruit, courtesy of the Lady of the House, Mrs. Kathy Fischer. Those pancakes along with Octopussy on the telly provided a perfect ending to a swell day.

Sunday morning was another early start, since we had a few things to do before I was to catch the bus at 0230 pm. Kathy really wanted me to see how to shear a sheep, and deep down I think Trevor wanted to show me as well. So that is what we did. I really, really sucked at it, and I apologise to the sheep. It did not seem to mind too much though.

Blondes should not shear sheep...

After the sheep shearing Trevor took me to

Lesson number 2
Levelling out volatility and value-adding are not just urban legends, praised in business schools

This lesson took place at another neighbouring farm (footnote 1), where Craig has built quite a big business of harvest-processing. The first expansion to the wheat-and-hay growing business was a machine that allows him to mix different kinds of hay, re-bale it and compress it. In effect this machine moves Craig’s farm a step further up the value chain: He can take care of tasks that used to be done by an external company. With his machinery Craig can add value to his hay-product, and can better accommodate the needs of his customers; he can deliver exactly the mix of different hays and hay qualities they require. The compacting of the hay bales also means that the value density of the product he ships out of his farm is highly increased.

To take care of some of the spill products from the baling business the farm was expanded with a pelleting machine, and further down the line with a chicken farm. The chicken farm, along with the crop growing and baling business make op a pretty diverse set of businesses that are able to accommodate changes in demand in the three different markets. For an example, If the price of feeding pellets goes up it makes more sense to produce more of these, rather than compacted hay and vice versa. This means that Craig has an easier time of levelling out the volatility in the commodity markets than a smaller farm with fewer business areas has.

With that lesson stored in the mental notebook Trevor and I drove back to the farm, had lunch and then I was tossed on the next bus back to Adelaide, filled up with more great experiences and with the memory of a family I will never forget.

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