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Published April 23, 2012, 08:43 AM

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New Zealand again approves farm sales to Chinese

By: Agweek staff and wire reports, Agweek

New Zealand again approves farm sales to Chinese

• WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand’s government has for the second time approved the contentious sale of 16 dairy farms to Chinese investors, despite objections from critics who say the country’s prosperity could be jeopardized by such transactions. The sale of farmland, the first to Chinese investors, has sparked vigorous debate in a country that is reliant on agriculture for much of its export earnings but which is also forging closer trade and tourism ties with China. The sale was initially approved by the government in January but was contested in court by a consortium of local farmers and businessmen who hoped to buy the land themselves. A New Zealand judge in February ordered the government to review the sale using stricter criteria. New Zealand law allows the sale of farmland to foreign investors only if it can be shown to economically benefit the country. Maurice Williamson, the land information minister, said recently that after the review he remains convinced the sale meets all its legal obligations. Williamson says it was noteworthy that land sales to investors from several Western countries had proceeded without much opposition. “We’ve seen in recent times people quite celebrating (Canadian film director) James Cameron buying land here, because he’s “Avatar,” and he’s “Titanic.” But Winston Peters, the leader of the anti-immigration New Zealand First party, said in a statement the sale was a “treachery and betrayal” of New Zealanders and part of a push by the center-right National Party-led government to sell off the country’s assets and land. The sale is to Shanghai Pengxin, which says it will spend more than 200 million New Zealand dollars ($163 million) to buy and improve the 7,900 hectares (20,000 acres) of farmland. Alan McDonald, a spokesman for the consortium opposing the deal, says it has one more legal appeal making its way through the court system and that the group is reviewing its legal options after the latest decision.

Briefly . . .

Ethanol plant fined: An ethanol producer has paid $800,000 in civil penalties for wastewater violations and providing inaccurate information about the discharges. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says Bushmills Ethanol violated its discharge permit at its production plant in the Kandiyohi (kan-dee-YOH-heye) County, Minn., community of Atwater in 2008 and 2009. The agency says Bushmills’ penalty was especially high because of the misleading information it provided under its wastewater discharge permit.

Fuel prices: Higher fuel prices may be applying brakes to the economy in rural areas of 10 Midwest and Plains states. A monthly survey index of rural bankers dropped to 57.1 in April from 59.8 in March. Organizers of the Rural Mainstreet Index survey say any score above 50 suggests the economy will grow. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss says there are signs that the higher energy and fuel prices are slowing growth in agriculture-dependent areas. And he says slower global growth has harmed some rural areas that are dependent on agricultural sales. The farmland price index slipped to 69.4 in April from March’s 78.7, while the farm equipment sales index rose to 62.4 in April from 61.5. Goss says it is clear investor interest in farmland is growing, and some land that wasn’t being used for crops is being converted to farmland. The bankers surveyed estimated more than 20 percent of recent farmland sales in their area went to investors. Nearly one-third of the recent farmland sales were for cash. The survey covers Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

USDA resource: The U.S. Department of Agriculture unveiled the first “Regional Food Hub Resource Guide.” Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan introduced the new resource guide April 20 at the National Good Food Network Food Hub Collaboration conference. Food hubs are businesses or organizations that connect producers with buyers by offering a suite of production, distribution and marketing services. It’s an innovative business model that allows farmers of all sizes to meet the growing consumer demand for fresh, local food by gaining entry into commercial and larger volume markets such as grocery stores, hospitals and schools. The guide is an extensive collection of information and resources, providing background on everything needed to develop or participate in a regional food hub. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service developed the guide in partnership with the Wallace Center at Winrock International, the National Good Food Network, the National Association of Produce Market Managers and the Project for Public Spaces, as part of the National Food Hub Collaboration.

Clarification

• North American Bison Cooperative Inc., with its slaughter plant in New Rockford, N.D., its North Dakota Natural Beef LLC meat processing subsidiary in Fargo, N.D., recently have been a service provider for custom-harvesting and fabricating beef cattle services for Lincoln Provision Inc. of Chicago. The two companies have no other business connection, contrary to an ambiguous sentence in an April 16 story in Agweek. The story identified Jim Stevens Jr., as the president and a co-owner of Lincoln Provision, a Chicago company since 1917. Stevens owns that company with brother, Mark, and their father, Jim Stevens Sr. Jim Stevens Jr. also has a separate protein distribution company based in St. Paul, called Lincoln Trading and Distributing Co. Separately, Stevens is individually one of the partners in Triple J Family Farms LLC. Triple J owns a newly re-opened, expanding beef plant in Buffalo Lake, Minn., which will do work for Lincoln Provision. Stevens

confirms the Buffalo Lake, Minn., plant has been killing cattle for three weeks and will kill 550 to 600 animals per day. It plans to complete fabricating and storage facilities in 90 days, or by late July, replacing the work done by NDNB and NABC.

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