In this series, the lads consider New Zealand’s place in the world.
Over the summer I was introduced to a new game, Liar’s Dice. In the past this might have been a drinking game, but my constitution or ageing sensibilities meant the game was largely played with a clear head. Although the heat of a Kiwi summer meant that, at times, a few cold ones accompanied.
Liar’s Dice is a beautifully simple game involving cups and dice. The game is all about bluffing. Players aim to deceive one another. The skill, like poker, is to understand an opponent’s “tell” – his or her reaction to the dice dealt.
The real joy of the game, however, is that it creates space for surprisingly meaningful chats. While playing, conversations mixed between the light-hearted and the deep and meaningful. One evening, conversation was guided by the question game. Black Caps or All Blacks? Vegemite or Marmite? Smooth or crunchy?
A more difficult question was, “Will 2024 be a year of growth or consolidation?”
It was fascinating how this question was answered by a group of players – mostly a mix of marketing, financial services salesmen and me (the lone farmer) – all in our forties.
For the brave bulls in the group, the response was linked to the tangible and measurable. For one mate, a work rival’s upcoming retirement offered the chance of promotion. A few considered how to increase their company’s market share. Another bravely growth-orientated player was on a fitness journey and the growth in kilometres run was his obvious response.
The more conservative ones in the group quickly led with “consolidation”. They talked about interest rates on new Auckland houses and how the kids are getting more involved in a range of things – forcing a focus on consolidation.
“I need to not be taking on new things. I need to batten down, spend a little less, get through. I am not in a position to grow,” they said.
Having been on the end of yet another beating with the dice (it turns out commodity producers make for terrible bluffers), I was a little reluctant to answer. Fence-sitting was not an option. Vegemite is better than Marmite.
I started by mentioning that I hope the family won’t be growing, given a snip that almost kickstarted another tough conversation. I told them how the on-farm operating environment is pretty tough – so the farm won’t be growing in hectares and the bank balance won’t be growing at all.
I felt like I was going to reluctantly answer that we are consolidating. Instead, I said confidently that “we will be growing in 2024, but maybe not in the way we have in 2023 or in the years past. As a family, we will be learning more than we have before. Through small projects important to each of us, we’ll progress and evolve.”
The conversation proved good fodder for thinking about New Zealand’s place in the world. I think we are a young nation, both geologically and as a society. Like all youth, our goals are often simple – more money, faster cars, increased production, land conversion.
Once these gains have been realised, the goals of the middle-aged become more subtle. They become harder to identify. Maybe like us liars playing dice, NZ agriculture is hitting its middle age and trying to work out what our next goals are.
We are certainly not the elderly English agricultural sector, hoping for one more lap around the sun. But we have also grown past the boy looking for bigger muscles and a new girl.
Middle-aged goals are tough, but I am confident strong leadership will prevent the shiny Porsches and Harleys of a mid-life crisis. I am sure NZ agriculture will grow in 2024; it might just not be in ways that are so obvious as they have been in the past. Bring it on.