Guest judge's fact-finding tour

New Zealand Herefords president Gray Pannett, of Millers Flat, speaks at the Hereford Cattle...
New Zealand Herefords president Gray Pannett, of Millers Flat, speaks at the Hereford Cattle Society’s annual autumn show and sale in Shrewsbury, England, in October. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Shawn McAvinue spends five minutes with New Zealand Herefords president and Limehills Herefords owner Gray Pannett , of  Millers Flat.

Q: I hear you and your wife Robyn visited Europe in October. Where did you go?

We flew to Paris and travelled about three hours on a train to attend Sommet de l’Elevage, a four-day agricultural show near Lyon in France. About 1400 cattle were shown at the show and Charolais was the feature breed. The show attracts hundreds of thousands of people and part of it was the 2022 European Hereford Conference, which is held every four years. During our stay in France, we visited farms running Hereford cattle.

Q: What was one of the biggest difference between farming in Europe compared to New Zealand?

The heads of the European Union in Brussels have some levers they can pull, such as paying subsidies to farmers. We visited farms in Ireland and farmers there were given subsidies if they got cattle to a certain kill weight by a certain age to encourage farmers to breed more efficient cattle producing less methane than an animal which takes longer to mature — it’s so different to what we have. All cattle in Europe have their birthday recorded and the farmer gets less money if it doesn’t die by a certain date because the subsidy gets withheld.

A farmer in Ireland said to me (puts on an Irish accent) "I couldn’t get my heifer away and it cost me 100 Euro because it was a day late".

Q: Do they have any new emission pricing rules proposed like in New Zealand?

No, there is no-one else doing the tax on the animal. In Europe, they are incentivising farmers to be efficient by paying them a subsidy for meeting efficiency requirements.

Q: Do you think a subsidy system would work in New Zealand?

No, we have moved way past subsidies. I do see some value in the use of incentives to move cattle off at a younger age, but recording of birth weights may create some issues.

Q: So, the European Union is using a carrot rather than a stick to get farmers to reduce emissions?

Yeah, in New Zealand we have some cattle breeds which take four years to mature ... we are are spending millions of dollars on research to breed cattle which produce less methane, which is fantastic, let’s spend the money and find the answer, but they are 10-year projects but nothing in genetic happens overnight.

The best thing we can do is grow our cattle faster, so it’s on the planet for less time, but produces the same amount of protein to feed the world. The New Zealand Government should incentivise that rather than imposing a tax for having cattle.

Q: Any other big differences in beef farming in Europe, compared to New Zealand?

When we were in Ireland, the cattle were going into a shed at the end of October and they won’t come out until February or March. The amount of feed the farmers have to put up is horrendous, so your carbon footprint on that is huge because you are burning diesel to make the baleage, silage, hay and grain.

Q: A positive of winter barns is a lack of mud?

Yeah, there’s no mud, but I’m not sure it’s a better life sitting in a shed than ... sitting out in the tussock, free-range over winter. If I was coming back as a cow — and I’m not religious at all — I wouldn’t pick to come back as a cow sitting inside a shed at


Q: Did you visit the United Kingdom?

I was invited to judge cattle at the Shrewsbury Autumn Hereford show and sale and we visited the farm of retired Welsh rugby union referee Nigel Owens, who breeds Hereford cattle near Swansea. We had a look at his cattle and had a yarn about why British rugby clubs are going broke and what the All Blacks and Welsh rugby are doing wrong and he said to me (puts on a Welsh accent) — "If we weren’t so s... we would probably beat you this year" — he was a real genuine guy.