Starting with an international golf competition, a welcome evening with fantastic singing, an congress opening with this wonderful song , three days of serious science, practical industry advice and lots of networking and the best ever congress dinner.
We started with an awards ceremony, then a piano concert from David Helfgott (yes that brilliant pianist from the movie 'Shine') and then smokey jazz from Natalie Slade and finally we danced the night away to the Garden City Big Band. Hence the dislocated hips - actually that resulted from helping to organise a visa so poor Juan did not have to add 13 hours to his flight home.
These are the great people I worked with from the Potatoes New Zealand.
That fulla at the front is Ron. Ron taught me so much about so many things. He is a tough auld bastard but has a heart of gold and sitting at his elbow in meeting after meeting taught me that nothing is impossible and it's always about squeezing a bit more out of the meeting.
The farmer members of the committee are good solid blokes - farmer's natures differ based on what industry they are in, it makes sense really as each type of farming reflects the personalities of those involved. Not all farming industries are equal. Everyone's favourite on the committee is Terry.
Terry is a fine chairman who kept planning meetings on track and bearable - an uncommon skill. He is quietly friendly and kind. A pleasure to spend time with.
I owe all my potato knowledge to these guys, especially John from McCains. Cuts of french fries are really interesting and much more involved than you can imagine. The lengths that PotatoesNZ is going to educate about how healthily potatoes are, how they should be cooked etc is wound up in their passion for potatoes. It's great.
My first and most regular conference, every June either at Lincoln Uni or in Invercargill 500 dairy farmers, researchers and service people gather for three days of workshops and keynotes all about how to improve dairy farming in the South Island. It's a big deal this conference, plus as a committee member you get to wear those bright lime green fleece vests - believe me in June you are grateful for those ugly fleece vests. I must say 500 dairy farmers in an enclosed space for a winters day takes on an aroma of silage, not entirely unpleasant.
Spin off from SIDE are things like Time outSIDE, WestSIDE and TopSIDE (look for more punningly named events - I wanted bandannas for WestSIDE). Above is Time outSIDE in North Canty where there was a tractor pull - this was the fun thing. The rest of the day has five short workshops on things like motorcycle maintenance, shed hygiene, herd testing, human nutrition (young farmers start at 4.30am and don't eat breakfast! until they finish milking at about 9am - that's almost a whole days work before eating!). The programme is aimed at those new to the dairy industry - the next one is March 3rd go to side.org.nz to go.
The thing I love most about SIDE is the people - actually conferences are all about the people who attend, who organise it, who are passionate about their industry. Farmers rock. They truly have no idea about how vital they are to our existence - as far as they are concerned they are running a business that uses the land and animals to make a profit. Us townies owe them a lot. Farming is hard and worthwhile. SIDE farmers are keen to make use of all the new technologies and methods they learn about to improve what they do on-farm and there are some impressive things going on on farms.
I'm going to miss working with new groups of people regularly - actually my new job won't be that different. It's still all about farmers and land-based folk, it's still about education and passion, entertainment and fun - actually my new job really won't be that much different at all!