Fenceless Farming to Water Concerns: Current Events in New Zealand Agriculture

As a journalism geek, I like reading through agriculture news. Here are some recent New Zealand agriculture news stories, their openings, and notes from my experiences here:

Breaking out of the milk powder trap: Why dairy may turn to barns

April 29, 2017

“The next big thing for dairying in the South Island looks like it might be – indeed it may have to be – cows in barns.

“Cue the sharp intake of breath, but Jeff Gould, a dairy farmer who runs 1100 cows by the Rangitata River near Ealing in mid-Canterbury, agrees.

“Yes, he knows. Putting cows indoors? That is what other countries do. New Zealand prides itself in being all natural. Animals grazing free range in a field.

“And it is regarded as the lower cost production model too. Our competitive advantage. Elsewhere they truck in grain for the cows, as well as having to pay for their housing.”

For me, this has been a story of high intrigue as I observe the differences between New Zealand and American dairy farming. A major difference is the use of barns as shelter for the cows. New Zealanders plant shelter belts around large blocks of land and plan the paddocks within them.

Related is this story about attitudes toward “cubicle farming” in the MacKenzie Country. Note: It is not clear from the article what the plans for the farm are, what “cubicle farming” is, and what specific concerns residents hold. Also, “factory farming” is an inaccurate term often used to cause suspicion toward farms with many animals and is not a term I support in journalism’s (or accurate every day conversation’s) vocabulary.

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A fresh take on farmers’ health

June 9, 2017

“Rural health will be a new feature of this year’s Fieldays.

“The Fieldays Health Hub, an interactive display, will inform and educate visitors about health issues affecting rural communities.

They’re even planning a giant inflatable organ for the health site.

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Gallagher and Ag Research explore fenceless farming

June 7, 2017

“Stock will soon be kept in check without a wire in sight – that’s the promise of technology being developed in Australia with New Zealand investment partners.

“The eShepherd technology works by placing a GPS-enabled collar on an animal, ‘virtually’ fencing off an area and training the stock to stay within the boundary.”

This would be a great advancement for rotational grazing. I’d be interested to know what the system would cost.

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Lewis Road Creamery proves New Zealand’s future lies beyond commodities

June 8, 2017

“Chocolate liqueur is the latest fearless strike into a new market by Peter Cullinane, best known for Lewis Road Creamery’s chocolate milk.

“‘Chocolate liqueur is a pretty bold thing for a little company to pull off, but it’s gone nuts,’ says the company’s founder.

“The liqueur was boldly launched on the understanding Baileys was the number one liqueur in the world, selling around 82 million bottles annually.”

It’s not all about commodities, according to this story, which is a really interesting look at a company that innovates within agriculture. I see their products in the regular supermarkets [grocery stores] and now they’re facilitating a discussion on how New Zealand can innovate its products. Final graf says, “‘If Lewis Road proves anything it’s that New Zealand’s future can lie beyond commodities and we’re genuinely capable of producing world-class products.'”

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Agriculture well funded from ‘biggest’ budget for primary sector in years

June 7, 2017

“The Government’s budget this year relied on the primary sector’s input into the economy, says Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy.

“Guy was at the National Sustainability Showcase for the Ballance Farm Environment Awards in Invercargill last week, and said agriculture had permanently changed the country’s landscape and environment. Before people settled in New Zealand, there were just birds, he said.

“‘Agriculture is now ingrained in New Zealand’s psyche.'”

A brief look at the economic side.

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Food labelling debate heats up, as big NZ companies voice their opposition

June 1, 2017

“A fight nearly broke out in Parliament today over mandarins….

“Their war of words began when a select committee was shown pictures of mandarins, capsicums, and pears on New Zealand supermarket shelves which were marketed as being from New Zealand but were actually from Chile, the United States, Italy and the Netherlands.”

This story sounds familiar, as the same food labeling problems occur in the United States. For example, Hoosier Ag Today once found that watermelons marketed as Indiana grown couldn’t be from Indiana because it was too early in the season. The watermelons were actually from out-of-state. (I haven’t yet been able to find that article for a link.)

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The war for water: A battle at boiling point

May 21, 2017

“It was the summer of 1983 when Poroti Springs first ran dry. The watercress stopped growing, the eels disappeared and the koura died, unable to survive as their habitat turned to dust.

“Local hapu, the kaitiaki of the sacred Northland springs, were dismayed at the near-extinction of its mauri, or life-force, and the loss of their traditional food source.

“The culprit? The Whangarei City Council, who, unable to get to the springhead because it was on Maori land, had drilled directly into the aquifer upstream and sucked up so much water for the town supply, the seemingly endless flow ran out.”

Water is a highly contentious issue right now. I’ve been to the mouths of rivers where they meet the Pacific Ocean and to the start of those rivers up high in the mountains. I’ve drunk water straight from a mountainside. As with any country, water is one of New Zealand’s most precious resources, and the purity of it is a great attribute. There is now abundant discussion on how to best manage it. One of the biggest water controversies here is over the sale of water rights to an overseas water bottling company. The company would receive New Zealand water for almost nothing, bottle it, and then sell it overseas or to Kiwis.

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Editorial: Conservation Comment: Farmers have lost our respect

June 5, 2017

“THE SOCIAL contract between farmers and the community is broken.

“New Zealand is one of the most urbanised countries in the world, with over 86 per cent of the population living in urban areas…. It therefore should be hardly surprising that a significant proportion of the population is largely disconnected from agriculture and the source of its food.”

Here’s a consumer’s look at farming and why farmers have lost the public’s respect. I debated about posting this one as there are several items in the article that make agriculturists cringe. However, it is a healthy exercise to read pieces we don’t agree with every so often so we can understand all sides to an argument.

Perhaps the hardest paragraph to read is this: “Farmers and workers are highly skilled, have a strong work ethic, work long hours and have to be tenacious and resilient to the multitude of challenges they constantly face. These traits alone would normally be sufficient to command our respect, but they don’t. The respect farmers once commanded automatically is no longer there. There is general suspicion and distrust of farming and its practices. The social contract with the wider community has been broken.”

How do we fix this?

One line states, “As farming has evolved and intensified with the introduction of significant external inputs such as synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, the result has been wide-scale pollution.” There have been significant water issues in New Zealand in the last several years. However, it is important to remember that simply the use of an external input such as synthetic fertiliser or pesticide is not the cause of pollution: it is the amount and placement of said inputs. The soil is able to use a certain amount of fertilisers and pesticides. Any extra is leached (leaves the soil) and can enter the water table. The smart use of chemicals and remembering the 4 Rs [Right Place, Right Source, Right Time, Right Rate] will decrease the chance of run-off. The use of precision agriculture technology, which includes equipment that can change the amount of fertiliser or pesticide given in a field based on the needs of the soil, greatly improves the use of these inputs.

Organic or “natural” fertilisers, pesticides, and other inputs work in the same way. They must be applied correctly, as well, as they also can damage the ecosystem if there is too much of them or they are in the wrong place.

Therefore, a regulation that involves a ban on using inputs such as fertilisers or pesticides (I am extrapolating here from the writer’s last paragraph) would be addressing the wrong issue.

Conservation agriculture practices and wise input management can help reduce nutrient run-off, decrease soil erosion and improve soil health. There are many practices that farmers already implement that should be shared widely with the public. Voluntary adoption will work better than the regulations the author implies will be needed.

Consider this article and see what we as an agriculture community can improve upon to regain that trust.

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