What will it take to change course? | Functional Fertiliser

What will it take to change course?

P.W. Burton


That New Zealand will shift from its present short-term focussed, carbon-depleting mainstream soil fertility model to a genuine sustainable carbon positive one, is a given.  It will happen, the only questions are when, and what event will trigger that movement?

That’s a broad generalisation, and not all pastoral farmers fall into the category of “environmental vandals”.  However the overall trend is still one of environmental degradation.  A senior Landcare scientist was recently prepared to admit that, “all irrigated land, without exception is losing carbon”.

That discussion was around the loss of soil carbon, and he’s not alone with his view.  Another leading soil scientists has stated that some New Zealand soils have been losing carbon on average at the rate of 1.0 tonne/ha for the last thirty years.

A now-retired internationally acclaimed soil scientist, in a widely acclaimed public lecture, wondered why New Zealand farmers hadn’t learned from their counterparts in the UK and other parts of Europe, and were still attempting to squeeze the very last dollar out of their operations.

And that goes to the heart of the present situation – the availability of cheap money – which has been driven by banks.  It’s not uncommon to hear farmers justifying their practices on the fact that the bank is still extending their credit facilities.

There are a number of reasons why mainstream bag N driven systems will change.  Peer pressure is steadily growing. There’s an increasing number of operators who are not dependent on water soluble-nutrient based programmes.  They tend to be older farmers with a broader perspective, with involvement in the wider community and, where they have influence, they’re speaking up.

The steady decline in pasture production is driving many farmers to buy in more supplement.  Pasture is still the cheapest food available and less of it means increased financial pressure.

Councils are beginning to squeeze and, as a farmer recently admitted, it looks like death by a thousand cuts.  At one public meeting senior staff members said that their Council had consulted widely and no-one had argued in favour of a further decline in water quality, and they would therefore make sure that it didn’t happen in their patch.

Central government is talking regulation, which will be welcomed by many involved in Regional and local Councils.  The majority of the Council staff I’ve spoken with don’t wish to be involved in setting regulation, but see their role as administering policy set by Government, with input from them.

Overseas markets increasingly want to know where their food has come from, what’s in it, and how it’s been produced.  They want much better than stuff produced for commodity markets, and they have the money to pay for premium quality – think A2 milk.

Then there’s increasing pest and disease pressure.   Although there are scientists prepared to argue that there is no known link between soil, plant, and animal health, they’re working very hard to convince an increasingly sceptical wider community.

Whether it’s one or more of the above reasons that provide the impetus for the mass uptake of new technology can be debated well into the night, however the shift is already taking place.

The technology and farming systems that provide steadily increasing levels of permanent grazed pastures are already available, with all the real-world measures required to provide genuine confidence for those seriously looking to the future.

Animal and total farm production lifts, animal health costs reduce, and the requirement for pasture renewal declines as pest and disease pressure lessens.  Family gatherings with urban relatives become heaps more enjoyable,  and here’s the really good bit – there’s no transition time, it’s all up from day one.   For more information call Peter on 0800 843 809.

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