An industry in decline. | Functional Fertiliser

An industry in decline.

The base of any farming industry is the soil on which pasture and crops are grown. Our first farming work was in the Bay of Plenty just below the Kaimai ranges bush line where the clearing of trees had recently stopped.

Those that had cleared the land knew that the most productive pasture grew on areas where the best bush had grown, and it’s the same throughout the country.

The valley floors and lower terraces were cleared before the steeper less productive land.  However, pasture has a different fertility requirement to bush and to maximise growth nutrient was required.

Consider the following from Grasslands of New Zealand by Sir E. Bruce Levy 1970 with the Forward by Brian Talboys the then Minister of Agriculture

“Sir Bruce showed that once the land had been satisfactorily drained and a reasonable grazing management imposed the greatest factor of all in promoting botanical changes in grassland was soil fertility.”

Phosphorus and sulphur inputs during the last seventy years have ensured that there is very little country now that positively responds to the application of these two elements.

 “He stressed the tremendous impact that the grazing animal had in pasture development sparked off initially by copious clover growth from topdressing grasslands with appropriate fertilisers.  Under a  high stocking density per acre, so that there is full utilisation of pasture growth, the dominant rye grass-white clover pasture approaches perfection in building soil fertility….  “

What was obvious then and remains true today is that grazing animals have a positive impact on the development of soil fertility.

When we talk of soil fertility the key component is soil carbon and it is under grazed permanent pasture that carbon is more rapidly sequestered than under any other form of vegetation.

The reason being that rapidly growing plants are regularly grazed, adding dung, urine, leaf, and dead root on an ongoing basis.  Carbon is continuously being added, and with abundant beneficial soil biology a portion becomes stable and resistant to loss even under the harshest environmental conditions.

Steeper land becomes less prone to slipping, moisture is better retained providing stronger growth during summer.  

There is no downside to this process and the prosperity of New Zealand has profited greatly as a result.

How is it that now, within two generations, famers are considered by many to be environmental vandals contributing to an increase in harmful warming gasses?

Where carbon is being steadily sequestered net carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are not increasing, and yet models have been developed that further tax the productive sector which we will, for the foreseeable future, all be dependent on for the bulk of our income.

However as in all arguments there is an element of truth.  Not all pastoral farming is equal and the dairy sector is where the problem lies.

Synthetic nitrogen destroys soil carbon releasing the nitrogen it is bound with for plant uptake.  Burning soil carbon at a rate greater than it is being sequestered results in less growth, more expensive inputs, and lower profitability.

Fixing nitrogen with clover does not do this.  It’s a natural process where supply and demand are roughly equal with little nitrogen lost to groundwater.

Quality and quantity go hand in hand.  As pasture production increases under clover dominant pasture, strong, resilient animals requiring less medication evolve.

There is scientific data to show that land under intensive dairy in the Waikato has steadily lost carbon at the rate of 1 tonne/ha over the last thirty years, the time since the advent of regular applications of nitrogen.

This process can be readily reversed, as an increasing number of farmers are discovering.  Autumn is the ideal time to implement new soil fertility practises that immediately provide positive outcomes in all respects.      

New Zealand farming, said Sir Bruce “still needs more and better grass, more and more stock, and keen farmers intent on bringing this position about….” He emphasized that greater farm production is not the responsibility of the farmer alone: it is a national responsibility.

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