Rural round-up

Best little river in New Zealand – Rebecca Fox:

Gradual improvements in water quality in East Otago’s Shag River over nearly a decade have earned it the grand prize in the inaugural 2013 New Zealand River Awards.

”The Shag is the best little river in New Zealand,” Otago Regional Council chairman Stephen Woodhead, said when he accepted the award at a ceremony in Wellington last night.

He said the award was for the river’s community and recognition of the work landowners had done to improve practices on land through which the river flowed. . .

Good things take time:

Federated Farmers is thrilled by the recognition Otago farmers received at the first New Zealand River Awards last night, with two rivers as finalists and the Shag River taking the prize for most improved river in New Zealand. 

“The Shag River has come a long way from 10 years ago, and it is a credit to those farmers who care for and value their river,” says Ian Mackenzie, Federated Farmers water spokesperson.

“Change is hard for everyone, but once you take the time to get everyone on board you can really make a difference. Changing the result of 30 years of degradation is not a quick fix, there is no instant gratification, so that is why 10 years on from the water management plan’s implementation you are seeing some positive results. . .

Beetle’s prickly appetite could have wider impact– Tony Benny:

Scientists hope a thistle-munching beetle already reducing prickly weed infestations in the south will also lay waste to hard-to-control Californian thistles on North Canterbury hill country farms.

Landcare released European-sourced green thistle beetles – also known as cassida or tortoise beetles – on about 50 farms, mostly in lowland Southland, five years ago.

AgResearch scientists want to find out more about the beetle and see if it can go to work in the hill country of North Canterbury and the North Island.

“We’re starting to see the effects of the beetle, and Southland farmers are thinking that it’s having quite a good effect on the thistle populations there,” said AgResearch scientist Michael Cripps. “Basically, they’re seeing observational evidence of a decline in the thistle population.” . . .

Pastoral farmers asked to think pig, poultry-style – Tim Fulton:

CANTERBURY farmers affected by Chilean Needle Grass (CNG) have been encouraged by local support for their position but the regional council warns the grass can still take root any time and place.

ECan’s latest biosecurity newsletter suggests pastoral farmers take similar precautions to pig and poultry farmers, by controlling movement of people, vehicles and machinery on and off their property

Sheep farmer Owen Gould from Parnassus in the Hurunui district has clarified the extent of CNG on his place, hoping to make other farmers aware of the plant and steps to contain it. . .

Govt help unlikely – Alan Williams:

Three of New Zealand’s biggest meat companies took a restructuring proposal to the Government but were told they would need more substantial industry and farmer support before it could help with legislation.

The reaction has negative implications for any plan involving a merger between only two players, the Silver Fern Farms and Alliance Group co-operatives.

In its campaigning to get candidates elected to the boards of the two co-ops, the Meat Industry Excellence (MIE) group has suggested the Government would legislate to provide protection for their 52-54% market share in the early stages of a merged entity. . .

David makes old Goliath steam:

When David Walker first saw the 1901 traction engine at a Marlborough winery it was a hulk.

He described its condition as “rust value only” when he took delivery on April 16 this year.

However, the committed restorer had the rare 10 horsepower steam driven engine up and running, albeit minus its pin-striping, in time for the weekend’s Nelson A&P Show.

“It hadn’t been steamed up in 62 years,” said Mr Walker of his latest prize. To get it operational he had to replace, rebuild or repair nearly every moving part. . .

NZB National Yearling Sales Series Catalogues Online Today:

The catalogues for New Zealand Bloodstock’s 88th National Yearling Sales Series are now available online.

A total of 1371 yearlings have been catalogued across the three sales sessions of Karaka’s week-long auction extravaganza, starting on Monday 27 January 2014.
Premier Cover

The PREMIER SALE catalogue features a world-class line-up of 469 Lots – 28 more than in January 2013 – set to be offered over two days on Monday 27 & Tuesday 28 January, commencing at 11am each day. . .

21 Responses to Rural round-up

  1. Mr E says:

    Well done shag river catchment people. Towns people, country people, industry, others, well done.

    Now how did you do it? I’d love to hear some top tips.

  2. TraceyS says:

    As a teenager I remember the Shag being almost stagnant and quite off-putting in the summer as we had year after year of dry weather. The last ten years seem to have been pretty wet by comparison.

    Even last summer the area didn’t suffer nearly as badly from the drought as other parts of the country. Not that far away in Herbert there seemed to almost be a micro-climate where they were getting plenty of moisture. I could not believe the grass growth compared to home and that was in February. In fact, one resident I got talking to was complaining about mowing the lawn! He pointed to nearby forestry as the reason for the area’s fortuitous rainfall.

    Or is it due to good fortune? There is a lot more forestry in East Otago now than there used to be. Whether this helps the health of rivers there I don’t know. It may increase rainfall and help rivers that way. But maybe also helps by having the steeper slopes planted out for 30 years at a time and not cultivated. There is erosion of course with forestry but long periods of no activity in between when things can rest. Trees drink a lot of water but there are now rules with greater planting setback distances from water.

    Use of direct-drilling of seed is more common now too than it used to be, so less cultivation of the soil might help. Large tracts of the two Otago rivers in the finals are not fenced from stock and it’s hard to see that they ever would be fully fenced. Although on our place the slopes down to the river are so steep that stock don’t really go down there and nowhere to go once they get across so not much point getting wet.

    Fencing would be impractical because big catchments and steep, narrow gullies make for impressive, raging floodwaters and where would you put the fence? Scars such as the batters of farm tracks and fence-lines can have the topsoil saved during construction and pulled back over so grass can grow on them, rather than leaving clay exposed which will forever discharge sediment into water-tables and eventually into rivers.

    Where my children (and sometimes adults) swim in the summer the eels are so tame they swim up to the shore for a look at you, it’s not a worry as our river is pristine that far up. Not so nice further down, although I have noticed improvement between summers such as less algae and more Koura which are good signs.

  3. TraceyS says:

    Great photo of the Shag River from the ODT:

    http://www.odt.co.nz/regions/east-otago/271928/market

  4. Mr E says:

    Not sure how a forest creates more rainfall?
    I have no doubt that forests generally create less water quality issues than towns and pastoral areas. That’s not to say they don’t cause issues. Just less issue. Nitrate losses are particularly good on forest areas. Nitrates appear to be a growing problem in NZ.

    I like your acknowledgement of direct drilling. Is your council doing anything to study its impacts, maybe even educate farmers in its use? Our isn’t. Some councillors are banging on about legislation. It seems they rather make rules to punish the worst than educate the masses. Most recently they have been discussing extending a 3m wintering rule to 10m from water courses.

    I’ve heard farmers talk about sowing grass (direct drill) in between brassicas rows to improve slope stability and mop up unused nitrates after the crop has been eaten. I’d love our council to study some of these opportunities. Sadly they seem hell bent of rules and infighting. I think it is a sorry state of affairs.

  5. Mr E says:

    I love seeing sheep and cattle crossing rivers like that.
    We’re over sensitive to that now days. One off crossings like this have insignificant impact and are a great measure of man, dog and animal.

  6. TraceyS says:

    Direct drilling isn’t always suitable. Especially on gorse country because the young seedlings, millions of them, need to be worked in over many years until most of the seeds have struck. We plant grass and brassicas together so there is something left growing after the crop is eaten off. It makes sense. Tractor work is expensive and no-one wants to do more of it than they need to.

    I’m not sure if our Council is researching direct-drilling. But someone, somewhere will be. Something I am not keen on with direct-drilling is the use of herbicide. Herbicide – any chemical – affects soil microbiology. And next we will have limits for glyphosate discharges. That’s why legislating won’t work. It just pushes people to consider alternatives outside of those which are legislated, but these will have their own set of environmental consequences. That’s just kicking the can down the road. Somehow, Councils need to get ahead of the trends – anticipate rather than react. But you are right, that is not likely to happen if people are arguing.

    A 10m wintering rule is wide – a big loss of land for some farmers. It’s 20m setback for forestry, but I’m not sure if that’s a rule or code requirement. Given the wide definition of a watercourse, some land-users could end up doing a lot of fencing and losing a huge amount of productive land. How does that work? How do they pay for it? That needs to be considered or we are just dreaming.

    Any system where there is decomposing matter I suppose will leach nitrogen, including pine plantations. But in East Otago, much of the forested area would otherwise be challenged by gorse which is unproductive and leaches more “…nitrate-N concentrations from the gorse area averaged 5 g/m3 whereas nitrate from Radiata pine averaged 0.006 g/m3.” (https://crops.confex.com/crops/wc2006/techprogram/P18979.HTM).

    I can only comment on the areas which I’ve been observing over the years, which are quite different to where you are. But what I see is more pine trees, more rain, more green grass, less cultivation, less gorse, and fewer bony exposed clay knobs. I think all these things together contribute a great deal to river health. The occasional sight of a nuked paddock is not so bad in this context (as long as it’s not on our place).

    Not sure how a forest creates more rainfall? http://roberttisserand.com/2013/07/essential-oils-cool-planet/. And we need to listen to the people who know the area they live in, trust in their long-time observations, and then look at how that knowledge can be verified by sound evidence and applied to other areas. All the while accepting that we have to take the bad with the good without being at each other’s throats nor always putting our hand in each other’s pocket.

    It’s not about educating the masses. That will always encounter resistance. It is about bringing research, experience, and local knowledge together in a way that allows people to see both the risks and the opportunities in their own time, when the are ready. Something which punitive measures are contrary to.

  7. TraceyS says:

    A prohibited activity under Plan Change 6A rule 13.5A. I hope they might continue to make exceptions for charity!

  8. TraceyS says:

    (Exception for annual muster)

  9. Mr E says:

    I doubt any direct drilling research is being done. Production wise it has been studied. But environmentally – Nada. And no chance from what I have seen.

    Councils send mixed signals regarding gorse and broom. I’ve heard people call it ‘a good nursery for native seedlings’ others who protest that it is a noxious weed.
    Here in Southland we have rules to control it.

    http://www.es.govt.nz/media/6511/broom-and-gorse-in-rural-areas.pdf

    However a farm containing around 100ha of gorse/broom is awarded by ES. Gorse surrounding water courses.

    http://www.es.govt.nz/your-council/awards/environment/2012/farming-award/

    If you want a description of the gorse on this farm. Google earth Days road Southland – Look to the north east.

    Talk about conflicting messages. It would be easy for me to get confused.

  10. Mr E says:

    Really. Have your council gone bonkers? Stock need to come and go for many reasons. An annual muster only for weaning is a tough call and will cause animal health and welfare issues.

    I bet many many of the high country farms need to ford rivers on a semi regular basis.

  11. TraceyS says:

    Anyone who thinks gorse is good is confused. We’ve heard all the suggestions, like “just do nothing and eventually the natives will take over” (like in 100 years), and “get some goats”, and “get out with a scrub cutter” and “burn it”. Yep. All suggestions from the gorse fan club.

    I will look for articles on environmental benefits of direct-drilling.

  12. TraceyS says:

    “I doubt any direct drilling research is being done. Production wise it has been studied. But environmentally – Nada. And no chance from what I have seen.”

    Certainly not a lot in the literature and what I did manage to find was reasonably neutral in terms of positives vs negatives. Interesting that one very recent study found no-till systems lost carbon compared to conventional. Thought it was meant to be the opposite!? Most studies conclude with a very helpful “more research is needed” as to the environmental benefits of no-till systems.

    Would link here but paywalled.

  13. Mr E says:

    Strokes vs folks.
    Costs about the same.

    Interesting the question around carbon. You’d expect cultivation would mineralise carbon for leaching.
    Putting that aside soils are a complex interaction. Assuming simple processes explain all things away is silly by me.

    I’ve done direct drilling research. And yes it has positives and negatives.

  14. TraceyS says:

    “The difference between the systems was significant. Carbon accumulated just below the plough layer. Nitrogen stocks remained unchanged. A very significant lowering of the C:N ratio occurred under no-till. The process of transforming the available biomass on the soil surface into organic matter is apparently too slow to avoid direct losses under no-till. Alternatively, ploughing plant residues into the soil enables to capture some of what would otherwise be lost as CO2 through decay, thereby increasing soil carbon.”

    Reference:

    A. de Rouw, S. Huon, B. Soulileuth, P. Jouquet, A. Pierret, O. Ribolzi, C. Valentin, E. Bourdon, B. Chantharath, Possibilities of carbon and nitrogen sequestration under conventional tillage and no-till cover crop farming (Mekong valley, Laos), Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, Volume 136, Issues 1–2, 15 February 2010, Pages 148-161, ISSN 0167-8809

    (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167880909003739)

    Benefits may be lost when farmers don’t plough early enough to let grass decompose and trap the carbon. Or don’t plough at all but disc instead, so upturned turf doesn’t trap the carbon gases.

    Given what this study says about the transformation of biomass being too slow under no-till, I do wonder if that could be sped up by using targeted microbes, perhaps GMO specially designed for the task?

    Don’t know, but open to ideas.

  15. Mr E says:

    Great reference.
    What about using nitrogen pre cultivation? Some thatch buster type products are essentially N

  16. TraceyS says:

    “Taylor and Townsend (2010) quite clearly demonstrated that nitrate (a dominant form of anthropogenic nitrogen pollution) accumulates as the availability of organic carbon declines right along the hydraulic continuum from catchment to coast. Hence these two key macronutrients are closely cycled, yet they are often studied in isolation.”

    “The headwaters of rivers are usually supersaturated with carbon dioxide and sometimes with methane, and this subsequently declines with distance downstream as the river water re-equilibrates with the atmosphere (Cole and Caraco, 2001, Hope et al., 2001 and Jones and Mulholland, 1998b).” *

    When collecting data on two different rivers recently I noticed that both have low nitrogen levels in the upper catchments and much higher levels the nearer they get to the sea according to NIWA WRENZ data. This is probably not uncommon. The first thought is of course that this is pollution from farming. But farming in those areas is very low intensity. One has a dairy farm, but the N levels are already greatly elevated before the river reaches it so it can’t be the main cause.

    However, upon reading this article I wonder how much of this difference is attributable to faster denitrification in the upper catchments owing to the greater presence of carbon? To truly understand how much pollution is caused by farming it would be necessary to take account of the positive contribution of carbon in the denitirification process. Maybe this is already done? I don’t know. But if not, it should be.

    An observation from reading studies on this issue is how recent they all are. How often do Councils review their plans and how long does it take for them to progress through the regulatory process? Years and years. So by the time they are fully operative it is likely that a plethora of new research has been produced in the meantime which follows that the plans will be perpetually out of date. This is surely enough justification against viewing regulation as holding all the keys to improvement.

    * Mark Trimmer, Jonathan Grey, Catherine M. Heppell, Alan G. Hildrew, Katrina Lansdown, Henrik Stahl, Gabriel Yvon-Durocher, River bed carbon and nitrogen cycling: State of play and some new directions, Science of The Total Environment, Volume 434, 15 September 2012, Pages 143-158, ISSN 0048-9697.

    (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969711015038)

  17. Mr E says:

    I’ve measured soil carbon but never used it as an off setter of N. Some would say that councils do through the use of soil types which would broadly account for carbon accumulation in topsoil.
    But very very broadly.

    In Southland our council is trying to limit dairying on sensitive soils through the rule plan change 13 (currently interim rule with final vote this month). This plan change allows for councils to consider soil type and overseer outcome during the consent process.

    Its a broad brush, a bit like painting a model plant with a ceiling roller brush. Farmers will be treated unfairly using such broad tools.

    Recently I read the below blog and commented. What are your thoughts Tracey? Do you think that N mineralisation under forest could speed up over time because of the prior farming events?

    http://sciblogs.co.nz/waiology/2013/11/13/managing-nitrogen-in-the-lake-taupo-catchment/

  18. TraceyS says:

    What would cause it to speed up? Surely the growing trees utilise the minerals available from prior farming activities. They will be sequestering more carbon dioxide as they get bigger so wouldn’t they use nitrogen in the appropriate proportions to maintain a C:N balance? I don’t see how they could use less over time even if they stopped growing.

    That these results were unexpected could be a problem of measurement. Which is something the authors don’t even appear to consider.

    Shifting blame to past activities makes land users nervous from wondering what is coming next. If the outcomes don’t fit the expectations what explanation will be used to fill the void? The authorities certainly won’t want to suggest all that regulation made little difference.

  19. Mr E says:

    Very good Tracey. You’ve come to similar conclusions to me. I was questioning the point as well as my own logic.

    And yes, if I was a farmer, in the catchment, no doubt I would be feeling a little targeted by this latest suggestion.

  20. TraceyS says:

    It would be interesting to know how the forests have been managed (the trees in the photo do not appear to have been pruned). Would they have been fertilized at some point, even once? There is some suggestion that when the canopy closes over the requirement for N decreases and can increase leaching. Therefore lack of pruning could be relevant.

    I find it hard to believe there’d still be N leaching at increasing rates from land that was in pasture 50-60 years ago! These forested areas would be late in their second rotation. I have read a study which suggests it may take more than one rotation before N leaching returns to pre-pasture levels. But you would still expect to see it declining by now, surely?

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