Rural round-up

New lecturer pursuing genetic gains – Sally Rae:

Phillip Wilcox credits time spent culling deer for the New Zealand Forest Service for his pragmatic perspective and love of the outdoors.

He now found that passion complementary to his primary sector relationships and technology transfer work.

Dr Wilcox has been appointed by Beef and Lamb New Zealand Genetics (BLNZG) as its inaugural senior lecturer in quantitative genetics at the University of Otago. . . 

Kiwi dairy farmers rethinking careers – Dave Gooselink:

Dairy farmers are being forced to reduce stock and slash costs to try to stay afloat, following the big drop in milk price payouts.

Some farmers are losing staff and taking on more of the work themselves, forcing some sharemilkers to rethink their careers. . . 

World-class soil programme ‘misused’:

A soil scientist who was involved in the initial development of the controversial nutrient management system, Overseer, agrees with critics who say it is being misused.

The computer software programme was designed to help in the assessment of nitrogen and other nutrient losses from farms.

Regional councils are now using Overseer as well to set nutrient discharge levels in their land and water plans.

Independent soil scientist and fertiliser consultant Doug Edmeades was a National Science Leader with AgResearch in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the Overseer concept was born.

He said the Overseer programme is world class – no other country has such a tool.

But Dr Edmeades said it was not being used in the role it was designed for and that it had never been intended to be used as a regulatory tool. . . 

Heartland potato chips a family affair – Audrey Malone:

Raymond Bowan fell in love with potato farming at the age of 17. Wife Adrienne laughs that it’s not potato farming her husband fell in love with, but potatoes in all their forms – mashed, baked, roasted, boiled baby potatoes (without butter so not to interfere with the taste) and of course as chips.

Raymond Bowan’s passion for potatoes and chips has seen Heartland Potato Chips take on the big boys at their own game. With its fifth birthday looming, changes are afoot at the helm but the recipe for success remains the same.

The company, which the Bowans describe as something of a David and Goliath story, has always been a family oriented business. It was started to sustain a family business and it remains central to family, with daughter Charlotte stepping into the role of general manager. . . 

Fonterra: Foreign investment in trees:

The German man felt it was time he checked on his tree.

He brought up his browser on his laptop, went to the Trees For Travellers website, entered his tree identification number and got the co-ordinates for his tree. Then, using Google Earth, he zoomed in on the Kaikoura track which was home to his sapling.

There it was, still protected by its combi-guard (funded by the Fonterra Grass Roots Fund) sheltering the young tree from the elements. He zoomed closer to locate the area and a message appeared telling him his tree was doing well.

If this all sounds a bit unusual, it is the quintessential symbiotic relationship where both parties benefit. Trees For Travellers offers New Zealand native trees for planting around Kaikoura – like many parts of this country a place where native trees have often given way to imported and pest varieties. . .

Italian farm family video wins the first global web video competition:

Sabrina Caldararo, Carmine Caldararo and Gerardo Graziano from Italy won the first prize with their video submission “A modern family farm”. More than 40 videos from 20 countries were submitted for the first YouFarm International video competition, which was initiated by Bayer CropScience in 2015.

“We are grateful our video won out of such a wide range of international videos. Our aim was to give insights into modern Italian farming and the value of regionally and traditionally produced products. It’s great that the online community as well as the jury appreciated our concept,” said Gerardo Graziano. Having been awarded the first prize, Gerardo and his brother in law will now start the “Farmers around the Continent Tour” through Asia. They will meet farmers, visit farms as well as a variety of agricultural sites and parks from tea plantations in Malaysia to vertical farms in Japan. . . 

12 Responses to Rural round-up

  1. Mr E says:

    I agree with much of what Doug has said regarding using Overseer to regulate.


  2. dave kennedy says:

    I agree with Mr E, as much as we need to manage nutrient discharge (or energy leakage as someone usefully described it) there is a danger of over-simplifying an issue and distorting outcomes through an over reliance on one tool that was never intended to be used for that purpose. It is the same as the use of the PaCT tool in education.


  3. farmerbraun says:

    Let us hope that when the first farmer takes legal action against a regional council over inappropriate use of Overseer, to restrict legitimate farming activity, that Doug Edmeades and others will be available as expert witnesses.
    Which will take precedence – a farmer’s right to the free and undisturbed possession of his land , and the quiet enjoyment thereof, or the misplaced and confused zeal of a public servant in the administration of a computer programme that is demonstrably and verifiably unfit for a regulatory purpose?

    I can just see Hugh Rennie Q.C. handing Peter Bodeker and sundry other bureaucrats their respective rses.
    Fun times.


  4. Mr E says:


    I’m pleased we agree.

    Does that mean you will be displeased with Environment Southland who have included Overseer in their latest proposed Water and Land Plan?

    I’ve also noted ES have hit the paper for high consent costs.

    People are saying the Council are “out to destroy New Zealand farming”

    While this is happening Porirua townies are upset about cleaning cars on the grass.


  5. Dave Kennedy says:

    Mr E, all I’m saying is that no tool should be used as a sole measure. It is probably a useful indicator but I don’t know much about it.

    I read the article in the paper and there is more to what is presented. Most of the Waituna catchment is very senstive land and many would say it is unsuitable for dairying, full stop. I think there is a place for using the topoclimate information to designate some areas as nondairying to save costs to businesses and Environment Southland. Why allow a process to go through when the outcome is predictable? Perhaps there should also be some prior warning of potential costs.

    As for the car washing situation, I agree that there should be consistency of expectations and banning car washing on streets and driveways makes sense. although there is a difference between washing out a milking shed and cleaning a car 😉


  6. Mr E says:


    If it is only a ‘useful indicator’ why would ES force nearly all of Southlands 3500 farmers spend a small fortune on the people and expertise to create Overseer reports – every year? Sounds silly doesn’t it?

    You say many would say most of the Waituna catchment is unsuitable. But 2 Commissioners said it that this property is suitable. And the farmers have had to fork out $157,000 for that nod. Surely we have got to the stage of rediculousness when the farmer was proven correct in their application, and ES wrong, and it has cost them $157,000 to get to that point. Dont you think ES should return more than $700 of the $50K they charged?

    Predictable indeed. – 2 Environment Commissioners said yes. That seems predictable to me. We saw the same with ECAN prior to Commissioners taking it over.

    And you seems to be saying it is OK to charge high amounts as long as you are prewarned. Talk about stall innovation and business. Is that what you Greens will bring to Governance?

    Imagine, you could connect a barrel to your garage roof for irrigation, provided you got a consent for it. The cost of consent – $150K. Would you think that stupid?


  7. Dave Kennedy says:

    Mr E, the consent process wasn’t as simple as you portray it and when you read the whole article it is revealed that much of the problem was that Environment Southland could only deal with what was presented to them. Considering the land in question was identified as environmentally sensitive the Irvings initially presented an incomplete application without first seeking advice: “no pre-application advice was sought from the council which would have indicated the complexity of converting in the catchment.”

    Many of the costs incurred were a result of having to present a modified application after first one was turned down because it didn’t address all of the issues. With any business proposal it is important to do one’s homework to ensure that unnecessary costs don’t result, this wasn’t done and yet the council is being blamed for inadequate preparation on behalf of the applicant.

    “After two adjournments and a revised application, a hearing was held on March 27 and the application was granted.”

    Even then it wasn’t a unanimous decision: “Only two of the commissioners supported the decision to grant the consent.”

    This isn’t about stalling innovation and business, it is about ensuring that good process occurs and business proposals that lack preparation don’t deserve support.

    Remember most consents are actually managed in a timely fashion and not with such large expenses.


  8. Mr E says:

    Let me just clear up some of the errors you are making.

    The property in question is 6km from the Lagoon. Your nutrient rich vege patch is much closer to a lagoon than their Dairy farm.

    All land in Southland and NZ is “environmentally sensitive”. All of it.

    The Irvings (Bruinsma’s) did not present an incomplete application. The application was presented by BTW South, a planning and engineering firm that has completed a majority of conversion resource consents in Southland. They know the cost of conversion consent in Southland and would have advised accordingly.

    I have never heard of a conversion consent costing $150K in Southland and I doubt pre application would have presented that. To suggest it would or should horrifies me more than simply having a farmer overwhelmed with subsequent costs.

    The original application, modelled a N leachate of 27kgN/ha. Well below an average dairy N leachate. Infact the levels of leachate were exactly the same as the existing farm land use.

    The original application was declined on that basis. That maintaining the environment would not be tolerated/consented, even though there are permitted activities that the Bruinsmas could have undertaken that would have made the environment a LOT worse.

    The amended application had a modelled leachate of 20kgN/ha – well below the existing land use. Infact there are many sheep farmers that are over 20kgN/ha.

    The Bruinsma’s had the following supporters agreeing that the consent should be allowed.
    Karen Wilson – who was previously the head scientist for ES
    Jim Risk – Previously a land Sustainability officer for ES and now a Fertiliser rep. (amongst others)

    The message farmers will be getting from ES is – don’t maintain or improve the environment. It will cost you a fortune in consent costs so don’t even apply. If you do apply and dont make a big enough improvement to the environment – youll be declined and charged huge costs until you improve the environment enough.

    What a ridiculous predicament the Council are promoting. As land values increase farmers in the area will look to permitted activities that wont need consent. Some of those things will be worse of the environment than converting to dairy in a environmentally sensitive manner. The Bruinsma’s had the approach of converting in an environmentally sensitive manner from day one.


  9. Dave Kennedy says:

    Mr E, you obviously know more than me about the application as I was just quoting from the article itself. It does sound as though there was poor communication regarding what was required in this particular case and as you say the cost of the conversion was well above normal. Because it was much more expensive that any other conversion that you’ve heard of it obviously isn’t a systemic problem but an isolated one that wasn’t managed well. It must also be taken into account that expectations change over time and was was accepted in an earlier consent doesn’t necessarily mean that these will remain constant a few years down the line.

    There are a lot of dairy farms with effluent ponds that meet their original consent but would be noncompliant now. Environment Southland is actually more supportive of farmers than you claim which is partly why water quality isn’t improving as quickly as many would like:


  10. Mr E says:

    The written requirements for a Farm Environment plan to achieve consent have been a constantly changing and growing. Originally the Farm Environment plan was supposed to be achieved by a farmer with typical written skills. Now you need a range of highly paid experts including Engineers, Planners, Scientists, Consultants Lawyers and Soil Experts.

    It is completely out of hand and a major deviation from how the rule was promoted during industry consultation.

    What was supposed to be simple is now expensive beyond belief.

    When it comes to ES supporting farming, I think actions speak louder than words.

    The actions that ES are looking to take against farmers in the region are consider as “crippling’ by some.

    The actions taken against the Bruinsma’s appear to be crippling to them too.

    Where will the behaviour end, where ES is constantly identified as trying to cripple farmers?

    The Bruinsmas, who were trying to do the right thing for the environment say I believe they are personally out to destroy New Zealand farming, Southland farming. I don’t believe in them anymore.”


  11. Dave Kennedy says:

    Mr E there is also a strong argument to say that greater intensification of farming has crippled our environment. Farming is not a low impact industry and most dairy farms are not in the same business league as staring up a corner shop. An average dairy farm in Canterbury or Southland is valued at around $10 million according to a three year old article I found.
    Dairy farms are significant businesses involving large areas of land, substantial environmental impacts, herds of between 600-1000 cows (producing the effluent equivalent of 18,000 – 30,000 people, imagine the costs of setting up a town that size) and considerable investment in infrastructure and plant. In 2012 conversion costs for a farm were estimated at over $4 million.
    In this context $0.15 million for a consent for a $10 million, high impact enterprise (1.5% of the total value) to ensure environmental protections can be seen in greater perspective. The annual growth in equity from the average dairy farm was around $430,000 in 2013 (13% equity growth). Before the drop in dairy prices this was a highly profitable business.

    Obviously these are now economically tighter times for dairy but that is what all businesspeople face when setting up any new enterprise and the consent and environmental protection costs shouldn’t be altered just because there is an industry downturn.

    “ES is constantly identified as trying to cripple farmers?”
    As I demonstrated with the allowances for dairy pond management during high rainfall, this is clearly not the case. There is also a perception that dairy farmers have been given special treatment, despite the impacts of the industry, that other businesses haven’t had. Talk to any small business owner or manufacturer about what they have to spend in consents and compliance in relation to a dairy farm and they will put things in perspective for you. It is also interesting what the Invercargill Environment Center or a school has to do to comply with health and safety regulations compared to what farmers have lobbied for themselves.

    “More people are killed in agriculture than any other sector in New Zealand – 20 people died on our farms in 2014.”

    Be careful what you complain about as it is increasingly seen as the winging of a industry that sees itself as needing special treatment above all others.

    On a human level I do worry about sudden economic changes and impacts on mental health as there are almost as many farmer suicides a year as deaths through accidents (costs of consents are a very minor element):


  12. Mr E says:

    Mr E there is also a strong argument to say that greater intensification of farming has crippled our environment

    I don’t think so. There are individuals and groups in NZ that will call almost anything a crisis if it it supports their lust for power.

    The truth is our water quality is the envy of most of the world. In the OECD 2004 study the 3 rivers studied, the Waikato, Waitaki and Clutha were ranked 4th, 1st and 2nd respectively out of 88 rivers for nitrate. These ranking put us well ahead of the next best, Canada and Sweden.

    Phosphate is similar. The data from our 3 rivers puts us the same as Norway ranking us 1st equal.

    And let us put some perspective around that data. In this OECD study the average OECD river phosphate concentration is 10 times our phosphate concentration. 10 times!
    Amazingly the average OECD nitrate concentration is 59 times our Nitrate concentration. 59 times . HOLY SMOKE!!!!

    Since 2004 our water quality has been largely unchanged. Phosphate has improved significantly with 40% of waterways improving, 11% deteriorating and the rest stable. Nitrate has 21% of waterways improving 53% stable and 26% deteriorating.

    The perspective of any nitrate issue needs to be kept in front of mind. Only 26% or rivers are deteriorating compared to 21% improving and NZ (when last compared to the OECD) had river N levels 1/59th of the OECD average.

    Farmers are acting to deal with any Nitrogen concerns, as minor as they may seem. It is hard not to find any farmer than has not spent thousands improving systems, often without prompt. And farmer activity continues that way.

    As a country we should be celebrating our successes, and talking about it with the world. This is where the true environmental gains can be made.

    Currently over exaggeration of water quality issues by a greedy power rich few, is hurting our image and hurting our people. Any issue needs to be kept in perspective.


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