Dry rivers show need for water storage

November 20, 2018

It’s not yet officially summer but two Hawkes Bay Rivers have already dried up:

Some businesses and farmers in Central Hawke’s Bay may start rationing water as parts of the Waipawa and Tukituki rivers are already bone dry.

It comes as figures obtained by RNZ show the top six water consent holders in the district are using more than half of all allocated water from the Ruataniwha Aquifer and rivers.

Surface water user group chair Alastair Haliburton said around 40 consent holders were considering rationing and rostering their water supplies this summer because of concerns that river levels were so low.

His own company, Medallion Pet Foods, which employed 14 people in Waipukurau, could go bust if it does not get enough water.

“If we don’t get water we can’t manufacture and the doors close,” Mr Haliburton said.

Other businesses would be affected by the rationing, he said.

“It means that some crops probably won’t be planted, or yields will be lower, livestock productivity is going to be lower … essentially it means a scaling back of commercial activity.” . . 

Ongaonga farmer Alistair Setter was also worried about getting enough water for his crops this summer.

A section of the Waipawa River near his home dried up in mid-October.

“On a dry year it might dry up around Christmas time but it’s never done this before,” he said. . . 

Over allocation of water from aquifers is widespread.

Rationing is one solution, water storage is another.

Building dams to hold water when it’s not needed to release it when it is needed has both environmental and economic benefits.

Water from dams can be used to maintain minimum flows to protect and enhance water life when there’s insufficient rain. The water can also be used for manufacturing and irrigation.

Irrigation also helps recharge aquifers.

Forecasts warn of more hotter, dryer summers. Central and local governments ought to be planning for that and more water storage should be part of their plans.

Building dams is expensive but so too are the economic, environmental and social costs of dry rivers and water rationing.


1080 or death to natives

September 12, 2018

Doc, Federated Farmers, Ospri, Royal Forest & Bird and WWF-NZ are countering the emotion against 1080 with facts:

The Department of Conservation (DOC) is fully committed to the use of 1080 to protect our forests and native wildlife in the face of the current campaign of misinformation and is joined by other agencies in standing up for the use of this pesticide.

New Zealand’s native wildlife is in crisis. The flocks of native birds that used to fill our forests have been killed and replaced by vast populations of rats, possums, stoats and other introduced predators. This is not the future most New Zealanders want.

These animals also carry diseases which pose a danger to people, pets and farm animals.

DOC, OSPRI (TBfree NZ), Federated Farmers, Forest & Bird and WWF-NZ all agree that 1080 is an effective, safe and valuable tool in the fight to protect New Zealand’s forests and native birds, bats, insects and lizards.

The agencies above, along with community groups and volunteers, invest huge amounts of time and effort to protect out native taonga from predation. There are multiple tools and technologies used to control predators of which 1080 is one. 1080 is a highly effective toxin and a necessary tool to help protect our native species.

We use a range of methods including the latest self-setting traps and there is significant research being undertaken into pest control technologies. However, Forest and Bird volunteer trappers agree they could never cover the vast and inaccessible areas that aerial 1080 operations can. Biodegradable aerial 1080 is the most effective tool we have for suppressing rats, possums and stoats in one operation over large, difficult to access wilderness areas—where most of our native wildlife lives.

Huge areas of native bush is inaccessible by foot and the only way currently available to kill pests where trapping is impossible is 1080.

Scientific and technological advances, including genetic modification, might provide alternatives in the future but there are no viable alternatives now.

These organisations use or advocate for 1080 because it is backed by years of rigorous testing, review and research by scientists from Landcare Research, Universities, the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), Ministry of Health and the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

In 2011, the former Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright wrote a comprehensive report on 1080 and the current Parliamentary Commissioner, Dr Simon Upton, stands by Dr Wright’s analysis and recommendations.

The results are clear that where 1080 is used, our birds and native wildlife start to flourish.

We understand that some New Zealanders have genuine concerns and fears about 1080 in relation to the environment, water, animal welfare and wild food sources. We urge them to seek out www.1080thefacts.co.nz that addresses these issues.

New Zealanders have a choice: use 1080 to protect our native species over large-scale wilderness areas or end up with collapsing and denuded forests and our native species restricted to pest-free islands and fenced sanctuaries.

https://www.doc.govt.nz/standupfor1080

Lou Sanson, Director-General, Department of Conservation

Chris Allen, Board Member, Federated Farmers

Barry Harris, Chair, OSPRI

Kevin Hague, Chief Executive, Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society

Livia Esterhazy, Chief Executive, WWF-NZ

Predator Free 2050 is an ambitious goal which will need a range of pest control measures to achieve, including some not yet invented or feasible.

Until science and technology come up with effective alternatives, the choice is 1080 or death to native birds, bats, insects and lizards, and the destruction of native fauna.


Not as ungreen as painted

August 28, 2018

Mainstream and social media has had lots of stories about opposition to plans for a dairy farm at Simons Pass.

Neal Wallace provides some balance showing the plans aren’t as ungreen as they’re being painted:

. . . The Murray Valentine portrayed by critics of the dairy farm he is building on Simons Pass Station near Lake Pukaki is an uncaring, heartless capitalist, devoid of any ethics who plans to milk 15,000 cows on the most environmentally sensitive land in the South Island.

The Murray Valentine who occupies an orderly but busy office in Dunedin’s central city is genial, reserved, studied, methodical and who, true to his accountancy profession, makes decisions on fact not emotion.

He is not going to milk 15,000 cows on Simons Pass. . . 

Of the 800,000ha in the Upper Waitaki catchment, about 250,000ha is flat to rolling country that can be farmed. There is sufficient water allocated to irrigate about 25,000ha.

Valentine’s plans, which have never been a secret, are to irrigate 4500ha.

“Not many people who oppose me, I believe, have read the consent.”

Many of the people who oppose this and other similar plans tend to be driven by emotion not facts.

Valentine said critics demand he rip up his consents but that is not an option given the long, drawn-out process to secure them, dating back to soon after 2004 purchase of the property by his family trust.

He now has all the consents needed and started milking 800 cows this season.

That will progressively grow over seven years to about 5000 cows through three sheds.

Forty centre pivots will irrigate the 4500ha, of which about 1500ha will be the dairy platform. The rest will be dairy support, dairy-cross beef finishing and a halfbred sheep breeding unit.

Valentine said Simons Pass will be a closed unit worked in conjunction with a 2000-cow dairy farm he owns in North Otago.

He has made several significant and costly concessions including agreeing to control weeds and pests on 2500ha of ecologically-significant land he set aside for conservation as part of his irrigation consent.

The retired land dissects his farm in a large S shape and Valentine will protect it with 30km of rabbit fencing at a cost of $11.50 a metre.

That’s more than $300,000 of fencing alone.

A further 1300ha of land closest to Lake Pukaki was retired to the Crown under a tenure review agreement. . .

His consent requires annual monitoring of water quality at his boundary.

He intends doing it monthly to ensure he gets an accurate picture of the quality of water leaving the property and can respond quickly to any issues.

Technology measuring irrigation rates, soil moisture and the weather will help decision-making while drones will monitor the centre pivots and stock troughs.

Water for the small area of irrigation the previous owners and neighbour had consent for came from the Maryburn Stream but Valentine has invested $8 million in an 8km pipe delivering water from the Tekapo hydroelectric canal to his boundary, allowing the Maryburn consent to be retired.

“I believe I have shown enough responsibility on the conservation side. I am not shirking my responsibility.”  . . .

Many of those opposing the development paint the area as an unspoiled wilderness, but it’s not and one of the things spoiling it is hieracium.

The invasive weed hieracium is encroaching over much of the basin, killing tussock and causing soil loss through erosion.

Photos taken on Simons Pass in the 1970s showed tussock at hip height but 20 years later the weed has rendered the land barren.

“Most people would describe it as a desert.”

Cultivation and fertiliser in recent years have restored vegetative cover. . . 

Keeping invasive weeds at bay is costly in financial terms. Not doing it is expensive in environmental terms.

The Lindis Pass, which is not far from the Mackenzie, used to be covered in tussock. Year by year hieracium has taken over and hillsides which once waved with tussocks are now bare and erosion-prone.

If Fonterra wasn’t required to pick up milk from anyone who wants to be a supplier it’s possible that dairying in the Mackenzie wouldn’t be viable.

But unless, and until, the Dairy Industry Restructuring Act is changed to allow Fonterra to say no to would-be suppliers, the company has no choice about where suppliers farm.

Opposition to the plans has got personal, overlooking the fact that Valentine has spent six years and a considerable amount of money getting consents.

If those opposing the plans have grounds for their concerns they should be aiming at the consenting authorities and process, not the man.


Pomahaka Catchment

July 3, 2018

Pomahaka Catchment Project

July 2, 2018

Mini doco highlights sustainability work of Pomahaka farmers:

As part of their contribution to NZ Landcare Trust’s Pathway for the Pomahaka Project, Rabobank has released a mini-documentary that focuses on farmers in the Pomahaka catchment. This 10 minute video follows one sheep and beef farmer and two dairy farmers, highlighting the work they have undertaken to protect the environment through the winter. The video outlines areas of improvement that the farmers identified during the development of their Farm Environment Plans.

The film documents a sheep and beef farmer as he attends a Beef + Lamb NZ Land Environment Plan Level 2 workshop, while one of the dairy farmers is joined on-farm by a consultant, who runs through a DairyNZ Sustainable Milk Plan.

NZ Landcare Trust Project Coordinator Craig Simpson said the highlight of the Pomahaka project is the catchment scale work of the Pomahaka Water Care Group. “The video includes an interview with a water quality scientist who is undertaking water testing throughout the catchment for the Water Care Group, and discusses the work he is doing and the information he provides for the group.”

NZ Landcare Trust has been working for a couple of years to support and bring together the Pomahaka community. This community involvement is the key to the success of the project to date, and will be a real strength as the project continues.

The Pathway for the Pomahaka project is primarily funded by the Ministry for Prmary Industries Sustainable Farming Fund, with other contributions from Dairy NZ, Ravensdown, Ernslaw One Ltd. and NZ Landcare Trust.

NZ Landcare Trust has been working with farmers, landowners and community groups on sustainable land and water management projects for 20 years.


Farmers’ stories and silver lining

June 13, 2018

Farmers are fighting back against the anti-farmer, anti farming rhetoric.

The antis are well organised and articulate, but social media gives a voice to those like Farmer Tom:

 

I’m one of those ‘industrial farmers’ that practice ‘intensive farming’; people hate me. I’m also a conservation farmer (#glyphosateisvital) and am part of a family farm; people now love me. Confusing isn’t it? Anyway, here’s what I just wrote on another matter – it makes enlightening reading I think (/hope)…

In the past generation we’ve planted 14 football pitches of trees and woodland, we’ve sown 30 football pitches of pollen & nectar mix for butterflies and bees (a RIOT of colour from April to November), we provide 10 football pitches of mixed seed crops to help overwintering birds get through the ‘hungry gap’ at the end of winter, we’ve restored and maintained 20 ponds and we regularly see snipe across the farm, but especially on our managed wetlands. We’ve seen marked increases in brown hare, skylark, red kites, buzzards, sparrow hawk, hobby, and three species of owl make use of our specialised owl boxes. We have seen earthworm populations increase significantly, and we have managed grassland for rare orchids. Our low-input grazing system mimics the movement of wild herds and we have seen five species of deer increasing across the farm. Our crowning glory in my opinion is the reappearance of the stunning kingfisher, however the prevalence of grey partridges or lapwings or any number of redlist species divides opinion as to the title of greatest success story, and a recent visit from an insect expert revealed a rich insect fauna.

We’ve also grown food for 65 million left wing, right wing, centrists, nazis, and communists, for vegetarians, flexitarians, vegans, and omnivores, for black and white, rich and poor, for women and for those who identify as women, for man and beast, for princes and paupers, for criminals, creatives, and crazies, for townies and bumpkins, for slave and free, for erudite and for those who don’t even know what that means, for immigrants, supremacists, for asylum-seekers, for liberals, free thinkers, and for those who read the Daily Mail, the Guardian, the Telegraph, and for those who can’t read. Not bad for a little patch of England eh?

Farmers; keeping you alive since history began, and stewarding our land since conservation was an elaborate way of preserving fruit for application to buttered toast.

Another Farmer, Mark Warren tells the story of going from peasant farmer to present farmer:

Mark Warren was just 24 years old, with a ticket to London and The Big OE in his pocket, when he got the call to take over the old family station in the steep hill country at Waipari in the Hawkes Bay.

“My father said, ‘Oi! The manager’s gone. All the staff are gone. You’re going to have to take over…Make it snappy.’ That was that. I went away for two weeks and came home…to face the music”. . . 

In spite of dyslexia, Mark has published his story in a book: Many a Muddy Morning: Stories From a Life Offroad and on the Land,

And Jim Hopkins sees a silver lining in the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak:

The emotional impact on farmers with animals affected by Mycoplasma bovis may have the unintended side effect of changing the public’s perception of farming.

Rural Raconteur Jim Hopkins spoke to The Country’s Jamie Mackay saying urban New Zealand will be viewing farmers with much more empathy and sympathy as a result of M. bovis.

Hopkins’ speech was so impassioned and succinct we thought we’d let him do the talking to end today’s show.

“This occurred to me a week or two back when I was listening to you [Mackay] talking to a cocky in South Canterbury who wept on air … I’ve seen farmers on television in the same awfully stressed situation and you feel their pain. But the thing that did occur to me was, this is the first time for two years, that I have seen the other side of farming.

For two years or more, a gullible brainwashed urban media that sort of picks up all the green garbage and feeds it into its audience … has presented farmers as heartless calf-killers and creek polluters … suddenly we see people who are genuinely grief-stricken at the loss of animals, not as economic units but as members of the family, as part of their lives, as individuals.

It occurred to me when I saw that and heard it, I thought – suddenly, an urban audience is seeing farming and farmers in a new and vulnerable and emotional and caring and compassionate light and that’s got to be, long term, a good thing.

It’s a shift in perspective and perception in my view and it’s one that … everyone involved in the sector knows … that farmers … care, but that isolated, insulated urban audience that thinks milk comes in bottles or containers -they haven’t seen that and now they have and I think that’s a fantastic thing.” 

You can hear Jim full speech by clicking on the link above.

The disease is a very high price to pay for an improved perception, and it will be cold comfort for those directly affected, but good can come from bad.


New fund for biosecurity?

May 21, 2018

Finance Minister Grant Robertson is considering a fund like EQC to cover biosecurity breaches.

He told Mr Dann he has asked Treasury and the Ministry of Primary Industries to investigate the possibility of creating a fund that could be funded partly by the government and partly by industry.

“We can’t just sit there and wait for these things to happen. We know they’re happening more regularly and I want us to get ahead of that,” he said.

“We are in a very reactive stance when they come in. We have this with Mycoplasma bovis, and we scramble around both as a government and the industry, trying to find the money to respond to them.”

“What I’d like to see is for us to get ahead of those. . .

A Border Clearance Levy was introduced in 2016:

The introduction of the levy allows the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and the New Zealand Customs Service to manage resourcing of border clearance activities as passenger numbers go up or down.  This will mean the right resources are in place to keep New Zealand safe from harmful pests, people and dangerous substances and maintain current levels of service.

That’s supposed to stop biosecurity risks at the border, it doesn’t cover dealing with, and compensating for, anything which gets past the border.

The EQC levy and a Fire Service levy,  are imposed on all insurance policies. That does let people without insurance away without paying but the rest of us pay.

While the Canterbury earthquakes have raised issues with EQC, most of us pay the levies without complaint in the knowledge that any of us could be victims of natural disasters or fires.

Farmers, horticulturalists and orchardists, and native species are those most at risk from a direct biosecurity incursions which are very different from earthquakes and fires.

There’s no way to levy our flora and fauna. It would be easier to levy farmers and growers of fruit and vegetables.

The problems and costs of dealing with and compensating for M. bovis show the need for change.

Keith Woodford identifies some of the problems in the way it’s been and is being handled:

As I write this on 20 May 2018, New Zealand is at a crucial point in deciding how to manage Mycoplasma bovis. There are no good options. The worst option is for the Government to try and be the boss.

So, who should try to manage Mycoplasma bovis?

At the national level, the answer is ‘no-one’.  Farmers must make their own business decisions and take responsibility for those decisions.

Elsewhere in the world, governments do not try to manage Mycoplasma bovis. It is up to farmers to do this.

The role of our Government should be to continue monitoring at the national level using sampling techniques. But trying to identify all infected animals so as to eradicate the disease, and even trying to limit stock movements, this will be counter-productive.  Government has neither the resources nor the expertise. And the mess will just get bigger and bigger. . . 

Gypsy Day is in a couple fo weeks, thousands of cows need to be moved for winter feed or to new farms.

Some commentators have been suggesting that we should manage the disease in the short term but still work towards long term eradication. However, the epidemiology of this particular disease is such that this is unlikely to happen. No other country of the world – and Mycoplasma bovis is present in all the main dairy producing countries – is attempting to do this.  Unless some new technologies come forward, this disease is always going to be with us.

In the long term, it may be possible to produce a vaccine for Mycoplasma bovis. However, I do not know of anyone currently working on this.

The hard reality is that all farmers now need to manage their own situation, supported by advice by their veterinarians and other rural professionals with whom they work.  We know the risk factors. It is simply a case of making sure that these risks continue to be communicated, and then decisions must be made for each farm in the context of its specific situation. . .

The M. Bovis outbreak has been mishandled from the start when MPI worked on forward tracing – of cattle going from the farms where it was first identified, rather than backward tracing to find out where it had originated.

MPI now accepts that Mycoplasma bacteria were present in New Zealand at the start of 2016. But among my informal networks, there is no-one who is confident that this is time zero. The debates that we have, based on various pieces of evidence, include whether time zero was around 2014, or whether time zero was even earlier than that.

With hindsight, it seems that the battle between Mycoplasma bovis and MPI was always going to be a victory for Mycoplasma bovis. For it to be otherwise, MPI Biosecurity would have either had to stop its first entry to New Zealand, or else have identified the first incursions before they had spread.

Clearly there have been major deficiencies in NAIT (the national animal tracing system) but this is not the reason that Mycoplasma is currently out of control. Much more fundamental to the issue is that Mycoplasma had a head start, probably of several years.

There will also need to be hard questions asked about MPI itself – not the individuals but the system. Within my networks, which include people working directly on the Mycoplasma project, there is frustration that field-level understandings get lost as messages flow up the chain.

I would like to see MPI staffed at the highest levels by specialists rather than by managers drawn from totally different fields of expertise. From the website, I can see a ten-member senior leadership team with military experience, social development experience, communications experience and even a love of ballet. But apart from one forester and one agricultural economist, I cannot see any signs of people with experience of how things actually happen out in the field, nor an understanding of relevant sciences which determines how different diseases must be attacked differently. If the expertise is there, it is not evident.

I have significant doubts as to whether lack of funding is a key cause of the current situation. More likely, it is about organisational culture. It also needs to be recognised that generic management taught in MBA type programs may not be the ideal training for a Biosecurity Unit.

Anyone who has been affected by the disease and the way it’s been handled would second this.

Questions now have to be asked as to whether or not we have appropriate systems in place in case of a foot and mouth disease outbreak. I cannot answer that.

Foot and mouth disease would play out very differently than Mycoplasma bovis. If Mycoplasma bovis is a stealth bomber, then foot and mouth disease would be a nuclear event.

With foot and mouth disease, there would need to be immediate 100 percent accurate tracing of animal movements of the preceding days and possibly weeks, but not long term historical movements. There would need to be immediate and total lockdown on all animal movements across the country. Emergency vaccinations may need to be part of the toolbox.  All scenarios would need to have been thought through in advance.

With Mycoplasma bovis, it is evident those scenario analyses were not in place, so perhaps they are also not in place for foot and mouth disease.

Coming back to the immediate issues of Mycoplasma bovis, the key constraint going forward may well be for Government itself to recognise that it does not have the capacity to either eradicate or manage Mycoplasma bovis. The idea that ‘we are the Government and we are here to help you’ may well be an oxymoron.   Can Government understand this?

There might be a case for a fund partly paid for by farmers and growers.

But not as a knee jerk reaction to problems caused by the mishandling of M. bovis.

Unless those are addressed the fund would look more like another way to sneak in a new tax.


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