Rural round-up

April 18, 2019

Leading is itself a challenge – Annette Scott:

South Canterbury farmer and newly elected Beef + Lamb director Nicky Hyslop is committed to sheep and beef farming, admitting her real affinity with the land and rural people is what gets her out of bed in the morning. She talked to Annette Scott

NICKY Hyslop grew up on a high country station and she’s passionate about contributing to the life and industry she’s always known.

Last month she was elected as the central South Island director on the Beef + Lamb board.

“I have a real affinity with the land and rural people because it’s been woven into my life. . .

New effort to attract youngsters – Luke Chivers:

A programme to promote primary industry careers has been launched by Rabobank, Young Farmers and Lincoln University.

The programme, Rabobank FoodX, is a series of events to expose young people to animals, food production and marketing, agribusiness and science.

Rabobank NZ general manager Hayley Gourley said the programme addresses the shortage of young people in the primary sector. . .

Bacteria turns crusty pond into fert – whatever! – Sudesh Kissun:

Tokoroa farmer Marcel Korsten operates a closed farm system: what doesn’t get out the front gate as milk has to go back onto the farm.

On his 260ha farm, Korsten hasn’t used nitrogen to fertilise paddocks for seven years; instead the whole farm is fertilised with effluent.

Milking about 670 Friesian cows and having a feedpad means a lot of nutrients are added to their diet. About 45% of feed is imported — mostly soyabean, tapioca, straw, maize sileage and some PKE. . . 

Guy Trafford looks at how the meat processing industry structures affect what producers receive and what consumers pay – Guy Trafford:

recent article by John Maudlin prompted me to look at some of the background data he quoted regarding competition within agriculture in the USA where 85% of the steer kill resides with four companies.

While there are over 60 companies existing in the US they are decreasing at a reasonably rapid rate as the big buy up the small. The latest being Harris Ranch Beef being acquired by Central Valley Holding Co. making it seventh in size of US beef packers.

While some may say these amalgamations into larger and larger companies creates more processing efficiencies and are a natural part of competition within a capitalist system there is a growing risk that both producers and consumers miss out as competition moves into monopolies. Despite this, the evidence is that there has not been an obvious reduction in cattle farmer profits and while not hugely profitable farmers have been making reasonable livings. That said, the last two seasons have trended downwards. . . 

Where to for Chiwi agrifood – Keith Woodford:

The current plan for Chinese Yili to buy Westland Co-operative Dairy has brought renewed discussion about the role of China within New Zealand agrifood industries. Of course, the Westland issue is just one part of a much greater issue about the trading and political relationships linking our two countries.

There is a need for ongoing debate because the issues are profound. There is also a need for the debate to be informed.  I hope that what follows here will contribute to an informed debate.

The starting point is to recognise that China is easily New Zealand’s biggest agrifood destination. And every year it continues to grow. . . 

Ensuring the safety of pesticides within New Zealand – Mark Ross

A culture of trepidation about consuming foods which have been exposed to pesticides is misleading and has sparked much confusion of late.

To abate the concerns, a breakdown of the process for getting products to market can reassure consumers that our most nutritious foods of fruits, vegetables and grains are safe to eat. This is reflected in the decade-long process which includes 11 years of research and hundreds of millions of dollars.

At the start of the process, chemicals are tested for their effects on people and the environment. . .

Gumboot Friday

April 5, 2019

Fred Dagg sang in praise of gumboots.

They are essential footwear for work or play when it’s mucky underfoot but even with the best on your feet it’s not easy to walk through mud.

That’s what depression can feel like, dragging yourself through mud all day, every day and that was the inspiration behind GumbootFriday.


Rural round-up

March 22, 2019

Staff shortages impacting on rural health – Peter Burke:

The health of rural business people – including farmers, orchardists and health facilities — is being affected because they cannot get sufficient good staff and must work longer hours to compensate.

So says rural health professional Professor Jane Mills, pro vice-chancellor of the College of Health at Massey University. She was raised on a farm in Australia and has extensively researched rural health issues.

She told Rural News that the staff shortage in rural areas is forcing many people to work extra hours beyond what is reasonable and that their work/life balance is out of sync, resulting in physical or mental health issues. . . 

Inhibitor can solve methane issue – Neal Wallace:

News the world’s first methane inhibitor for livestock will be released in New Zealand later this year has been greeted by scientists as evidence technology can solve our greenhouse gas problem.

Dutch company DSM has developed 3-NOP, a feed additive that inhibits a methane producing micro-organism in the rumen, reducing emissions by about 30% while also being safe for animals and consumers.

However, the effet stops within a few hours of feeding so it must be ingested regularly. . . 

Brexit: Should I stay or should I go now? – Stephanie Honey:

Just over a week before the Brexit deadline, the UK faces the prospect of a lengthy delay – but equally, the possibility of a “no-deal” Brexit looms larger than ever.  It is hard to predict which of these two extremes we may see next Friday.   In anticipation of no-deal, however, the UK has released a new temporary post-Brexit tariff schedule.  While most imports would be duty-free, sensitive agriculture products, including New Zealand exports of lamb, beef and dairy, would still face barriers.

If anything, the roadmap to Brexit is less clear than it was even at the start of this week.  (See our last blog here.)  The Parliamentary process has descended into chaos after “meaningful vote 3” was disallowed, under which PM May’s Withdrawal Agreement would have come back again to the House to attempt to clear the path for an orderly Brexit.   All eyes are now on Brussels.  The European Council meets on Thursday and will consider an extension – although this would need to have a clear purpose to satisfy EU member states. . . 

School and Trust boost farming – Neal Wallace:

Students at Wairarapa College are to get more farm training and career opportunities following an initiative with a Masterton community trust.

The Masterton Trust Lands Trust has provided 14ha next to the college for agricultural training for 64 years but is taking it a step further by establishing an advisory panel of local industry leaders to provide advice and expertise for the course.

More than 330 years nine to 13 students, a third of the roll, are studying agriculture this year and trust chairman Karl Taucher says the advisory panel will ensure teaching and skills developed on the farm are in line with what the industry needs. . . 

Cows are turning desert back into grassland by acting like bison – Sara Burrows:

The Savory Institute is transforming 40 million acres of desert back into grassland by “rewilding” cows and other domesticated grazing animals

Two thirds of the land on Earth is now desert or in the process of becoming desert, according to world-renowned ecologist and environmentalist Allan Savory.

If you know anything about deserts, you know that’s not good news, as neither humans nor many other species can survive very well in them.

Responsible for the collapse of many civilizations and now threatening us globally, Savory says humanity has never understood the causes of desertification. But the fact that it began around 10,000 years ago and has accelerated dramatically in the last 200 gives us a clue, he says. . . 

Yes, eating meat affects the environment, but cows are not killing the climate Frank M. Mitloehner:

As the scale and impacts of climate change become increasingly alarming, meat is a popular target for action. Advocates urge the public to eat less meat to save the environment. Some activists have called for taxing meat to reduce consumption of it.

A key claim underlying these arguments holds that globally, meat production generates more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector. However, this claim is demonstrably wrong, as I will show. And its persistence has led to false assumptions about the linkage between meat and climate change.

My research focuses on ways in which animal agriculture affects air quality and climate change. In my view, there are many reasons for either choosing animal protein or opting for a vegetarian selection. However, foregoing meat and meat products is not the environmental panacea many would have us believe. And if taken to an extreme, it also could have harmful nutritional consequences. . . 

How to text and drive

March 15, 2019

How to Dad’s safe driving advice:

Learn lesson from Colorado

March 13, 2019

Ben Cort, an anti-cannabis campaigner has warned New Zealand against legalizing recreational cannabis  after seeing the effects of the drug in his home state of Colorado:

Marijuana was legalised for recreational use in Colorado in 2012, meaning anyone 21 years or older can use, carry and grow the drug there. . .

“I spent five years at the University of Colorado hospital when we legalised and we went from seeing paranoia associated with it every now and again to multiple times in a day.”

He said legalisation brings with it forms of the drug that have much higher THC levels.

“People don’t understand that we’re not talking about a joint.

“People are smoking vapourisers that come in the form of functional pens that you can write and then hit… it’s not weed, it’s a concentrate. An 80 percent THC concentrate.” . . .

Legalisation has led to the commercialisation of THC which is far, far stronger than the cannabis of old.

It is an addictive substance. The stronger and more accessible the product is, the greater the problems associated with it.

He said legalisation hasn’t stopped people from using the drug dangerously.

“The driving under the influence, the working under the influence – it has changed my home.” . . .

We already have a problem with people driving under the influence of legal and illegal drugs and with people unable to work safely because they are drug impaired.

”You need to understand that we are not talking about the plant, the drug that people consumed in years past. It has fundamentally changed and that genie can’t go back in the bottle.”

“We have changed from a plant with two-to-three percent THC in it, to something that is 90-plus percent THC, put into sodas, water, gummy bears, tea, coffee, it is not the same drug.” . . .

New Zealand can learn the lesson from Colorado.

Suzy Ferguson interviewed Cort here.

Rural round-up

February 27, 2019

South Canterbury’s Opuha Dam an example for the country – Joanne Holden:

Opuha Dam is a water storage “success story” National MPs would like to see adopted around the country.

The 20-year-old dam was the first stop on Friday for National’s Primary Industries Caucus Committee – hosted by Rangitata MP Andrew Falloon – as they toured Mid and South Canterbury’s primary industry spots.

On the trip were MPs Nathan Guy, Jacqui Dean, Matt King, Hamish Walker, and List MP Maureen Pugh, who also visited Heartland Potato Chips in Washdyke, the Managed Aquifer Recharge in Hinds, and spoke to South Canterbury community members about the future of primary industries. . .


Farm conflicts in tourist hotspot – Neal Wallace:

A billionaire lives on a lifestyle property on one side of Chris and Emma Dagg’s Queenstown farm. On the other is a multi-millionaire.

Land Squeeze Dinkus 1The exclusive Millbrook Resort is nearby and actor Tom Cruise was a neighbour while filming in New Zealand.

The Daggs’ 424ha farm in the Wakatipu Basin between Queenstown and Arrowtown includes some of NZ’s most sort after land for residential development.

A short drive from Queenstown, the rural setting provides a desirable place for the rich and famous to live, putting pressure on landowners in a region short of land, houses and sections. . . 

Rain in Waikato a good start – more please, farmers say:

Rain in Waikato was good news for farmers but more is needed to keep the threat of drought at bay. 

Until the weekend, the region had only received 0.4 millimetres of rain leaving soil moisture levels dangerously low. 

Federated Farmers Waikato president Andrew McGiven said the 10 millimetres of rain received over the weekend “was a good start”.  . . 

Lanercost open to all farmers – Tim Fulton:

The first Future Farm is contributing to the rehabilitation of a bruised Canterbury farm and community. Tim Fulton reports.

Visitors to Lanercost can see its potential as a sheep and beef demonstration farm, the lessees say.

The North Canterbury hill country property near Cheviot is 1310ha modelled on a farm at Lincoln that has allowed the dairy industry to assess innovation.

Farmer Carl Forrester and Mendip Hills manager Simon Lee have a lease to run the 1310ha Lanercost in partnership with Beef + Lamb New Zealand and Lanercost’s owner, the T D Whelan Trust. . .

Loneliness in farming community is ‘heart-breaking’, police officers say

Police officers have highlighted how ‘heart-breaking’ it is to see some farmers suffer from extreme loneliness and isolation. The issue of loneliness in the farming community has been highlighted by Dyfed-Powys Police, who have a small team of specialist rural officers. PC Gerwyn Davies and PCSO Jude Parr are working closely with mental healthy charity the DPJ Foundation. They have referred several farmers to the charity for counselling and mental health support. . . 

Soil ecologist challenges mainstream thinking on climate change – Candace Krebs:

How cropland and pastures are managed is the most effective way to remedy climate change, an approach that isn’t getting the attention it deserves, according to a leading soil ecologist from Australia who speaks around the world on soil health.

“Water that sits on top of the ground will evaporate. Water vapor, caused by water that evaporates because it hasn’t infiltrated, is the greenhouse gas that has increased to the greatest extent since the Industrial Revolution,” said Christine Jones, while speaking at the No Till on the Plains Conference in Wichita in late January. . . 

When politics of birth comes before its purpose

February 25, 2019

Why would government officials try to discredit a critical piece of research that raised concerns about maternity care and why wasn’t it followed up?

In the months leading up to the release of a study which asked how safe it is to give birth in New Zealand, health officials were busy.

As a courtesy, researchers from Otago University had advised the Ministry of Health well in advance the study looking into maternity care outcomes would be coming out. Closer to the date, they provided an advance copy to the department.

The study found evidence to suggest all babies were not being born equal. Those in midwife-led care were at risk of poorer outcomes than babies in doctor-led care. The authors, Diana Sarfati and Ellie Wernham, were careful to point out their support for a midwifery-led system.

However, their conclusions were clear: the current way maternity care is provided in New Zealand is not as good as it could be.

“It may well be that midwife-led care is optimal within the context of well-organized systems,” the authors wrote.

At the very least this should have led to more research, but what did the Ministry do?

In the months they knew about the study – and the nine weeks they had a copy of it – ministry officials did little to suggest they would take its findings seriously.

Instead, an investigation by Stuff has found the ministry actively worked to try and obscure the results. Communications in the months before the study’s release show staffers worked on how to avoid “fallout,” and in one case shared plans to discredit the study ahead of its release with industry body the College of Midwives.

The ministry this week rejected suggestions it underplayed the findings of the study.

But documents obtained under the Official Information Act show attempts to spin the results of the study and avoid the spotlight on the safety of the system, into which 60,000-odd babies are born each year. These were met with stiff resistance from Otago University. 

But documents obtained under the Official Information Act show attempts to spin the results of the study and avoid the spotlight on the safety of the system, into which 60,000-odd babies are born each year. These were met with stiff resistance from Otago University.

Ministry officials took the unusual step of meeting with Professor Peter Crampton, then the head of Otago University’s Medical School and the pro-vice chancellor of health sciences. In an interview with Stuff,Crampton said it was clear the ministry felt the study was flawed. He disagreed, backing the university’s research. . . 

The Ministry felt? Ministries shouldn’t act on feelings, they should act on fact based thoughts and research but:

No further research was commissioned.

The study fell from the headlines; Sarfati went back to cancer research, and former midwife Wernham is in her last year of training to be a doctor.

But Crampton, who has had oversight of hundreds of studies in more than four decades in academia, can’t forget.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like it. The extent to which [the researchers] felt beaten up and traumatised by the experience was way outside of the normal,” he says.

“There should have been more high quality research set up to explore the issues that were raised, and we should have been doing this from day one. The chilling effect of the response to the results basically means this hasn’t happened.

“In my view, this was more about the management of a contentious issue than a policy engagement with important findings.

“If this area is too hard to research, then this is a big problem.”

While all research was vulnerable to critique, the authors had been clear about the limitations of the research and to ignore the results was a mistake, he says.

“The [ministry’s] response implied a problematising of the research in a way I found very unusual and disquieting. They viewed the results as highly problematic, and my general sense was that there was a considerable effort to explain them away.” . . 


Birth is a highly politicised business.

Practices have quite rightly moved away from the old system where mothers-to-be lay back with their legs in stirrups, everyone did what doctors said and midwives were undervalued.

But the pendulum has swung too far to the opposite extreme where too often birth politics gets in the way of the safety of both mother and baby and those involved lose sight of the point of pregnancy – the safe delivery of a healthy baby.

Problems have been exacerbated by the exit of doctors from obstetrics and a shortage of midwives.

Problems with midwife shortages – particularly in rural and low-income areas – and an unsustainable working model for midwives which means long working hours, burnout, and insufficient pay have been long identified as issues.

Wernham and Sarfati’s study was the first ever to take an overarching look at the safety of babies within the current system. The differences she and Sarfati found were not small; across the five-year study of more than 244,000 babies, they found those in doctor-led care had lower chances of poor birth outcomes.

This included 55 per cent less chance of oxygen deprivation during delivery, 39 per cent lower odds of neonatal encephalopathy, and 48 per cent less chance of a low Apgar score, a measure of a baby’s wellbeing after delivery.

There was also a lower rate of stillbirth and newborn babies dying under medical-led care. This link was statistically weak due to the small number of baby deaths in the five years covered – 1.84 per 1000 births for midwife-led care (410 total deaths, from 20 weeks gestation to the first 27 days of life) and 1.31 per 1000 births for doctor-led care (27 total deaths) – but it was there.

Of course, comparing women with midwives as their lead maternity carer to those who have doctors is not necessarily fair.

After all, doctors – counting GPs and obstetricians – look after less than ten per cent of mums. It is very possible the types of mothers they see are different – mums who smoke might be more likely to see a midwife, while healthier mums might pay for a private obstetrician, for example.

The researchers knew these things could effect the results. So they used a mathematical model to account for factors like smoking, age, ethnicity, deprivation, and weight. “Women are not comparable, but the design adjusted for that,” says Otago University epidemiologist and emeritus professor Charlotte Paul, who has reviewed the research. “The authors restricted their population to women who were having single births and term births to make them more alike. Then they collected information on characteristics that differed between the groups and statistically adjusted for them. The results remained.” . . 

But the results didn’t fit the prevailing ideology and raising questions as this research did led to defensiveness rather than answers.

Independent policy analyst and researcher Dr Jess Berentson-Shaw co-directs think-tank The Workshop and is the author of A Matter of Fact: Talking truth in a post-truth world.

She says the midwifery-led maternity model was a major policy change which, like many in New Zealand, was never evaluated.

“We should always be exploring what models of care are working best for the people they are supposed to serve – mothers, babies, families – and that includes midwives themselves. We can’t shy away from it, shut it down, or pretend it doesn’t exist,” Berentson-Shaw says.

In maternity, with its historic power dynamics of a women-led profession fighting for autonomy, questions about the system were often not considered objectively. “There’s this feeling that you can’t critique maternity care without critiquing midwives. How has it got so unconstructive? How has this happened to the point that we cannot have a conversation about standards of care?

That the Ministry and College of Midwives appear unready to even have the conversation is a big part of the problem. The only bias either body should have is towards the health of both mothers and babies.

Sarfati doesn’t know what she could have done differently. “It was so draining and exhausting and seemed to have so little effect, and it was so stressful personally. It had a big impact on Ellie and me for quite a long time, and despite all our efforts it had no impact at all.

“All we were trying to do was evaluate this major policy change that had happened. We have a really unique system in New Zealand, and the research they use to support it is based on systems completely different to ours. It was an attempt to look at that.

“It suggested there were problems, which isn’t to say the entire system should be thrown away, but you need to address them like any professional group should.”

David Farrar calls this disgraceful behaviour by the MoH.

Stephen Franks gives due credit to the journalist in Great Michelle Duff journalism on MOH surrender to witchcraft

The latter isn’t a criticism of all midwives but it is a criticism of the system which has put the politics of birth before its purpose.

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