Rural round-up

April 30, 2018

NZ scientists’ anti-cow burp vaccine – Eloise Gibson:

Livestock has directly caused about a quarter of industrial-age warming. Scientists in New Zealand are working on an anti-burp vaccine for those methane-emitting cows. Eloise Gibson reports. 

In a cream-colored metal barn a few minutes’ drive from Palmerston North a black-and-white dairy cow stands in what looks like an oversize fish tank. Through the transparent Plexiglas walls, she can see three other cows in adjacent identical cubicles munching their food in companionable silence. Tubes sprout from the tops of the boxes, exchanging fresh air for the stale stuff inside. The cows, their owners say, could help slow climate change.

Livestock has directly caused about one-quarter of Earth’s warming in the industrial age, and scientists from the US departments of agriculture and energy say bigger, more resource-heavy cattle are accelerating the problem. Contrary to popular belief, cows contribute to global warming mostly through their burps, not their flatulence. So about a dozen scientists here at AgResearch Grasslands, a government-owned facility, are trying to develop a vaccine to stop those burps. “This is not a standard vaccine,” says Peter Janssen, the anti-burp program’s principal research scientist. “It’s proving to be an elusive little genie to get out of the bottle.” . . 

Local choppers can be the difference between life and death:

Saving lives is more important than saving dollars, and that should be reflected in decisions about the nation’s rescue helicopter services, Federated Farmers President Katie Milne says.

6Existing Te Anau, Taupo/Rotorua and Coromandel rescue chopper services were missing from a list of bases proposed under new, larger area contracts put out by the National Ambulance Sector Office (NASO).  Late on Tuesday came news that the Central Plateau could put in their own tender, but it would have to meet the new specifications to be successful.

Rescue helicopters are generally funded 50 per cent by government and 50 per cent by the community through sponsorship and donations.  NASO says the current model is financially unsustainable long-term, and wants all rescue choppers to be twin-engined. . . 

Chilled meat trial proves successful – Neal Wallace:

The meat industry is optimistic the success of trial shipments of chilled beef and sheep meat to China will be extended to other plants.

About 800 tonnes of beef and 400 tonnes of sheep meat were shipped to China from 10 approved plants from June to December, which Meat Industry Association chief executive Tim Ritchie said went well.

“I am not aware of any impediment to suggest it shouldn’t be broadened.” . . 

Dairy farmers key to new food revolution – Gerald Piddock:

City-based future food systems such as cultured meat and vertical farming will rely heavily on the nutrient and water management expertise of dairy farmers, Australian science writer Julian Cribb says.

Food production that took in the emerging innovations would shift to the cities, Cribb said.

For the new systems to succeed, all of the freshwater and wasted nutrients dumped into the ocean via urban sewage and wastewater would have be captured and used in the new food production.

This was where dairy industry expertise would be critical, he said. . .

Christchurch city schoolboy already farming own flock of sheep – Heather Chalmers:

Growing up in a city all his life hasn’t stopped Angus Grant from becoming a farmer, even before he has left high school.

Grant, 15, already has a flock of 50 ewes that he will lamb this spring.

From the Christchurch suburb of Papanui and despite having no family farming background, Grant has always known he wanted to be a farmer. “My mother had been reading me a book about cows and my first word was cow.

“I watched Country Calendar when I was three and that was it.” . .

Farm Babe: no livestock aren’t destroying the planet – Michelle Miller:

The rumours are swirling, but how truthful are they? We’ve heard time and time again from people who say, “Go vegan, save the planet!” But let’s investigate those claims, shall we? First off, livestock don’t only give us meat. What many people may not be aware of is there are actually 185 uses for a pig, from cement to renewable energy, paint to brushes, and life-saving pharmaceuticals. If you haven’t yet seen this TED talk from Christien Meindertsma, check it out! There is lots of fascinating info there. There are also these byproducts that come from cattle. . 


Rural round-up

December 1, 2017

Essential to keep close watch on alternative products – Allan Barber:

This is the year when plant based alternatives to dairy and meat have suddenly started to pose a more serious threat to the traditional animal based products on which New Zealand farmers, and our economy as a whole, depend. There is no danger these alternatives will suddenly take over the world, leaving dairy and sheep and beef farmers wondering what to do with their stranded assets. But, to prevent being taken unpleasantly by surprise, it will be necessary for the dairy and red meat sectors to keep a close watch on these competitors and track their progress with global consumers.

Perfect Day is a San Francisco based start-up company which has developed what it claims is a ‘cow-free milk’ that tastes like the real thing because it contains casein and whey produced by inserting a cow’s DNA into a particular strain of yeast and mixed with plant based nutrients and fats. The result is a lactose free milk alternative which uses 65% less energy, generates 84% less greenhouse gas emissions, requires 91% less land and 98% less water. . . 

How can we make dairy sustainable – Keith Woodford:

The big challenge for New Zealand dairy is how it can become sustainable in the coming decades. This sustainability includes both financial and environmental sustainability. And it needs to occur in the context of both scepticism and some antipathy from within the urban community.

One of the challenges for our new Government is to come to terms with the extent to which dairy and indeed the broader pastoral industries provide a key pillar that underpins the export economy. Without a vibrant export economy, there is no practical way we can address poverty and inequality within Zealand.   However, that is not the way that many New Zealanders currently see it.  And therein lies the challenge.

I live in an urban community, and my assessment is that most urban people think we do have too many cows.  When I ask what alternatives they recommend, the responses are typically naïve. . . 

Cutting down on cow burps to ease climate change – Eloise Gibson:

In a cream-colored metal barn two hours north of Wellington, New Zealand, a black-and-white dairy cow stands in what looks like an oversize fish tank. Through the transparent Plexiglas walls, she can see three other cows in adjacent identical cubicles munching their food in companionable silence. Tubes sprout from the tops of the boxes, exchanging fresh air for the stale stuff inside. The cows, their owners say, could help slow climate change.

Livestock has directly caused about one-quarter of Earth’s warming in the industrial age, and scientists from the U.S. departments of agriculture and energy say bigger, more resource-heavy cattle are accelerating the problem. Contrary to popular belief, cows contribute to global warming mostly through their burps, not their flatulence. So about a dozen scientists here at AgResearch Grasslands, a government-owned facility, are trying to develop a vaccine to stop those burps. “This is not a standard vaccine,” says Peter Janssen, the anti-burp program’s principal research scientist. “It’s proving to be an elusive little genie to get out of the bottle.” . . 

Beef + Lamb New Zealand elected onto Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef board of directors:

Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) has been elected on to the Board of Directors of the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) for a two-year term.

The GRSB is a global initiative developed to advance continuous improvement in sustainability of the global beef value chain through leadership, science, engagement and collaboration.

“This is about B+LNZ on behalf of New Zealand beef farmers and the wider industry stepping up into a global leadership role,” says CEO Sam McIvor. “It is also recognition of the high st anding of New Zealand and our beef farmers when it comes to sustainability globally. . . 

Enhancing native biodiversity in agroecosystems:

Project 3.3

Leaders: Professor David Norton (University of Canterbury) and Associate Professor Hannah Buckley (Auckland University of Technology)

Mission Statement

This project aims to rebuild structure and enhance ecological function of native biodiversity on sheep and beef farms in Aotearoa New Zealand. By working with universities, research institutes, regional councils, iwi and farming communities across the country we will gain a well-rounded view of social and cultural attitudes towards biodiversity in agroecosystems. We will fill gaps in the current knowledge regarding how biodiversity contributes to ecological processes, economic outcomes and human well-being across these farming landscapes. By doing so we will learn how to manage biodiversity in agroecosystems in a way that results in gains for both farming and nature conservation.

Summary

Sheep and beef farms make up nearly 40% of New Zealand’s landscape and play a vital role in our economy. We know that native biodiversity can help agroecosystem resilience, but we don’t know what is required to create and support changes in how this biodiversity is regarded, protected and managed in agricultural landscapes. Given that these farms usually occur in the lowlands in New Zealand – where there is the least native biodiversity remaining – they might be the only opportunity we have to sustain some of our taonga (treasured) species. . . 

NZ Dairy Industry Awards not just about winning:

The first solo female to win the Dairy Manager of the Year category in the 2017 New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards believes her win proves that women are capable of being successful in senior roles within the dairy industry.

29-year-old Manawatu Farm Manager Hayley Hoogendyk says her success also shows that the dairy industry is a fast-changing environment that is always looking for the best result.

“One of the hurdles for women years ago was that farming required brawn and skills that supposedly only males possess. It is now obvious that there are a huge amount of aspects involved in dairy farming, some of which your ‘typical female’ is better at than most males,” says Hayley. . . 

 

From potato eaters to world leaders in agriculture – Priti Kumar & Fokke Fennema:

Van Gogh’s famous painting of Potato Eaters depicts a family of poor peasants seated around a dinner table eating their staple fare. The artist confessed that this work is deeply reflective of the hard work that Dutch peasants have to do to earn a bare meal. Van Gogh frequently painted the harvest and often compared the season to his own art, and how he would someday reap all that he had put into it. 

Since those difficult times in the late 1800s, the tiny country of the Netherlands (pop: 17 mill; about the size of Haryana state in India) has come a long way. Matching sheer ingenuity with technological prowess, the Netherlands today is one of the world’s most agriculturally productive countries, feeding people across the globe from its meager land area. Indeed, this small nation is now the world’s second-largest exporter of agri-food products including vegetables, fruits, potatoes, meat, milk and eggs; some 6% of world trade in fruits and 16% in vegetables comes from the Netherlands.

But how exactly did they do this? In October 2017, we went to find out. Our team – of World Bank and Indian government officials working on agribusiness, rural transformation and watershed development projects – sought to learn from Dutch experience and identify opportunities for future collaboration. We met farmer cooperatives, private companies, growers’ associations, academia, social enterprises, and government agencies, and gained fascinating insights. . . 

 


Grass is ‘green’ but . . .

April 13, 2016

New Zealand’s contributions to greenhouse gas emissions are small on a global scale and, unusually for a developed country, a high proportion come from animals.

Millions of dollars is going into research which is showing promise but there is a road block to circumvent:

AgResearch scientists have developed a genetically modified ryegrass that cuts greenhouse gas emissions by up to 30% but biotechnology experts warn regulations could delay its use.

Though it has several environmental benefits and could boost production it faces regulatory hurdles here because it has been genetically engineered.

The scientists have shown in the laboratory the ryegrass, called High Metabolisable Energy (HME), can reduce methane emissions from animals by 15% to 30% while modelling suggests a reduction in nitrous oxide of up to 20%.

It has also shown resilience to dry weather and can increase milk production by up to 12%.

Environmentalists have berated agriculture for not reducing greenhouse gas emissions but if laboratory results are replicated in the field, HME could reignite the GM debate.

This reminds me of the question – what would an enviromentalists do if they saw an endangered bird eating an endangered plant? – but this isn’t a joke.

Research has produced grass which could reduce emissions and boost production but many of the people who are demanding urgent action on climate change are also likely to be opposed to this because it’s genetically modified.

AgResearch Grasslands principal plant biotechnology scientist Greg Bryan said HME could transform NZ farming by reducing its environmental footprint and improving animal productivity.

“The potential value to GDP based on modelling we have done is in the range of $2 billion to $5b a year in additional revenue depending on the adoption rate by farmers.”

But New Zealand’s regulations mean HME field trials would have to be done overseas then repeated here.

Earlier last week scientists and science leaders attending a NZ BIO symposium at Massey University warned NZ’s GM laws had not kept pace with technology such as gene editing.

Much of the developed world was embracing GM and while NZ scientists were leaders in this science, regulations might prevent its use.

New Zealand leads the world in many areas of agriculture but the blind opposition to GM is handicapping our scientists.

Approval for field trials was technically possible but realistically difficult, with restrictions that no reproductive material left the site, thus preventing plant breeding studies. 

In an interview after the symposium, Bryan said international science companies were not interested in a small, temperate, pastoral farming system, making HME a NZ solution to a NZ farming system problem.

The 15-year HME project cost AgResearch $24 million with another $24m expected to be spent before it was ready for commercialisation. . . 

Seed multiplication in containment glasshouses was under way ahead of field trials planned for 2018-19 and animal nutrition trials in 2020. Depending on those results approval would be sought for NZ trials.

Bryan said GM organisms had been used for over 20 years in agriculture and the growing number of products on the market had not caused health issues for humans or animals eating them. . . 

On the contrary, developments like golden rice have proven health benefits.

This grass is “green” but what’s the bet the people who consider themselves greenest will oppose further trials the most.

Caution with new technology is sensible, blind opposition is not.

 


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