Are we in denial?

15/04/2014

Are we an nation in denial?

This is the question Sir David Skegg, president of the Royal Society of New Zealand asks:

. . . Every New Zealander knows that one of the worst threats to our natural environment is the degradation of rivers and lakes.

Some fresh waterways that were previously clean and inviting have become choked with weeds, slime and algal blooms – with adverse effects on insects, fish, and birds as well.

Two other facts are widely known. First, a major reason for the pollution of waterways is the expansion of the dairy industry.

Second, dairy products are New Zealand’s biggest source of export dollars.

Every one of us benefits from the success of the dairy industry. Without its recent expansion, our economic situation might be gloomy today.

Driving through the South Island, I have seen small towns that were dying rejuvenated by local dairy conversions. And I am conscious the sectors in which I work – health, education and research – are crucially dependent on a vibrant economy.

In November, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment issued a report in which she concludes that New Zealand faces ”a classic economy versus environment dilemma”. Jan Wright’s advice is worded diplomatically, but her message is blunt.

Unless New Zealand takes urgent steps to slow the expansion of dairying, many more rivers and lakes will be degraded. None of the steps being taken to lessen environmental impacts can reverse this trend in the near future.

This sobering conclusion emerges ineluctably from analyses linking two models – one predicting changes in land use between now and 2020, and the other predicting the amounts of unwanted nutrients (especially nitrogen) running off farms into streams and rivers.

Dairy farming has become more intensive, leading to a remarkable 60% increase in productivity per hectare over the past 20 years. This has been achieved by applying more water, more supplementary feed and more nitrogen fertiliser to the land.

While good news in terms of revenue, such intensification leads to increased run-off of pollutants into rivers. But the modelling in Dr Wright’s report shows that although intensification is an important factor in the degradation of rivers, the conversion of more and more land to dairy farms is having the greater impact nationwide.

Despite rhetoric from critics about ”dirty dairying”, many farmers have made sterling efforts to reduce the run-off of nutrients from their land. Measures taken include fencing streams and planting ”riparian strips” along river banks.

Unfortunately, such precautions have a limited effect on the seepage of nitrogen (mainly from animal urine patches) into waterways. Other measures – such as employing nitrogen fertiliser more efficiently or breeding animals that excrete less nitrogen – may eventually yield benefits.

Yet a group of experts convened by the commissioner concluded that even taking an optimistic view, plausible improvements by 2020 could at best balance the effects of likely further intensification.

They could not counteract the much greater threat from expanding the number of hectares used for dairying.

Forecasts based on modelling can never be exact, and sometimes they can be wrong. In the four months since Dr Wright’s report was released, however, I have seen no expert rebuttal of her main conclusion.

I have tried to read all the statements issued by agencies involved. That has been a depressing task, because so many have ducked the key point. Consider a couple of examples.

DairyNZ assured citizens that it is ”working with farmers, regional councils and other stakeholders to contribute to desired water outcomes”. IrrigationNZ rubbished the report and thought ”a far more useful question to be tackled is how we grow farming whilst at the same time improve water quality”.

Two of the most cautious and realistic responses were from Fonterra and Federated Farmers.

The Minister for the Environment was less troubled. While acknowledging the need for more work, she was ”confident that with the combined will of our council, communities, iwi, and water users – and with the support of our science community – we will see significant water quality gains within a generation”.

Scientific research certainly has a role to play, but unfortunately investment in this area has been ramped up only recently and is still modest in comparison with the size of the industry.

There is an urgent need to build scientific capability, and I hope the proposed National Science Challenge (”Our Land and Water”) will help to achieve this. We need to be realistic about what can be delivered in a short period: Dr Wright’s experts did not envisage any breakthroughs that could improve things materially by 2020.

The Government has targets that appear mutually contradictory. One target is to double the value of agricultural exports by 2025. As part of this effort, irrigation schemes are being funded to expand the areas suitable for dairying.

On the other hand, the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management requires that the overall quality of fresh water within each region must be maintained or improved. In the light of Dr Wright’s report, can anyone explain how these aims could be reconciled?

We face urgent and difficult choices. If we want to restrict the expansion of dairying in vulnerable river catchments, are we prepared to contemplate a less buoyant economy – at least in the short term?

If we do not limit the expansion, what will be the impact on our second major export earner (tourism) as well as on our quality of life?

How could restrictions be implemented in a way that is equitable for farmers and regions? But before it’s too late, let’s stop pretending that we can have our cake and eat it too.

Sir David has very clearly outlined the issues, acknowledging both the need for clean water and economic growth.

There are already restrictions on dairying in some places.

There is also far more effort going into cleaning up waterways that have been degraded and in maintaining and improving on those with higher quality.

And there is a pressing need for more science capability and for new technology such as the system designed to eliminate waste water on farms:

A new Kiwi designed water filtration system which can eliminate waste water could save New Zealand wineries thousands of dollars annually, has significant export potential for international wine producers and is already being championed by the local dairy industry.

The new waste management process created by Scott Biotechnologies and Allan Scott winemaker Matt Elrick, is designed to rapidly filter the winery’s waste fluids allowing the clean, odourless by product to be reused as irrigation for the vines.

Elrick says the new prototype was created to deal with the Allan Scott winery’s wastewater after growing frustration with traditional wastewater disposal methods, which were expensive, created ponding and associated issues.

He says wineries throughout New Zealand have already tried and failed to come up with a better system for dealing with waste-water at peak times, but many simply revert back to the simple septic tank system.

“With a traditional tank system wastewater settles in a tank, overflows into the next tank, settles there then overflows into the next tank. This means at harvest there often isn’t enough settling time so solids and nutrients tend to jump through the systems faster than the system needs to allow it to be treated, that means you end up with a pretty bad smell,” he says.

The new system which Elrick helped design, means wastewater will now be pumped through a spin separator which uses a cannon to create a centrifugal force and allow clean water to be ejected out of the top and sludge to be forced out of the bottom.

“The clear water goes direct to a discharge tank where it is further filtered and discharged via drip irrigation line onto the vineyard. The remaining sludge waste solids goes through a series of chambers where it can be easily scattered around the vineyard to release its nutrients,” he says.

Elrick believes the technology has significant potential for both wineries and other industries which produce wastewater – including the growing dairy industry.

It is capable of rapidly processing the waste product from winery’s entire harvest without any delay or loss of production efficiency.

“Excess waste production is a huge issues for New Zealand’s horticultural and agricultural industries. In addition to making us more environmentally friendly, this cost reduction technology will also make us more competitive internationally.” says Elrick.

“Essentially we are using our winery wash-downs to create a reusable resource, which is reducing the amount of water drawn from the bore to irrigate our vineyard,” he says. . .

I don’t think we are in denial.

There should be no debate about the importance of clean water.

It’s what we drink, wash with and swim in.

But nor should there be any debate about the importance of economic growth for the social and environmental benefits it can provide.

We can’t have our cake and eat it too. But with good science and improved technology we should be able to have high environmental standards and economic growth.

 

 


Rural round-up

07/08/2013

Fonterra problem highlights danger of being a one-trick pony – Allan Barber:

It’s a change for the dairy industry to capture the negative agricultural headlines instead of the meat or kiwifruit sectors. Unfortunately for everybody in New Zealand the dairy industry has become such a critical and large part of our economy that the whey protein botulism scare has already caused, and will continue to cause, major concerns for our global dairy trade.

Only last week Fonterra was again the star of the economy with a $3 billion boost to farmers’ earnings because of a 50c lift in the payout. Yet this week the company’s very scale has been called into question. People are now asking whether Fonterra can survive its third health scare in five years.

Even if this is unnecessary scaremongering, another question which would have been unthinkable a week ago is being asked. Is Fonterra too big for the country or, to quote the Waikato Times, its gumboots? This ought to make those calling for one mega meat company hesitate for a moment, before they find that they are asking for something which may contain the seeds of its own destruction. . .

Winegrowers fear China backlash – Penny Wardle:

Marlborough winegrowers fear the discovery of a botulism risk in Fonterra milk products could taint the reputation of New Zealand wine and food in China.

China has suspended imports of products that contain Fonterra’s whey protein concentrate and a product known as base infant powder formula.

Allan Scott of Allan Scott Family Winemakers said everyone in the industry was nervous about market reaction to the contamination debacle which has dominated news headlines since Saturday. . . .

Scientist collars innovation prize – Jill Galloway:

A senior AgResearch scientist has been highly commended for his cow collar, winning $1000 at the Innovate Manawatu contest last week.

Keith Betteridge said he would form a start-up company, FarmSense, to produce the cow collar.

It measures pasture continuously during grazing, with results being sent to a central data handling centre.

“Only 20 to 25 per cent of farmers regularly measure pasture mass over their farms. The rest do it by eye, but according to dairy consultants that can be pretty inaccurate.” . . .

Election date now certain but policies unclear for farmers

With the election confirmed for September 7, the nation’s peak agriculture advocacy body, the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) is looking to politicians to provide clarity on their policies, and commit to action for the agriculture sector.

NFF President Duncan Fraser said Australian agriculture needs to be a priority for all sides of Parliament this coming election. The NFF will be looking for agriculture to be elevated in the policy debate between major parties.

“Now that we have certainty in terms of the election date, we’re looking equal certainty in policy issues, so farmers can get on with their job. We encourage all political parties to consider how they can best serve a strong, vibrant agriculture sector that ensures that Australians continue to have access to a sustainable supply of Australian grown food and fibre,” Mr Fraser said. . .

£160m agri-atech strategy ‘verging on insulting’

The Agricultural Engineers Association has branded the government’s £160m investment strategy for developing agricultural technology “very disappointing”.

Roger Lane-Nott, the director general of both the AEA and Milking Equipment Association, made the comments after the agri-tech strategy to invest more money in science and technology was launched two weeks ago.

“The fact that farm equipment was given a couple of small paragraphs was verging on insulting to an industry that has a turnover of nearly £4bn in the UK and is a fundamental part of agricultural production,” said Mr Lane-Nott. . .

Collier heads NZIPM:

EAST COAST AgFirst consultant Hilton Collier is the new president of the New Zealand Institute of Primary Industry Management, replacing Wayne Allan who’s completed the standard two-year term in the role.

“Wayne has been a driving force in developing NZIPIM’s new strategic plan and instrumental in its implementation,” says Collier, who says there’s an increasing need for NZIPIM and its members to play a leadership role within the primary industry, within and beyond the farm gate.

“This includes positioning our farmers and growers to capture global market opportunities and ensure we have a highly profitable primary sector to levels New Zealand formerly enjoyed as one of the best standards of living in the OECD.” . . .

My first attempt at homemade sausages – Cabbage Tree Farm:

After much procrastination I finally got around to making sausages. A few months ago we bought a meat grinder with a sausage making attachment and I had a bit of a hiccup with getting the correct type of skins – I bought edible collagen casings which did not fit on the end of the sausage maker….oops! Finally I tracked down a butcher that could supply the natural ‘hog’ casings (pig intestines) and we had some pork scraps that our butcher bagged up specifically for us to make sausages, from when he butchered our last lot of home raised pigs.

I did a quick search on You Tube to make sure I knew what to do, and to get some recipes. In the end I chose to make up some chorizo sausages after watching this helpful tutorial. . .


Rural round-up

18/06/2013

Address to New Zealand National Fieldays – Tim Groser:

This arresting phrase – ‘Agriculture: New Zealand’s Silicon Valley’ – is not mine. It is Sir Graeme Harrison’s and I can’t improve on it. Sir Graeme, you will recall, is the founder and Chairman of ANZCO Foods, one of New Zealand’s largest exporters.

I like the phrase for three complementary reasons:

· First, it conveys a real sense of optimism – and we have every reason in this country to be optimistic about our future in the first quarter of the 21st Century.

· Second, it captures the reality that agriculture will be as important to New Zealand’s future as it has been to our past.

· Third, it also captures a more subtle idea about our agriculture future. Yes – agriculture will continue to be the economic backbone of our country’s export future. But it will be a vastly more sophisticated agriculture with innovation at its centre. . .

Major New Zealand presence at the International Maritime Organisation:

New Zealand has stepped up its engagement with the International Maritime Organization, with the appointment this week of the Rt Hon Sir Lockwood Smith as New Zealand’s first Permanent Representative.

The Director of Maritime New Zealand, Keith Manch, also participated in the first-ever Symposium on the Future of Ship Safety, held at IMO headquarters in London.

Sir Lockwood, New Zealand High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, presented his credentials to the IMO’s Secretary-General, Koji Sekimizu, today (London time). . .

Winter shearing has payoffs – Jill Galloway:

Sheep might want their wool on their backs for the cold winter months, but farmers say they shear in winter to get heavier lambs and better wool.

However, many urban people see shorn sheep in the winter and are sure they must be feeling the cold.

Shearers have been working at David and Helen Worsfold’s farm near Kiwitea, in Manawatu. He said 700 of his ewes were being shorn with a “cover comb”. . .

Beekeepers Assn turns 100:

The National Beekeepers Association is 100 this year. And the centenary is being celebrated at the association’s annual conference in Ashburton this week.

The national president, Barry Foster, says the industry has had its ups and downs since regional groups of beekeepers formed the national body in 1913. . .

Farmer uses IRB to save stock – Thomas Mead:

A Dunedin farmer was forced to mount an aquatic rescue mission this afternoon to save a herd of cows stuck on his flooded farm.

In a change from the normal four-wheel-drive, farmer Chris Ryalls used an inflatable rescue boat to move around 20 heifers and their calves away from the deep water.

The nearby Taieri River hit record levels following torrential downpours in the region and left much of his Outram farm submerged. . .

Allan Scott Pinot Noir – The Perfect Dinner Guest This Winter

The table is set, the logs are on the fire and delicious, rustic aromas fill the air – so complete the scene and take your annual seasonal soirée to the next level with Allan Scott Pinot Noir, the ultimate dinner guest!

Boasting rich Marlborough dark cherry and raspberry notes with hints of wild herbs, Allan Scott The Hounds Marlborough Pinot Noir 2011 offers a soft and well balanced palate with subtle oak influences – the perfect indulgence for elegant winter dining. . .

 


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