How much does Minister know?

February 19, 2019

Conservation Minister Eugene Sage has ruled out genetic modification in the fight against pests:

 Predator Free 2050 aims to rid New Zealand of the most damaging introduced predators by 2050, and has a number of government agencies involved in the plan including the Department of Conservation and the Ministry for Primary Industries.

But Predator Free 2050 is forbidden from carrying out any research which could lead to the use of genetic modification or gene editing, a letter written by Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage shows.

The letter of direction to Predator Free 2050 obtained by lobby group Life Sciences Network said its primary tasks were to invest in breakthrough scientific research, but not to research into genetically modified organisms and technologies or gene editing, and to raise funds for co-investment by other (non-government) parties, in landscape scale projects and breakthrough science, excluding any science involving genetic modification.

“Gene technologies are problematic and untested and have significant risks.” . . 

This directive counters officials’ views that GE could be an alternative to 1080:

“It could be efficient and much more cost-effective method of pest control than conventional approaches.

“For potential application to replace knockdown tools such as aerial 1080, they would be most effective for short generation pests such as rodents, and less effective for longer generation pests such as stoats and possums, due to their requirement to spread over generations.” . . 

The minister’s refusal to permit sciencetific exploration is rank stupidity.

It’s also hypocritical coming from a member of the party that exhorts everyone to accept the science on climate change.

But how much does the minister know about the science when the strongest opponents of GM food know the least and think they know the most?

The most extreme opponents of genetically modified foods know the least about science but believe they know the most, researchers have found.

The findings from public surveys in the US, France and Germany suggest that rather than being a barrier to the possession of strongly held views, ignorance of the matter at hand might better be described as a fuel.

“This is part and parcel of the psychology of extremism,” said Philip Fernbach, a researcher at the University of Colorado and co-author of the 2017 book The Knowledge Illusion. “To maintain these strong counter-scientific consensus views, you kind of have to have a lack of knowledge.” . . 

Is the minister’s decision based on a lack of knowledge or just politics and emotion trumping science?

Whichever it is, a minister should not be shutting the door on scientific exploration.


Seeking a saxy song

January 22, 2019

Could a saxy song save the Kākāpō?

Since 2016, Meridian Energy have been the National Partner of the Department of Conservation’s Kākāpō Recovery Programme (KRP) in their efforts to revive this critically endangered native parrot, but what most people don’t know is that there are only 147 left.

As a 100% renewable energy generator, Meridian is incredibly focused on taking care of New Zealand’s natural environment and the precious species that inhabit it, including supporting the recovery effort through science, technology and state-of-the-art Smart Eggs that help the incubation process.

Michael Healy, Meridian’s Chief Marketing Officer, says, “The trouble is, these are only good once breeding kicks off. Meridian decided some creativity might be needed to give these treasured native parrots with troublesome breeding a helping hand. And by hand, we mean saxophone”.

So, Meridian has put a call out to New Zealand (and beyond – Kenny G, we’re looking at you) to find a talented saxophonist to help save a species with what is widely recognised as the smoothest, most romantic instrument out there.

We’re aware the science behind saxophones and kakapo breeding is as yet untested. But with only 147 of these amazing birds left, at Meridian we’ll try anything,” says Healy.

The winning saxophonist, whether they’re a gifted local or the legend Kenny G himself, will professionally record a song for the kākāpō that will be available for download on the Meridian Energy website and handed over to the Kākāpō Rangers.

The response to the campaign to date has been great, and we’ve received some great entries from keen sax players all over the country. We’re still hoping that to attract the main man himself, Kenny G, but we’ve also got some great local talent who can help these precious birds out.”

“Most importantly though, we’re really aiming to make sure everyone is aware of the fact there are so few of these birds left – so it’s a privilege to be helping raise more awareness of the plight of the kākāpō”, says Healy.

You can read more here.


Some animals more equal

January 9, 2019

Forest and Bird  says the SPCA’s call for a ban on 1080 is naive:

Forest & Bird says the SPCA’s statement calling for 1080 to be banned shows a naïve failure to understand how nature works in the wild, and they will be seeking a meeting with the organisation to discuss its position.

Forest & Bird CE Kevin Hague says “The SPCA’s statement on the use of 1080 is seriously misinformed, and contains errors of both fact and logic.

Their position reflects their history of caring for domesticated animals such as cats and dogs, without understanding the needs of New Zealand’s native animals and ecosystems.

The SPCA is generally respected for its care of domestic and farm animals.  Extending its concern to pests which carry disease, and torture and kill native birds puts its reputation at risk.

It’s not hard to get public support for an organisation that promotes the wellbeing of cats, dogs, sheep and cattle. It would be very easy to lose support by giving rats, stoats and possums equal status with native birds.

“While the idea of stoats and rats peacefully coexisting with native birds sounds great, the reality is that an estimated 25 million native birds, eggs, and chicks are cruelly eaten alive by introduced predators every year in New Zealand.

“This is the terrible death that countless native animals across New Zealand suffer every night.

“The SPCA’s position on 1080 is a blow to their credibility. It’s sad to see them promoting flawed logic whose outcome is the extinction through being eaten alive of treasured animals like our kiwi, kereru, and kokako.

“Without scientific, ethical, and precision pest control, of which 1080 is a key tool, there is no way to protect our native animals from the overwhelming numbers of introduced predators. Giving up 1080 would lead to an ecocide of huge proportions in New Zealand, and the SPCA need to understand this is the outcome of their pest control position.”

The SPCA might think all animals are equal but when it comes to conservation, some are more equal than others.

Rats, stoats and possums are introduced species which carry diseases that can infect people, farm and domestic animals, and they are not endangered. They prey on native species which are.

No-one says 1080 is perfect but experts including the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, the Environmental Protection Authority and the Department of Conservation say it is the best option available to protect  native species when trapping and shooting aren’t possible.

Attempting to put pests on equal footing with endangered natives is not only denting the SPAC’s credibility, it’s costing it support.


Rural round-up

December 23, 2018

Farmers urged to focus on critical risks to avoid joining summer accident toll:

Summer is a busy time on the farm, but it’s also among the most hazardous periods for accidents.

Almost 550 farmers suffered injuries serious enough for them to take at least a week off work over the last summer (December 2017-February 2018) while there were three fatalities on farms.

Overall, trips, slips and falls, being hit or bitten by animals, hit by moving objects and incidents involving vehicles were the major causes of injuries, according to data from ACC. . . 

Russell forest possums ‘down 80 percent’ since 1080 drop – Lois Williams:

The recent 1080-poison drop on Northland’s Russell State Forest has been declared an outstanding success.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) said results showed rats had been all but wiped out and possum numbers had dropped by 80 percent.

The aerial operation in September covered the Russell Forest north of Whangarei and Cape Brett in the Bay of Islands, and was the first since the mid-1990s. . .

Another assault on local democracy:

The Government should back off local government in the Hauraki Gulf and let the people decide their futures, says Federated Farmers Auckland.

The Government proposes to establish a Ministerial Advisory Committee to implement the Hauraki Gulf Marine Spatial Plan (aka Sea Change), clearly stepping on local government, says Federated Farmers Auckland provincial president Andrew Maclean.

“This move is just the latest assault on local democracy from central Government.” . . 

Project highlights nutrient loss challenges for farmers:

Work by farmers on a Hawke’s Bay project aiming to cut their nitrogen losses has provided valuable lessons and highlighted the challenges ahead.

The “Greening Tukituki” project that included two dairy farmers and two drystock farmers from the Tukituki catchment aimed to help them meet their nutrient loss obligations under the Hawkes Bay Regional Council (HBRC) plan change 6.

The project closes amid growing disquiet about the shortcomings in nutrient software system Overseer as a regulatory tool. . . 

Livestock farmers join the GIA biosecurity partnership:

Key players in the livestock farming sector have taken steps to protect their multi-billion-dollar export industries from pests and diseases by joining other primary sector organisations and Government in the biosecurity fight.

Industry organisations DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb New Zealand consulted with their farmers over a year ago to join the Government Industry Agreement for Biosecurity Readiness and Response (GIA). The final step in the process is the signing of the GIA Deed. . . 

Lightwire announced as partner in rural broadband milestone:

Lightwire announced as partner in New Zealand’s rural broadband milestone

Trans-Tasman telecommunications company Lightwire is proud to be a new partner of Crown Infrastructure Partners’ (CIP) Rural Broadband Initiative Phase Two (RBI2), providing significant additional rural broadband coverage across the Waikato and Bay of Plenty Regions.

This phase of the Initiative will take coverage to 99.8% of New Zealand’s population, bringing innumerable benefits to Lightwire’s rural communities. . . 


Rural round-up

December 22, 2018

Alliance chairman queries Govt’s subsidy stance – Sally Rae:

Alliance Group chairman Murray Taggart has expressed concern over what he sees as the Government’s apparent determination to subsidise forestry plantings at the expense of low environmental impact sheep and beef farming.

Addressing the co-operative’s annual meeting in Dunedin yesterday, Mr Taggart said it was occurring just when it looked like the ”bureaucratic playing field” was being levelled up for sheep and beef and recognising the sector’s lower environmental footprint relative to dairy.

”The apparent lack of rigour in relation to the social, economic and environmental impacts of this strategy is disturbing,” he said. . . 

Telford future in doubt following liquidation -Chris Morris:

The training institute running the Telford campus in South Otago has been placed in interim liquidation at the request of its board.

Taratahi, a private training establishment and agricultural education provider, runs residential campuses in Wairarapa and Reporoa in the North Island, as well as Telford.

It employs about 250 staff and boasted about 2850 students across all three campuses this year.

Today’s announcement was made by David Ruscoe and Russell Moore of Grant Thornton, who were appointed interim liquidators by the High Court.

The liquidators, in a statement, said Taratahi was facing “financial and operational pressures caused by declining student numbers”, which had resulted in a reduction in funding. . . 

Risk of spreading Wallabies sparks pest action plan – Tess Brunton:

Fears Wallabies are placed to become the possum problem of the 21st century has prompted plans to create New Zealand’s first national wallaby management programme.

A business case has been submitted to the Treasury as part of a collaboration between regional councils, government and crown research agencies in the last couple of weeks.

Department of Conservation threats technical advisor Alastair Fairweather said New Zealand could not afford to wait before acting. . . 

Super cute sheep deliver Christmas lambs – but not for eating:

The sheep dubbed the world’s cutest have given birth to their first lambs in New Zealand.

Wairarapa farmer Christine Reed and her business partners imported Swiss Valais Blacknose sheep as embryos from the United Kingdom about 18 months ago.

Over the past two weeks, Ms Reed’s sheep have brought five tiny bundles of fluffy cuteness into the world, while her business partners had similar numbers of newborn lambs arrive. . .

New agreement to protect fresh tomato industry:

Biosecurity New Zealand and Tomatoes New Zealand have reached an agreement on the pathway forward to better prepare for future biosecurity responses.

Both parties signed a Sector Readiness Operational Agreement today (21 December).

“The agreement demonstrates both organisations’ commitment to strengthen readiness for incursions of specific pests and pathogens,” says Andrew Spelman, Biosecurity NZ’s Acting Director, Biosecurity Readiness & Response Services. . . 

Kiwi investors snap up cherry orchard investment:

Over 60 New Zealanders have invested $10.5 million to become the proud new owners of the largest modern cherry orchard development in Central Otago.

Central Cherry Orchard Limited Partnership will begin development of the 96 hectare bareland block in the Waikerikeri Valley north of Alexandra in autumn 2019.

New Zealand export cherries are recognised for their exceptionally high quality and freshness. This season it’s estimated 1.9 million 2kg boxes of cherries will be picked and airfreighted fresh to China and the rest of Asia to arrive in time for Chinese New Year on February 5. . . 


Rural round-up

December 8, 2018

Research farm breaks new ground – Nigel Malthus:

Farmers are hearing that Beef + Lamb NZ is “putting your money where our mouth is” as it launches an innovative research partnership.

Chief executive Sam McIvor made the remark at the formal launch of the North Canterbury Future Farm, a 50:50 farming partnership between BLNZ and a company formed by local farmers.

Together they are leasing Lanercost Farm, a 1310ha sheep and beef property in the Leader Valley, north of Cheviot in North Canterbury. . . 

Fantastic velvet and venison prospects excite deer veteran – Annette Scott:

The deer industry is in a good spot and farmers should be happy with how their industry levies are being spent, Deer Farmers’ Association executive member David Morgan says.

Farming deer at Raincliff Station in South Canterbury, Morgan is as excited about the industry now as he was when he came to New Zealand as an 18-year-old on work experience.

Originally from Wales, Morgan has farmed deer all his life and it was that first NZ experience that got him started.

“I saw what could be done with deer and went back home to set up a deer farm and farm deer for venison supply. . . 

Bring on 2019:

Without doubt, 2018 will be remembered as Fonterra’s annus horribilis.

It is not overstating the case to say that the past year has seen a series of failures and fiascos for the dairy co-op.

For the first time, it reported a net loss for the financial year of $196 million. Meanwhile, weaker global dairy prices have forced the co-op to keep lowering its forecast payout from an opening estimate of $7/kgMS in May to $6.25 to $6.50/kgMS . . 

Farmer’s widow fulfils husband’s dying wish to win fight against DOC – Gerald Piddock:

Murray Ward always knew he was right but never lived to see it proven. 

Instead his widow Evelyn is left to savour a bitter victory after an 18 year battle against officialdom over a drainage system that left part of the couple’s Waikato farm under a toxic lake and Murray urging his family from his deathbed to continue the fight. 

Now Evelyn fears that despite a court victory she may not live to see everything put right. . . 

Government and industry partners release report on biological emissions:

A new report shows many farmers want to take action to reduce emissions, but need more information about what steps they can take.

It also shows if all farmers operated using today’s best practice, we may be able to reduce emissions by up to 10%. Continued funding for research into new, novel technologies will be important for reducing emissions further.

The Biological Emissions Reference Group Report is the culmination of two years of research into the opportunities, costs and barriers to reducing biological emissions in New Zealand’s primary industries. . . 

Raise a glass to dairy emissions intensity progress:

New analysis shows that dairy farmers around the world are making significant progress lowering the greenhouse gas emission intensity of milk production, Federated Farmers climate change spokesperson Andrew Hoggard says.

“It’s clear that while New Zealand dairy farmers must continue their ongoing efforts to boost productivity and reduce their environmental footprint, on the global emissions and food security front the best thing we can do is to help dairy farmers in developing nations get to where we already are,” says Andrew, who owns and runs a dairy farm in the Manawatu. . . 

Farmers Smeared by Smirnoff Over Non-GMO label? – Chris Bennett:

After a day in Kansas corn, Cole Nondorf lay in bed watching evening television’s requisite barrage of commercials when he was jolted him from near-slumber by a 16-second advertisement. He watched as celebrity faces Ted Danson and Jenna Fischer cheerfully pronounced Smirnoff’s base vodka, No. 21, as non-GMO. Adios to GMO grain and welcome to the inference of health—even inside a bottle of booze. Nondorf sat up, looked at his wife, Allison, and muted the television, “Are they joking? Enough. That is enough.”

When Smirnoff kicked off a promotional campaign in October 2018, touting its No. 21 vodka as free from GMO corn, a Kansas farming couple crossed a business Rubicon. The Nondorfs swept Smirnoff products from the shelves of their liquor store after the commercial aired. The result? A wave of support from farm country and beyond.

Real Life

Tucked in Sheridan County, in the northwest quarter of the Jayhawk State, the Nondorf operation is a mix of cattle, corn, grain sorghum, soybeans and wheat. The Nondorfs, both 36, also own A & C Liquid Assets, a wine and spirits business located in Hoxie, just off Highway 24, 20 miles north of I-70: Toss a dart at Hoxie on a wall map and the point will land center of Colorado Springs, Denver, Wichita and Kansas City. . . 

 


Rural round-up

November 20, 2018

Has the time come for genetic modification?– Charlie Dreaver:

Trees with red trunks and apples that are red right the way through and flower all year round. Should we back or block the genetically changed plants New Zealand scientists are growing? Charlie Dreaver reports for Insight. 

Gene edited plants are just as safe as normal plants, according to one scientist. At a Plant and Food Research greenhouse in Auckland, one of the sections is filled with $300 apple trees, and Andy Allan, a professor of plant biology, is pointing out one of his favourite experiment, a tree with bright, fuchsia-coloured flowers.

“The particular red gene we’re testing is under a strong expression, so the roots are red, the trunk is red, the leaves are copper and the fruit goes on to look more like a plum, it’s so dark.” . . 

Hope for kiwi comeback from 1080 project targeting stoats – Jono Edwards:

The first western Fiordland 1080 project will start mid-next year in the hope of bringing the stoat-ridden area’s kiwi back from the brink.

As part of the Department of Conservation’s “Save Our Iconic Kiwi” initiative, the operation will target 50,000ha of rugged, inaccessible terrain at Shy Lake, between Wet Jacket Arm and Breaksea Sound.

Non-toxic baits to accustom rats to the bait are planned for late winter next year, followed by toxic baits in September and October. The stoats will then eat the poisoned rats. . .

Native vegetation on sheep and beef farms summary report:

A report from the University of Canterbury has revealed that 24 per cent of New Zealand’s native vegetation (approximately 2.8 million hectares) is estimated to be on sheep and beef farms. This is the largest amount of native vegetation present outside of public conservation land. 

The report has also uncovered that 17 per cent of all New Zealand’s native forest is estimated to be on sheep and beef farms and is likely playing a vital, but often unheralded role in supporting biodiversity.

B+LNZ CEO Sam McIvor reflects that “This is a great acknowledgement for our farmers and the work they’re doing as stewards of the land. I hear sheep and beef farmers talking every day about what they’re doing on farm to support biodiversity and it’s great we have been able to develop evidence to back their passionate voices”. . .

Less effective killers cost more – Jacqueline Rowarth:

 Glyphosphate, commonly sold as Roundup, has been in the news again, this time because of a link to antibiotic resistance.

Canterbury University’s Professor Jack Heinemann has done some interesting work in the laboratory. He has also acknowledged agar plates in controlled conditions are a very long way from field use.

More research is required. Of course.

And scientists love having a reason to do more research.

It’s different in Russia – Keith Woodford:

This last week I have been working in Russia on issues of A1 and A2 beta-casein.  I am still there, but today is Sunday and together with my wife Annette, I am on a fast train from Moscow to St Petersburg.

It’s late autumn over here, but to a Kiwi lad it seems like the middle of winter. Until today, the weather has been fine and clear but with temperatures below freezing. Today the snow has arrived, and it will now be on the ground for at least the next four months.  There is not much sign of global warming over here!

Travelling by fast train at 250 km per hour, I am fascinated by the lungs of Russia. By that I mean the hundreds of kilometres of trees, largely pines, with just the occasional village.  Somewhere there must be some farm lands, but they sure aren’t in sight from the train. . . 

Signs mount that Fonterra will have to cut its payout forecast –  Jenny Ruth:

(BusinessDesk) – The risks are mounting against Fonterra holding its current forecast milk payout and this week’s GlobalDairyTrade auction could be yet another nail in its coffin.

The auction results will be released early Wednesday, New Zealand time.

Fonterra’s current forecast is a rate of $6.25-to-$6.50 a kilogram of milk solids but Mark Lister, the head of wealth research at Craigs Investment Partners, says the trends in both dairy pricing and the renewed strength in the kiwi dollar could see the actual payout settle closer to $6.00 or $6.25. . . 

Fonterra too helpful to councils – Hugh Stringleman:

The ever-increasing compliance load on dairy farmers was forcibly questioned at the Fonterra annual meeting by Cambridge dairy farmer Judy Bryan.

She alleged Fonterra accepts and facilitates regional councils’ demands for environmental actions that load costs on farmers.

“We may be getting $6 something in milk price but look where a lot of that is going, on compliance. . .

Careful! You might miss New Zealand’s latest luxury lodge:

New Zealand’s newest luxury lodge epitomises discretion, from blending seamlessly into its secluded rural location to the luxe surroundings and discerning service of a high-calibre luxury destination.

Set to become New Zealand’s newest luxury destination, The Lindis which opened this month in a dramatic South Island high country valley, blends so perfectly with the surroundings that you’d be forgiven for missing it.

Try spotting The Lindis from the air and you’re liable to miss it thanks to outstanding architecture designed to blend with the stunning landscape surrounding the building’s resting place in the Ahuriri Valley. The valley lies in a stretch of South Island high country between Mount Cook and Wanaka and the lodge name associates with The Lindis Pass, a picturesque alpine roadway linking the Mackenzie Basin with Central Otago. . .


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