Rural round-up

April 14, 2019

Owner of M. Bovis-infected farm who had to shoot newborn calves: ‘you just learn to grit your teeth and do it’ – Gerald Piddock:

Henk Smit could handle the bullet in the mail and the death threats.

It was when the dairy farmer had to shoot his newborn calves that the impact of Mycoplasma bovis finally hit him.

Looking back, he now believes it is something no dairy farmer should ever have to put themselves through.

“I think was a really bad call,” he says at his quiet Maungatautari property. “On the other farm, we had a contract milker and that sent him over the edge, killing the calves, and he tried to commit suicide in spring. . .

Changing the face of farming – Stephen Bell:

Alternative proteins and genomics could change the face of New Zealand agriculture, a Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment report suggests.

But they come up against the brick wall of the country’s attitude to genetic engineering and editing.

Advances in genomics offer potential to speed up the development of crops and livestock with desirable and valuable traits that meet productivity, quality and environmental goals. . .

Waikato Mycoplasma bovis free after properties cleared to return to farming – Gerald Piddock:

Waikato is Mycoplasma bovis free – for now.

The country’s largest dairying region has no properties infected with the cattle disease after the Ministry for Primary Industries lifted the active property classifications on five Waikato farms in the past month.

But that status may change with six farms under a notice of direction (NOD) status and seven under surveillance.  NOD properties are those which have a high risk of being infected, but have yet to return a positive test. . .

Mega mast another reason to continue GE research:

Turning our backs on promising tools for predator control is a massive disservice to New Zealand’s native flora and fauna, Federated Farmers environment spokesperson Chris Allen says.

“The ‘mega mast’ in New Zealand’s forests this autumn presents a huge challenge to our pest control agencies and countless volunteers.

“The frequency of these exceptionally heavy tree seeding events is likely to increase with climate change, yet this coalition Government has called a halt on research on genetic engineering technologies.” . .

Veterinarians gear up to help farmers comply with new animal welfare regulations:

Veterinarians are gearing up to help farmers comply with new legal requirements to use local anesthetic during the removal of any horn tissue from cattle that will come into force from October 1 this year.

NZVA Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Helen Beattie says the NZVA has been educating members so they are ready to help farmers comply with changes to the Animal Welfare (Care and Procedures) Regulations. . . 

This snap-on sensory could tell farmers exactly how much to water their crops – Nathan Hurst:

In 2010, scientists at California’s Pacific Institute, a global water think tank, defined a condition Earth could face called “peak water.” Loosely, it’s analogous to peak oil, but it’s not just that we’ll run out of water. Fresh water won’t vanish, but it will become still more unevenly distributed, increasingly expensive, and harder to access. Many parts of the world are facing water stress, and 80 percent of the fresh water that gets used around the world gets used for irrigating crops, according to the Pacific Institute’s president emeritus Peter Gleick.

Over the past 40 years or so, total water use in the United States began to level off. Part of that is due to greatly improved irrigation, and part of that is due to remote sensing technologies—satellites, radar and drones—that assess water stress in fields based on temperature or how much light the canopy reflected in different wavelengths. . . 


Science when it suits

April 8, 2019

Anyone who dares to challenge the politically accepted view on climate change  is told to accept the science.

But  during Question Time last week, Climate Change Minister James Shaw, showed again he is prepared to accept only the science that suits:

. . . Todd Muller: Does he stand by his statement made on 4 March during an interview on Q+A that when it comes to the application of GE technology in New Zealand, he—and I quote—”will be led by the science on it.”?

Hon JAMES SHAW: Yes.

Todd Muller: Does he agree with the former Prime Minister’s chief scientist, Sir Peter Gluckman, who said—and I quote—”I’ll go as far as to say that I cannot see a way that agriculture in New Zealand will be sustainable over the long run in the face of environmental change and consumer preferences without using gene editing.”?

Hon JAMES SHAW: No.

Todd Muller: Does he agree with the then Prime Minister’s chief scientist, Sir Peter Gluckman, who also said at the time—and I quote—”There is no way that we will get a reduction in methane production, and I can see no way that we will see an economic advantage for farmers as we shift to more plant-based foods, without using gene editing.”?

Hon JAMES SHAW: No.

Todd Muller: When he said he would be—and I quote—”led by the science”, did he mean all science or just the science that fits his political narrative?

Hon JAMES SHAW: If the member looks at the previous supplementary questions, he’ll see that what Sir Peter Gluckman was saying is that he didn’t see any other ways than GE to achieve those outcomes. I do see other ways.

Todd Muller: What are the other ways of addressing agriculture emission reduction that he thinks the chief scientist has not captured in his assessment?

Hon JAMES SHAW: I can’t comment on what the former Chief Science Advisor included in his assessment, but if the member’s interested, I would advise him to read the report of the Biological Emissions Reference Group that the previous Government set up. It took a number of years looking at a range of options for how agricultural emissions could be reduced and found that, actually, with a high degree of confidence, agriculture would be able to reduce emissions by at least 10 percent by 2030, and found with a similarly high degree of confidence that it would be able to reduce it by at least 30 percent by 2050.

Todd Muller: A final supplementary: does he consider climate change to be a sufficiently serious global issue that all science and innovations, including GE, need to be considered, or does he just think it is a pick and choose menu?

Hon JAMES SHAW: Well, I think that policy makers always have options in front of them about what choices to make, but I certainly do believe that climate change is not just the greatest challenge of our time but, potentially, the greatest challenge of all time. . .

If he wants us to accept that climate change is such a challenge and take the need for action seriously, how can he shut the door on technology that could address at least some of the contributors?

Federated Farmers correctly points out his closed mind is unhelpful:

The Green Party’s apparent unwillingness to even have a discussion on the potential of genetic engineering to provide solutions to some of our most pressing environmental issues is extremely disappointing, Federated Farmers says.

“Terse answers from Climate Change Minister James Shaw to Parliamentary questions this week indicate the Greens find the GE topic too hot to handle. But discussions on pragmatic and science-based policies should not be held to ransom by merely trying to keep a vocal section of your political party’s membership happy,” Federated Farmers climate change spokesperson Andrew Hoggard says.

There have been plenty of media reports about a ryegrass developed by NZ AgResearch using gene editing. It can substantially reduce methane emissions from cattle which eat it. Under our current laws the grass cannot be grown in New Zealand, and field trials are having to take place in the United States. . . 

“Mr Shaw didn’t have to agree with Sir Peter Gluckman but we do hope he won’t be so quick to shut down discussion of GE’s potential in talks with groups such as Federated Farmers and others,” Andrew says.

“We’ve already had Green MP and Conservation Minister  tell Predator-free NZ not to pursue the option of GE technologies as an answer to eradication of possums, rats and other pests.

“Farmers are being called on to make deep cuts in emissions from their livestock. Just about the only way were going to be able to do that, without crippling the viability of many farms, are breakthrough technologies still being worked on.

“Federated Farmers’ position is that we should at least be open to the potential of GE, and we need to continue scientific and field research on its advantages and disadvantages, at the same time as having an open-minded and rational debate with all New Zealanders.”

James Shaw is playing to his political supporters and putting their opposition to GE, which is based far more on emotion than science, ahead of his ministerial responsibility.

In doing so he is denying New Zealanders tools which could reduce greenhouse gases and increase the pace of the journey towards a predator-free country, both of which ought to appeal to those of a green persuasion, but sadly not enough who are Greens.

It’s a pity they and the Minister, can’t, or won’t, accept the science that shows the very low risks and high potential benefits of GE.


Rural round-up

July 1, 2018

Farmers stop cow abuser from working with animals unsupervised – Gerard Hutching:

The Northland contract milker caught hitting cows by hidden cameras has been banned from working unsupervised around animals.

Owners of the dairy farm said “as lifelong and committed dairy farmers we are shocked and deeply saddened” by the reports of the ill treatment of some stock on their farm.

“As of today the contract milker concerned has been removed from all duties requiring unsupervised contact with stock pending the outcome of due process with regard to our contractual obligations,” they said in a statement.

The man had earlier been described as a sharemilker, but the owners clarified that he is a contract milker. Sharemilkers own their own cows, whereas contract milkers work with a farm owner’s livestock. . . 

Reigning Young Farmer grand final winner ready for 50th anniversary – Mary-Jo Tohill:

If he had not won the FMG Young Farmer of the Year last year, Lovells Flat sheep and beef farmer Nigel Woodhead would be in Invercargill giving it another go next week.

The 50th anniversary event kicks off in Invercargill on Thursday and runs until Saturday.

“I would be studying my backside off right now to have another go,” the 29-year-old said.

It is now up to another past grand finalist and this year’s Otago-Southland regional winner Logan Wallace, who farms at Waipahi, to have a shot at the Southland-based grand final. . .

Youngsters get say on future :

Farmstrong has developed a new online survey to better understand the pressures facing younger farmers and farm workers and ask them what works to improve their wellbeing.

The nationwide, rural wellbeing initiative provides tools and resources for farmers, growers and farm workers to help them better cope with the ups and downs of farming.

It will help provide a clearer picture of the things that might work to improve the wellbeing of younger farmers and farm workers.  . . 

Why there’s no rural-urban divide when it comes to caring for the environment – Melissa Clark-Reynolds:

Beef + Lamb New Zealand says farmers care just as much about the environment as everyone else, and with its new Environment Strategy and Implementation plan, it plans to help sheep and beef farmers promote reduced carbon emissions, cleaner water, thriving biodiversity, and healthy productive soils. 

I recently spoke at a farmer’s event in Christchurch with a few hundred sheep and beef farmers from the northern part of the South Island. At the end of my talk, an older farmer came up to me and asked why I hadn’t talked about organics. On my way home, someone tweeted me that they’d “always said we should have declared all of New Zealand organic and GMO-free. The price premium could have been whatever we asked for.”

At the Beef + Lamb AGM recently, a group of farmers (mixed ages, from their 20s through to their 60s) asked me why I hadn’t talked more about Regenerative Agriculture – farming that heals the land, the lifeforms that dwell there, and the communities of people too. The fact that I keep being surprised by this stuff says more about me as an urban Kiwi than it does about farmers. . .

Nutrient management valuable tool if handled correctly says Allen:

The National Party’s announcement of bipartisan support for the Climate Change Commission last week made it clear that environmental conservation is currently at the forefront of political and social concern in this country.

Part of that concern is the issue of national water quality, breached by David Parker several weeks ago with his announcement of plans to introduce nationwide farm nutrient limits.

A particular point of contention was the suggestion that destocking would have to take place in certain areas to meet the new limits. However, Federated Farmers national board member Chris Allen says if all else fails, it’s just something some farmers may have to accept: . .

What makes a good farmer – Blue North:

What are the attributes of a really good farmer? Would they include a penchant for order and neatness? A single-minded focus on efficiency and yield maximization? A bullet-proof resolve in the face of risk? What about drive for expansion and scale or technical proficiency? While some or all of these may currently inform our rating of farmers, I want to propose some alternative attributes in response to this question. But before getting there, some context is needed.

One of the formative ideas, probably the most important one, that shaped our thinking when we started Blue North in 2011, and which fundamentally shapes what we do to this day, is understanding farmers as the key role-players in determining the sustainability of food supply-chains, and, by extrapolation, the sustainability of mankind as a whole. . .

What are the challenges facing farming around the world? – Mary Boote:

Kenya is on the brink of embracing biotechnology in agriculture. On the brink. Now I’m ready to say something new. We’ve been on the brink for too long.”

These words, offered by Gilbert arap Bor, a Kenyan smallholder farmer and lecturer at the Catholic University of East Africa- Eldoret, illustrate the frustration shared by many farmers -smallholder and large across Kenya and much of the African and Asian continents. With the safety of GE crops confirmed and supported by scientists, approved by every regulatory agency around the world, based on thousands of reports and 21 years of data, why does the war regarding the safety of these often life-changing crops continue to rage?

Have no doubt: The impacts of this ‘war’ are real, and they challenge farmers in the developing and developed countries around the world. . .


Rural round-up

December 30, 2017

Earlier crop worrying for winemakers – Louise Scott:

Gibbston winemakers say they also could be faced with a shortage of seasonal workers after hot weather conditions mean they are ahead of schedule for grape picking.

Grant Taylor, of Gibbston’s Valli Vineyard, has never seen such an early harvest in more than 25 years in the industry.

While perfect conditions will ensure a bumper crop, he worries labour could be an issue.

“It is a real concern that because things are early there won’t be enough pickers in the region. Usually we pick in April but I wouldn’t be surprised if we were picking at the middle of March.” . .

Milk once a day to avoid burn out – Christine Allen:

The co-ordinator of Northland’s Rural Support Trust is urging the region’s dairy farmers to reduce to once-a-day milking and plan for time off over the summer holidays to prevent burnout and stress later on in the year.

Northland Rural Support Trust co-ordinator Julie Jonker said those working in agriculture could often resist taking time off as, unlike many other business models, they can’t just “close the door and leave”.

Ms Jonker said that while most farmers took their large break later in the year, once cows were dried off, they still needed to plan for days, or half days, away from the farm as many had been working hard since calving earlier in the year. . .

Golden fleeces flow from progeny testing and elite breeding – John Ellicott:

On the Monaro, the quest for the golden fleece is no legend, it’s a woolgrowing victory fashioned over the decades, making finer wool but increasing fleece weights. Access to top stud stock, improved pastures and adapting shearing times has created the legend.

Steve Blyton from TWG Cooma has seen average microns for the Monaro reduce from 21 microns to about 18 microns due to “breeding being so good in the area”. Some growers have seen a 3 micron improvement in their flock fleeces with fleece weight gains. . .

NZ genetics sought after says South American expert Luis Balfour  –

Whitestone Boers stud owners Owen and Annette Booth, of Milton, recently hosted Argentinian genetic importer/exporter Luis Balfour on their Milton property. Southern Rural Life talked to Mr Balfour about his interest in New Zealand stock.

Argentinian genetic importer/exporter Luis Balfour says New Zealand pedigree stock is attractive to his clients in South America as New Zealand breeders provided the ”best package” of desired traits.

Mr Balfour has been involved with importing and exporting cattle between Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, Canada, the US, Great Britain, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand for more than 30 years. . . 

Genetically modified insects next for agriculture – Chris Bennett:

Want to crash an insect population? Slip in a self-limiting gene and topple the family tree in two to three generations. The promise of biotech mosquitoes to combat the pest that spreads Zika, dengue and yellow fever grabs the headlines, but just off center stage, the same technology utilizing genetically engineered (GE) insects is being tested on U.S. farmland.

With the flick of a genetic switch, agriculture could turn the sex drive of an insect against itself. The arrival of GE insects in farming could usher in a new wave of pest management, based on species-specific tools targeting pest insects, and result in a significant reduction in broad-spectrum insecticide applications. GE insects may provide growers with a major new pest weapon if all goes according to plan. . . 


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