Rural round-up

February 16, 2018

Drought, disruption undermines farmers’ confidence:

A marked drop in farmer optimism and growing concern about the ability to recruit suitable staff are stand-out features of the Federated Farmers Mid-Season Farm Confidence Survey.

For the first time in two years, farmer optimism has decreased, including negative perceptions of the economy, farm profitability, farm production and farm spending. Farm debt levels have also increased and fewer farms are now debt-free.

The Federated Farmers survey is conducted by Research First twice a year (January and July) and 1070 farmers responded to the questionnaire last month. . . 

Time to get real about forestry – Graham West:

Last year I commented on the high returns from current harvesting, however I don’t believe this is being translated into significant interest in new planting, certainly not at the rate of the governments aspirational target of 50,000ha per year. The Crown Forestry action is clearly around doing deals to secure land for leasing and other deal makers, like Toitu Te Waonui, and various forestry consultants, are doing the same, good on them.

But this doesn’t really raise the general awareness of the forestry business opportunity for land owners and investors. The challenge is how to create a pipe line of prospects who are considering land use change. The target group must be the approximately 25,000 drystock farmers in New Zealand, owning 9.5m hectares. The timeline is also important, seedlings for next winter are already booked, but the deadline for orders to secure plants for the following winter (2019) needs to be placed with nurseries by Oct-Nov 2018. . . 

Minister needs to step up as drought worsens in Coastal Taranaki:

The Minister for Primary Industries needs to step up and listen to the rural sector in the face of the worsening drought in Coastal Taranaki, National’s Rural Communities Spokesperson Barbara Kuriger says.

Mrs Kuriger reached out to Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor last week to discuss ideas put forward by the Taranaki Rural Support Trust, but the Minister has not accepted the invitation to meet.

“It would seem that the response by the Minister – since initially declaring the drought – has been to bury his head in the sand on the Coastal Taranaki issue. . . 

Govt passing the cap around primary industry:

The Government is going cap-in-hand to the primary sector seeking support to help eradicate the rapidly-spreading cattle disease Mycoplasma Bovis, National’s Primary Industries spokesperson Nathan Guy says.

“It’s my understanding that the Ministry for Primary Industries is canvassing the dairy and red meat industry for contributions to fund the response and eradication of this disease.

“In Parliament yesterday the Minister Damien O’Connor couldn’t say how much money the Government is prepared to contribute to fully eradicate Mycoplasma Bovis.

“Knowing how tight the Government’s finances are because of its other big-spending commitments – and even with financial contributions from industry – Mr O’Connor has an uphill battle convincing his Cabinet colleagues how critical funding of over $100 million actually is,” Mr Guy says. . . 

National welcomes continuation of 1080 policy:

A reassurance from the Department of Conservation (DOC) that there has been no change in policy over the use of 1080 poison is welcome, National’s Conservation Spokesperson Maggie Barry says.

“At today’s annual review the Director General, Lou Sanson, reassured the Environment Select Committee that not only has there been no change in 1080 policy, but DOC expects to expand its use.

“This approach is critical to achieving National’s long term Predator-Free NZ by 2050 vision. Possums, rats and stoats kill 25 million birds a year, and if DOC was hamstrung from using 1080, we would see further unique species becoming extinct. . . 

Regulator asks how gene-edited food should be treated:

Planning for future GM foods coming down the line, the food safety regulator, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is calling for suggestions for how it should consider applications for foods that have been made using new genetic techniques that aren’t currently covered by their laws.

The current code only covers food produced by genetic techniques that add DNA into a genome and doesn’t cover newer gene editing techniques like CRISPR/Cas9 which knock out genes or proteins, or others that don’t change the DNA of the final food product.

FSANZ are asking for submissions on how these newer techniques should be assessed before they go to market. Options range from treating them like conventional breeding techniques – given a green light once a technique has been proved safe – or to be treated like current genetically modified organisms which would mean that each application requires a rigorous safety assessment. . . 

Golden Rice: Loved by humanitarians, reviled by environmentalists – Green Jihad *

Despite the Philippines and Bangladesh edging toward commercializing it, New Zealand’s food regulation agency (FSANZ) endorsed approving importing Golden Rice for sale in order to reduce trade disorder with Asian countries that allow it.

Unfortunately, an opposition group named GE-Free New Zealand has started an effort urging New Zealand’s food safety minister to review the FSANZ’s recommendation in hopes of eventually halting the importation of Golden Rice. The organization’s views are nearly in line with what environmentalist groups, like Greenpeace, have been claiming about GMO’s for years.

Golden Rice has been a vital source of nutrition for many people in developing countries who lack Vitamin A that humans need to help them survive. Sadly, environmentalist groups are undaunted in halting not only the dissemination of Golden Rice and all other GMO’s but their production too. This being done so that more humans die of starvation or illness resulting from malnutrition due to a reduction in the food supply. . . 

Sustainable ag series – farmers – Dirt to dinner:

The agriculture industry is often criticized for using too much water, using too many chemicals, and adding more carbon to the atmosphere.

However, farmers have their boots on the ground and occupy the front lines of sustainability initiatives within agriculture. No farms, no food!

While some farmers employ better approaches to farming sustainably, no farmer deliberately damages human or environmental health or wants to waste their inputs, such as water, pesticide, and labor. As stewards of the land, it is in a farmer’s best interest to preserve all of their resources for future generations of farming. . . 

* (Hat tip: Utopia):


Science when it suits

July 5, 2016

More than 100 Nobel laureates have written an open letter to Greenpeace, the United Nations and governments around the world urging Greenpeace to support science and end their campaign against genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The United Nations Food & Agriculture Program has noted that global production of food, feed and fiber will need approximately to double by 2050 to meet the demands of a growing global population. Organizations opposed to modern plant breeding, with Greenpeace at their lead, have repeatedly denied these facts and opposed biotechnological innovations in agriculture. They have misrepresented their risks, benefits, and impacts, and supported the criminal destruction of approved field trials and research projects.

We urge Greenpeace and its supporters to re-examine the experience of farmers and consumers worldwide with crops and foods improved through biotechnology, recognize the findings of authoritative scientific bodies and regulatory agencies, and abandon their campaign against “GMOs” in general and Golden Rice in particular.

Scientific and regulatory agencies around the world have repeatedly and consistently found crops and foods improved through biotechnology to be as safe as, if not safer than those derived from any other method of production. There has never been a single confirmed case of a negative health outcome for humans or animals from their consumption. Their environmental impacts have been shown repeatedly to be less damaging to the environment, and a boon to global biodiversity.

Greenpeace has spearheaded opposition to Golden Rice, which has the potential to reduce or eliminate much of the death and disease caused by a vitamin A deficiency (VAD), which has the greatest impact on the poorest people in Africa and Southeast Asia.

The World Health Organization estimates that 250 million people, suffer from VAD, including 40 percent of the children under five in the developing world. Based on UNICEF statistics, a total of one to two million preventable deaths occur annually as a result of VAD, because it compromises the immune system, putting babies and children at great risk. VAD itself is the leading cause of childhood blindness globally affecting 250,000 – 500,000 children each year. Half die within 12 months of losing their eyesight.

WE CALL UPON GREENPEACE to cease and desist in its campaign against Golden Rice specifically, and crops and foods improved through biotechnology in general;

WE CALL UPON GOVERNMENTS OF THE WORLD to reject Greenpeace’s campaign against Golden Rice specifically, and crops and foods improved through biotechnology in general; and to do everything in their power to oppose Greenpeace’s actions and accelerate the access of farmers to all the tools of modern biology, especially seeds improved through biotechnology. Opposition based on emotion and dogma contradicted by data must be stopped.

How many poor people in the world must die before we consider this a “crime against humanity”?

The names of the 110 signatories, all Nobel laureates, are here.

L. Val Gidding, senior fellow at The Information and Technologies Innovation Center. He previously served as vice president for Food & Agriculture of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) and at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and as expert consultant to the United Nations Environment Programme, the World Bank, USDA, USAID, and companies, organizations and governments around the world,  writes:

The website accompanying the release documents the global scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs (recently reaffirmed by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society of the United Kingdom, and virtually every other authoritative scientific body on the planet). It also documents the abundant and widespread environmental and economic benefits confirmed by the experience of more than 18 million farmers around the world, the vast majority of them small farmers in developing countries.

Other sections explain what GMOs are (describing them, more accurately, as a component of precision agriculture) and describe how scientists learned to make them by mimicking completely natural patterns of gene exchange found everywhere in nature. A section documents and corrects the false and misleading statements used by Greenpeace in its propaganda campaign to raise unwarranted fears and money to support its multinational organization, and the efforts of some governments to hold Greenpeace to account.

The Laureates’ website also documents former campaigners for Greenpeace and other environmental groups who examined the facts, discovered the truth, and broke with Greenpeace and other groups opposing innovation in agriculture, including Richard di Natale, Greenpeace Australia; Steven Tinsdale, Greenpeace UK; Patrick Moore, Greenpeace Canada & Greenpeace International; Mark Lynas, Greenpeace UK & the Soil Association); Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Catalogue & the Long Now Foundation; Bill Nye, the Science Guy; and Bizarro creator Dan Piraro. Additional materials provide further information from credible and independent third parties.

The organizing force behind this project is Sir Richard Roberts (Nobel Prize, 1993, Physiology or Medicine).

It is clearly past time for Greenpeace and others opposed to GMOs to follow the data and adopt a truly “green” and science-based position on genetic modification. The challenges facing society require a shift from political correctness to scientific correctness. Governments and other parties should do likewise.

 

Greenpeace is not the only organisation guilty of going for emotion rather than science over GMOs.

Hastings District Council is promoting itself as GM-free.

And of course the Green Party, which urges everyone to back the science on climate change, ignores it on GMOs:

The Green Party says it will not soften its anti-genetic modification stance despite a plea from some of the world’s top scientists, who say opposition by green groups is blocking GM foods that could help reduce disease in third-world countries. . . 

The open letter prompted Act Party leader David Seymour to call on the Green Party to abandon its “outdated” position on GM.

“The Green Party needs to catch up with science, and modify its position on genetic modification, especially when Golden Rice has the ability to give sight to thousands of babies struggling with a lack of Vitamin A,” he said.

Green Party GM spokesman Steffan Browning said the party re-evaluated its GM policy regularly, but it would not be making any changes as a result of the open letter. . .

Science isn’t foolproof. New evidence can challenge and change what were thought to be facts and it is sensible to be cautious about any new developments.

But GMOs have been in wide enough use for long enough to make continued blanket opposition to them a triumph of emotion over science.

Using science only when it suits your prejudices and beliefs is at best hypocritical. In the case of continued opposition to  GMOs it is preventing developments which would be better for the environment and provide economic opportunities, and it’s costing lives.

 


Rural round-up

October 12, 2015

SFF challengers challenged – Neal Wallace:

Those backing an alternative capital underwrite for Silver Fern Farms have been accused by the company’s board of playing a dangerous and irresponsible game.

Chairman Rob Hewett said the board had not been provided with any details on the proposal in which a group of agribusiness leaders have allegedly agreed to underwrite a rights issue of up to $100 million of new capital for SFF.

“The board has not received a proposal. We do not know any details, we do not know who the mystery underwriters are, nor who the supposed bank is. . . .

Dangerous game to stare down bankers, warns SFF chairman – Jonathan Underhill:

(BusinessDesk) – Silver Fern Farms chairman Rob Hewett says the company’s banking syndicate has become tired of its relationship and it would be “a dangerous game” to test lender support in the event farmer-shareholders don’t support selling a half stake to Shanghai Maling Aquarius this week.

Hewitt was responding to calls from shareholders opposed to the deal to look at alternative funding, which could keep New Zealand’s biggest meat company in local hands. The cooperative that now owns SFF would be showered in cash if the Chinese deal goes ahead. As well as $261 million that would be injected into the business, leaving it debt free with funds to upgrade plant and pursue global growth ambitions, the farmers will get a dividend of 30 cents a share, or $35 million, and the cooperative’s board would get $7 million for its costs – enough to keep it going for seven years at current rates. . . 

 

New action plan to attract the workforce dairy farmers need:

Attracting the skilled dairy workforce that farmers need to run their businesses is the goal of a new joint workplace action plan launched with the Minister for Primary Industries in Canterbury today by Federated Farmers and DairyNZ.

DairyNZ chairman John Luxton says one of the aims of the industry’s 10-year strategy is to see 90 percent of dairy farm businesses having quality work environments by 2020.

“We have put actions and commitments in this new plan to ensure we achieve that part of the strategy. We are competing with all the other career opportunities on offer across the globe. We’re not always the most attractive choice for many young people these days and we need to be if we want to develop and retain the workforce we need,” he says. . . 

Free lease for pub with no proprietor – Rhys Chamberlain:

Are you looking for an opportunity, a change, a slower way of life?

Then the Macraes community needs you.

Stanley’s Hotel, a registered historic place, is without a proprietor and the Macraes Community Trust is on the hunt for the community’s next publican.

Trust member Mat O’Connell is keen to get someone signed up to keep the pub open after failing to attract a lessee over the past year. . . 

A2’s successful capital-raising raises $40m for growth – Dene Mackenzie:

The management of A2 Corporation could now focus on delivering growth following the successful capital-raising announced yesterday, Craigs Investment Partners broker Peter McIntyre said.

A2, which markets milk with a protein variant said to have health benefits, raised $40 million in a discounted share placement to help fund working capital in its burgeoning infant formula business.

The Auckland firm sold 58.8 million shares at 68c apiece in the placement, which was over-subscribed. . . 

Changed lives taking new turn – Stephen Bell:

Five years after their lives were irrevocably changed Jo and Bryan Guy are stepping back from farming, ending nearly a century of family involvement in daily milk supply.

“Someone in the family has been responsible for milking the cows every day,” Bryan says.

It started when Cecil and Mary Guy began dairying in Feilding after World War I.

They milked 20 cows year-round to supply milk at the farmgate for local residents.

In 1954 their son Grahame and his wife Winifred bought the farm and continued to milk every day, supplying town milk with fresh liquid for bottling. . . 

From a single vineyard grew a family dynasty – Russell Blackstock:

For 100 years, the Babich family have stayed true to the ideals of their patriarch.

David Babich has a view from his office window to die for. Twenty minutes after battling through traffic from his home in Auckland’s bustling suburb of Pt Chevalier, he is relaxing at his desk at his family firm in a lush city oasis.

The 47-year-old is general manager of Babich Wines, one of New Zealand’s oldest family-owned wineries.

Today he is raising a glass to the company being in business for 100 years. . . 

Bangladeshi scientists ready for trial of world’s first ‘Golden Rice’ – Reaz Ahmad:

Bangladeshi rice scientists are all set to conduct field tests of the world’s first vitamin A-enriched rice, popularly known as Golden Rice, before taking the variety to production phase.

The success in vitamin A-rich rice comes in quick succession of the world’s first three zinc-rich rice varieties that Bangladesh released over the last couple of years.

Upon completing a successful trial of the genetically engineered Golden Rice in its transgenic screen house, Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) is now taking the variety — GR-2 E BRRI dhan29 — to confined field trials in the coming Boro season this November. . . .


People behind politics

October 29, 2013

The movement against genetic modification is strong but a lot of the opposition is based far more on politics and emotion than science.

Those buying into the politics and emotion forget about the people who could benefit from GM food like golden rice.

Dietary micronutrient deficiencies, such as the lack of vitamin A, iodine, iron or zinc, are a major source of morbidity (increased susceptibility to disease) and mortality worldwide. These deficiencies affect particularly children, impairing their immune system and normal development, causing disease and ultimately death. The best way to avoid micronutrient deficiencies is by way of a varied diet, rich in vegetables, fruits and animal products.

The second best approach, especially for those who cannot afford a balanced diet, is by way of nutrient-dense staple crops. Sweet potatoes, for example, are available as varieties that are either rich or poor in provitamin A. Those producing and accumulating provitamin A (orange-fleshed sweetpotatoes) are called biofortified,* as opposed to the white-fleshed sweet potatoes, which do not accumulate provitamin A. In this case, what needs to be done is to introduce the biofortified varieties to people used to the white-fleshed varieties, as is happening at present in southern Africa by introducing South American varieties of orange-fleshed sweetpotatoes.

Unfortunately, there are no natural provitamin A-containing rice varieties. In rice-based societies, the absence of β-carotene in rice grains manifests itself in a marked incidence of blindness and susceptibility to disease, leading to an increased incidence of premature death of small children, the weakest link in the chain.

Rice plants produce β-carotene (provitamin A) in green tissues but not in the endosperm (the edible part of the seed). The outer coat of the dehusked grains—the so-called aleurone layer—contains a number of valuable nutrients, e.g. vitamin B and nutritious fats, but no provitamin A. These nutrients are lost with the bran fraction in the process of milling and polishing. While it would be desirable to keep those nutrients with the grain, the fatty components are affected by oxidative processes that make the grain turn rancid when exposed to air. Thus, unprocessed rice—also known as brown rice—is not apt for long-term storage.

Even though all required genes to produce provitamin A are present in the grain, some of them are turned off during development. This is where the ingenuity of the Golden Rice inventors, Profs Ingo Potrykus (formerly ETH Zurich) and Peter Beyer (University of Freiburg) comes into play. They figured out how to turn on this complex pathway again with a minor intervention.

One of the criticisms used by opponents of Genetic modifcation is that it’s not about feeding the hungry but about controlling food supply.

The International Rice Research Institute:

Golden Rice was invented by Professor Ingo Potrykus, then of the Institute for Plant Sciences, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and Professor Peter Beyer of the University of Freiburg, Germany. By 1999, Professor Potrykus and Dr. Beyer produced a prototype Golden Rice and published their landmark research in Science.

The inventors’ desire to donate Golden Rice as a gift to resource-poor farmers in developing countries led to a public-private partnership with Syngenta to help further develop Golden Rice.

Scientists at Syngenta then carried out additional laboratory, greenhouse, and field research to help raise the beta carotene levels in Golden Rice. In 2005, they developed a new version of Golden Rice that produces substantially more beta carotene than the 1999 prototype – as published in Nature Biotechnology.

Syngenta arranged royalty-free access to the patents and intellectual property, held by several biotechnology companies, for a number of key technologies used in Golden Rice. This allows IRRI and others to develop Golden Rice varieties on a non-profit basis. . .

Not everyone will be swayed by those inconvenient facts.

For those who prefer emotion there’s one of the people hurt by the politics:
"Since Golden Rice was first announced in 2000, Greenpeace has made a concerted effort to block its introduction. They have waged a campaign of misinformation, trashed the scientists who are working to bring Golden Rice to the people who need it, and supported the violent destruction of Golden Rice field trials at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines." By opposing Golden Rice, Greenpeace defies its own values – and harms children: http://bit.ly/HkKKZG Image via http://www.facebook.com/groups/GMOLOL


Liberal resistance to science organised, destructive

March 22, 2013

If a large corporation was responsible for the deaths of millions of children it would be an international scandal.

But the actions of the well organised, well funded, liberal left wing political movements have done that through their emotional and non-science based opposition to genetic modification and it hardly gets a mention.

Glenn Garvin writes:

If this column appeared under the headline, “Massive defeat for the anti-science forces,” you would naturally assume I’m talking about some kind of setback for conservative Republicans, right? And you would be completely wrong.

The losers in this case are the Luddite shock troops of progressivism like Greenpeace. And the winners are the children of the Philippines, thousands of whom will not go blind or die because the anti-science wing of modern liberalism finally is getting some pushback.

The Filipino government has finally approved the planting of genetically modified rice that contains vitamin A. “Golden rice,” as the stuff is called, probably won’t make a splash in the United States, but in the Third World, it will be a godsend. Between a quarter-million and a half-million children go blind each year from vitamin A deficiency, the United Nations says, and half of them die within 12 months. Some studies put the figure even higher.

As many as 300 million of the people at high risk for vitamin A deficiency live in countries where the staple food is rice. For them, golden rice will provide a quick, easy and cheap fix: eating just two ounces a day will provide 60 percent of the recommended daily dose of vitamin A.

But that hasn’t stopped Greenpeace and other Luddite-left activists from fighting a scorched-earth war to stop golden rice. For more than a dozen years — or, if you prefer to keep score in the lives of children, 8 million dead — they’ve kept golden rice off the market by calling it Frankenfood and insisting that it will wreck the environment and spread dependence on Western capitalism.

What role does science play in the left-wing opposition to golden rice and other genetically modified crops? None. Study after study has shown no detectable deleterious effects on human health from genetically altered foods. And two studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition have shown that golden rice is an even better vehicle for delivery of vitamin A than spinach, the wonder vegetable.

Caution with anything new is advisable, even admirable. The anti-science, anti-business of the luddites is putting politics before health and economic wellbeing.

Every time some lone Republican nut from Hooterville makes a jackass statement about rape or evolution, it’s immediately ascribed as a doctrinal belief of the entire GOP and conservatives in general. But liberal resistance to science is far more organized, far more destructive and far less covered in the media . 

He continues with instances where assertions without science have had a huge impact:

— Millions of American parents refused to have their children vaccinated for diseases like whooping cough and measles after Robert F. Kennedy Jr. published an error-ridden tirade in Rolling Stone and the left-wing website Salon in 2005 linking vaccines to autism and other neurological disturbances.

Six years later, Salon retracted the article, yet many parents remain convinced of the linkage to this day — one of whom now sits in the White House. “We’ve seen just a skyrocketing autism rate,” Barack Obama said during his 2008 campaign. “Some people are suspicious that it’s connected to the vaccines. This person included.” Obama’s spurious worries about vaccines led to manufacturing changes that caused a shortage of flu vaccine in the winter of 2009.

— Virtually no nuclear-power plants have been built in the United States during the past four decades, the result of continuous left-wing scare stories. Australian physician Helen Caldicott has become a folk hero — 21 honorary degrees and a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize — for her anti-nuke campaign, the centerpiece of which is that the explosion at the Soviet Union’s Chernobyl nuclear reactor led to nearly a billion deaths and countless hideous birth defects.

Actual death toll, according the U.N.’s scientific committee on nuclear radiation: less than 100. Actual birth defects: zero. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences says that the chances of radiation-induced changes in human sperm and eggs are so low that it has never been detected in human beings, “even in thoroughly studied irradiated populations such as those of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” There may be good reasons for opposing nuclear power — mainly, that the industry is a bloated corporate welfare tick that cannot survive without massive government subsidy — but science isn’t one of them, which is why a 2009 Pew Research Center survey showed 70 percent of scientists support it.

But scientific consensus, invoked like clockwork whenever lefty activists and their journalist friends talk about global warming, is mysteriously irrelevant when they’re discussing nuclear power or genetically enhanced crops. In 2005, the International Council for Science — a coalition of 140 scientific organizations — reviewed more than 50 studies and declared flatly: “Currently available genetically modified foods are safe to eat.”

There are a few million dead Third World kids who wish that somebody had listened.

Mark Lynas made similar points at the Oxford Farmers Conference about which I posted here.

. . . This was also explicitly an anti-science movement. We employed a lot of imagery about scientists in their labs cackling demonically as they tinkered with the very building blocks of life. Hence the Frankenstein food tag – this absolutely was about deep-seated fears of scientific powers being used secretly for unnatural ends. What we didn’t realise at the time was that the real Frankenstein’s monster was not GM technology, but our reaction against it. . . .

These movements which are anti-science and  anti-business purport to be pro-environment but they use green causes for red political means.

Because emotion usually trumps facts they have been very successful but the sensible, science-based actions of the Filipino government give cause for hope that the tide is turning.


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