Rural round-up

August 19, 2019

Fonterra woes for two biggest shareholders – Rebecca Howard:

Fonterra Cooperative Group’s two biggest shareholders – Dairy Holdings and state-owned Landcorp Farming – say the latest downgrade will weigh on their own earnings and add to farmer malaise against a backdrop of already weak confidence.

The dairy exporter this week said it expects to report a full-year loss of as much as $675 million and won’t pay a dividend as it slashes the value of global assets. It will be the second annual loss in a row.

This is a concern and will have quite an impact on farmer balance sheets and cash flow. Our hope is that Fonterra completes the strategy refresh quickly,» said Colin Glass, chief executive of Dairy Holdings. . .

Gene editing could combat ‘weed trees’ and climate change – Esther Taunton:

A forest industry leader has joined the growing chorus of voices calling for serious public debate on genetic technologies.

Forest Owners Association president Peter Weir said the Royal Society Te Apārangi’s recently released report on gene editing should be taken seriously by anyone concerned about the state of the environment.

The report highlighted the problem of wilding conifers, where, despite a multimillion-dollar control programme, the weed trees continued to spread, Weir said. . . 

Farmers call for law change on gene-edited crops – Tom Allen-Stevens:

What sort of regulatory environment for new breeding technologies is required and what will be the implication for farmers, and ultimately consumers, who lie at the heart of this debate? CPM reports exclusively on a survey of farmers.

GM can be a divisive topic, and the farming community is no less split on how and whether it should be introduced as the public in general. Views on gene-editing, however are harder to gauge.

A survey was undertaken in March 2019 by the Gene-Editing for Environment and Crop Improvement Initiative, that represents scientists, breeders and others in the UK agricultural industry with an interest in new breeding technologies (NBTs). The views expressed aren’t representative of farming opinion as the respondents have been selected as those who are relatively well informed on a technology that is, as yet, largely unknown and not commercially available. . . 

We can’t continue to pave paradise and put up a parking lot:

We’ve grown lazy and complacent. Fattened on the plenty provided by rich lands, we are now increasingly turning  our backs on them.

So separated have we become from the production of the food that passes over our plates; so inexorable has the shift been in human resources and amenities from the heartland to the high street, that the Government has seen a need to step in and protect the fertile soils that have long fed it all.

That complacency is built on something of a lie.

Most of us live in cities and other centres of urban sprawl. But the images that we employ to sell our country to others, and the dream to ourselves, are those of bucolic rural spread, mile upon mile upon mile of rolling river, meadow and gentle hill, all leading to majestic mountain ranges. . . 

Seaweeds help curb cow burping :

Queensland researchers say a pink seaweed that stops cows from burping could help slash greenhouse gas emissions.

Asparagopsis grows prolifically off the Queensland coast and a CSIRO study five years ago found it was the only seaweed they knew of that stopped cows burping methane into the atmosphere.

New Zealand research into seaweed supplements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has identified another species with such effects on the nation’s coast.

Researchers from the University of the Sunshine Coast are now investigating how it might be farmed on a commercial scale and added to cattle feed to slash emissions. . . 

We need genetic engineering to stave off climate change-induced global hunger – Devang Mehta:

Last week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Special Report on Climate Change and Land, a document authored by 107 experts from 52 countries. It warned that “Land is a critical resource.”

The main conclusion of the report is that humans already use nearly half of the planet’s land for food production and, as global population levels rise, agricultural land is going to be in very short supply. This is because one of the effects of climate-change will be a decline in agricultural productivity across the tropics, meaning that we will need to cut down forests and convert unused land into farmland. This deforestation will lead to even more carbon emissions, culminating in a vicious cycle of increasing warming. 

The report is a frightening 1,400 page-long prediction of rising food costs and starvation of the world’s poor. In fact, behind all the numbers and probability estimates is one truth that carries throughout — that climate change is going to be especially hard on the poor and on people living in the tropics. The IPCC concludes that as carbon dioxide levels rise and the planet warms, farms in temperate latitudes (i.e. the wealthier countries of Europe and North America) will in fact see an increase in yields.  . . 

5 things to do in the countryside – Life of a Country Mum:

Hey lovely country people,

I thought I would give you an in site to some of the top activities I love to do and also activities I can’t wait to do with my baby!

I am a strong believer that all this technology for children is what’s making the world a horrible place (in certain places). What ever happened to us all going to the outside playing, using our imagination. They were the best memories for me when I was younger.

Fields, haybales and making dens! I have so many stories I could tell you with my siblings. . . 

 


Rural round-up

June 9, 2018

Clear-cut forestry might make a profit, but local communities pay the price – David Hall:

It’s one thing to plant a billion trees; it’s quite another do it well.

Recent floods in Tasman, and now the East Cape, signal what’s at stake. Witness the logs piled up against Mangatokerau Bridge in Tolaga Bay. Or the hillsides scoured with slips in Golden Bay, left vulnerable to erosion by clear-felled forest lands. With extreme weather events expected to increase due to climate change, it is critical that we don’t plant one billion of the wrong trees in the wrong place with the wrong management system.

Our future forests need to be financially viable, environmentally sustainable, and resilient. Crucially, we also need forests that people want to live with, to be nurtured and protected in future decades. . .

Source unclear but charges likely:

It is becoming increasingly evident pinpointing an exact path for the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis into New Zealand might never happen though charges for Biosecurity Act breaches are pending.

The Primary Industries Ministry has not said how it thinks the organism entered the country.

While speculation is rife that European-sourced semen is the most likely suspect, Biosecurity NZ head Roger Smith said investigations do not support that.

The M bovis strain has been confirmed as of European descent but is also occasionally found in America. . . 

FROM THE RIDGE: Showing resolve and compassion– Steve Wyn-Harris:

As we all know, the Government has made the big call to have a go at eradicating Mycoplasma bovis from the country.

It is supported by our own industry bodies.

They were damned if they tried and damned if they didn’t but have shown faith in the scientists and experts and believe there is a reasonable chance of achieving the goal.

Leadership can be a difficult place at times like this and I respect the resolve, compassion and decision-making Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Agriculture and Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor have shown over this very difficult matter.

I’ve had several conversations with farmers from South Canterbury who have been dealing with the consequences of this disease. . . 

A smorgasbord of agricultural issues – Keith Woodford:

[For the last three years I have been writing fortnightly columns for NZFarmer, which is delivered free to all New Zealand farmers. However the agricultural press in New Zealand is undergoing major change. One part of that change is that Stuff (formerly Fairfax) is now moving towards a digital focus and will cease to publish the weekly NZFarmer. This was my farewell column  to NZFarmer.]

With the impending demise of NZ Farmer, this will be my last article published here. So, I had to give a lot of thought as to what I wanted to say.

Right now, we are surrounded by forces for change. There are so many topics that could be covered. So, I have decided to provide a smorgasbord of key issues.

Mycoplasma bovis
It would be impossible to walk away without saying something about Mycoplasma bovis.  This disease, and the way we have chosen to respond to it, will change many aspects of dairying going forward. My personal perspective is that we might struggle to eradicate the disease, but if we do fail, we will still succeed in managing the disease. There are many worse diseases. . . 

Significantly more Māori farms are grassland, stats show :

Four times as much Māori-owned farmland is grassland, compared to the rest of New Zealand farms, statistics show. 

By June last year, an average of 590 hectares of Māori farmland was grassland, compared to an average 147ha of other farms. 

The Statistics New Zealand figures showed more than eight times more Māori-owned land was covered in plantation crops. . . 

Sanford appoints Fonterra executive Katherine Turner as new CFO – Tina Morrison:

 (BusinessDesk) – Sanford has appointed Katherine Turner as the new chief financial officer of New Zealand’s largest listed seafood company.

Turner has worked for 25 years in various finance roles, almost 12 years of which were with the country’s largest company, Fonterra Cooperative Group, where she was most recently commercial director for Fonterra Brands, New Zealand’s biggest fast-moving consumer goods business responsible for brands such as Anchor, Mainland, Fresh’n Fruity and Tip Top. Prior to Fonterra, Turner had nine years in finance roles with French dairy company Danone in New Zealand and France. . . 

Fit for calving – Farmstrong:

Canterbury dairy farm contractor Nicole Jackson is on a mission to reduce the number of injuries to female calf rearers during the physically demanding calving season.

She’s created a six-week online conditioning and strengthening initiative for women to prepare their bodies for the physically gruelling calving season, which is currently under way in many parts of the country.

“There’s a lot of information out there about things like getting meals and the kids ready for calving season but not a lot about getting your body ready,” says Nicole, a mother of two young boys. . . 

New Zealand scientists are breeding sheep to fart and burp less – Jon Daly:

New Zealand researchers are curbing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions one sheep fart at a time.

Scientists at Invermay Agricultural Centre in Mosgiel, about 360km south-west of Christchurch, have bred climate-friendly sheep that produce 10 per cent less methane than their gassy counterparts.

Livestock emissions are the biggest contributor to New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions and make up about 10 per cent of Australia’s total greenhouse emissions. . .

 


What’s green & what’s greenwash?

April 16, 2018

How do we know what’s green and what’s greenwash?

The green mantra is reduce, reuse and recycle.

It ought to be safe to claim reducing our use of limited resources and our impact on the environment is green.

Reusing and recycling aren’t so clear-cut.

Reusing some things can be better for the environment than chucking them in the rubbish – providing whatever needs to be done to make them reusable has a lower environmental footprint than dumping.

But that isn’t always the case.

Take reusable shopping bags and the so-called single use plastic ones for example.

 It’s counterintuitive, but  are far more energy efficient than any of the other options. Paper’s out – it causes seven times more global warming than a plastic bag reused as a bin liner. A cotton bag would have to be used 327 times to break even with plastic, and trendy “organic” cloth bags are hopelessly inefficient.

 

You also have to take into account what people use in place of the single-use plastic bags.

. . .The supermarket chains can’t believe their luck. The overseas experience suggests they’re about to receive a massive boost in the sale of bin liners, which they essentially gave away for free all these years, and come out of the whole thing looking like heroes, despite potentially making global warming worse. . . 

However, it’s not that simple. An environmental footprint takes into account more than the energy and emissions used to produce and dispose of it.

What happens to the bags when they’re no long wanted also has an impact as the number of plastic bags littering land and sea show.

If you dispose of plastic bags properly you’re probably treading more gently on the environment than using reusable ones. But does that counteract the damage done by people who don’t dispose of them carefully so they pollute oceans and endanger sea life?

Then we come to recycling.

If the whole pathway of recycling which includes transport to and from processing as well as the processing itself is taken into account then it isn’t always as green as it’s painted and might have a higher environmental cost than dumping in an environmentally safe landfill.

 

Energy use in transport as well as the potential for air and water pollution from processing can more than counter the benefit of less rubbish being sent to landfills.

Supermarkets are full of products claiming to be eco-friendly but it’s very difficult for consumers to know whether their claims are empty, if they do have a lesser impact on the environment or if they do more harm than alternatives which don’t make any claims.

It is much easier to see the greenwash in the government’s ban on off-shore oil exploration. As Taranaki MP Jonathan Young says:

. . . The Government may think they have attacked the problem, but unfortunately, they have attacked the solution.

As National’s Energy and Resources spokesperson I would support a transfer of knowledge, skills and investment into the greening of the petroleum industry rather than ending it.

Apart from 50 per cent of all oil produced being for environmentally benign purposes, we should continue to pursue the goal of utilising hydrocarbons as feedstock for ultra-low or zero emission fuels. 

Research is already underway for this, such as methanol, and hydrogen. There is a tremendous amount of research taking place on improving engine and fuel efficiency. The petroleum sector has some of the smartest people in the country when it comes to understanding carbon and molecules. Utilising their knowledge and skills here and collaborating with other industry-based research is the smart thing to do.

The Ardern-Peters Government has made a significant misstep in their approach. New Zealand has 10 years of known gas supply lefts. We haven’t had a gas discovery for eight years. With existing exploration hoping to make a discovery, it has a 10-15% chance of success.

When a discovery is made, it will take a further ten years of development before gas is available for market. Just do the math, without considering any chilling effect on investment the Government’s decision has created, we should get ready for a gasless future. 

With every fifth day of our electricity generated from fossil fuels, mostly gas – we have a problem. When electricity demand increases because of the growth of electric vehicles in New Zealand, we have a compounded problem. Wind and solar energy might contribute, but both are intermittent. This will require overbuild and capacity charging, leading to higher electricity prices. With gas possibly gone, and any shortfall in renewables, we’re left with coal to keep our lights on. Emissions will likely rise rather than fall. 

In a contest between energy security and the environment, the need to keep lights on will win.

Considering New Zealand’s contribution to world Green House Gas emissions is 0.17% of the total, our energy emissions (including electricity generation and transport) is 40 per cent of that 0.17 per cent. 

If the petroleum industry was to completely disappear tomorrow, then our emissions profile will remain unchanged as we import crude for all our liquid fuels. What we sell overseas will be sold by someone else, as supply exceeds demand. No change here both domestically or globally.

If we were able to replace half of our liquid fuel fleet with zero emission electric vehicles, we’d be down to 0.136 per cent of the world’s emissions. The sobering truth is our reductions will get swallowed up by the massive increase of emissions in a growing and developing Asia. So, while we work hard to do our essential bit, world emissions increase for some time yet.

We ought to be realistic about being “world leaders” as James Shaw wants. Norway are world leaders, but they do that through giving all electric vehicles free electricity for life, free parking and exemption from any congestion taxes, arguably afforded through their wealth derived from oil production. 

World emissions are set to increase for a while yet, which is why I think we must take a global and rational approach. We should find more gas and export it to Asia. We should encourage the industry rather than close it down. It’s counter-intuitive, but it works!

Gas replacing coal is one of the key reasons why energy emissions stalled in their growth in 2014, 2015 and 2016 according to the International Energy Agency. . . 

The ban on future exploration will have no affect on demand for fossil fuels here or anywhere else.

It will almost certainly add to our emissions and to the cost of fuel not just for private cars which the eco-warriors hate but for heat, light and industry, including food production.

There’s nothing green about the exploration ban. It’s quite clearly greenwash.

 


Rural round-up

March 12, 2018

Thousands of trees hide the scars of Cyclone Bola on Mangaroa Station at Tokomaru Bay – Kate Taylor:

‘It was like a bloody atomic bomb had gone off.’ An East Coast farmer looks back at Cyclone Bola. Kate Taylor continues her series marking the storm’s 30th anniversary.

Sam Reeves loves farming Mangaroa Station today but can only imagine its devastation at the hands of Cyclone Bola.

At age 27, he wasn’t born when the historic storm hit the East Coast of the North Island in 1988.

But he is the same age previous owner Graeme Williams was when Cyclone Bola dumped more than 900mm of rain on the Tokomaru Bay farm in just two days.

“When I went to bed on the night of the 7th it was pouring down with rain,” Williams says. . .

More weight for ag emissions tax – Neal Wallace:

Another unequivocal message has been delivered that agriculture needs to shoulder a greater share of the efforts and costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In January Climate Change Minister James Shaw signalled agriculture could be included in the Emissions Trading Scheme and this week the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Simon Upton said climate change policy cannot ignore agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

New Zealand has committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 but Upton said climate change policies lack bite for fear they would compromise competitiveness. . . 

Rabobank New Zealand Agribusiness Monthly March 2018:

The Agribusiness Monthly provides timely information and analysis on agricultural conditions, commodity price updates and commentary on the latest sectoral trends and developments.

Key Highlights:

Dairy
Can the price rally survive the EU Spring peak?

Beef
Is there potential for near term price falls? . . .

Industrialised meat backlash to favour NZ sheep and beef farmers – Bill Wright:

The planets seem to be aligning for sheep and beef farmers this season.

We have had that rare combination of excellent growing conditions and strong prices for both beef and lamb – prime and store.

Adding to what has been a positive start to the year was the release of a Beef + Lamb New Zealand- commissioned report on alternative proteins.

The research showed that despite the emergence of alternative proteins, the future for this country’s grass-fed red meat is healthy. Internationally, consumers are seeking red meat produced without hormones or antibiotics and to the highest standards of animal welfare – and NZ farm systems tick all of these boxes. . . 

Kansas City’s agriculture roots run deep: Cowtown turned animal health & technology centre:

At the bend in the Missouri River on grass covered flats if you listen close you might hear echoes of the past; hoofbeats, whistling, spurs jangling, the slap of leather and the high pitched zzzzzz of a lariat. Cowboys, dust covered and bone tired, riding weary cowponies barely heard over the bawling of thousands of Texas steers, “Hold’em here boys, the drives bout over.”

Kansas City sprouted from its agricultural heritage as a Cowtown. The transition to a center for animal health, education, and technology seems only natural for a town that for hundreds of years has had millions of animals pass through this gateway to the west. . .

 


Grass is ‘green’ but . . .

April 13, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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