Rural round-up

January 8, 2018

They need to be able to have a life’: Mother’s plea after farmer son’s death – Kelly Dennett:

Last month Gail Harris spent a night with her sons watching movies, cooking dinner, and listening to them play video games while she dozed on the couch.

As her youngest, Colby Harris, left the Hamilton home for the Huntly farm he worked on, she said a sleepy goodbye. Opening her eyes shortly afterward she realised Colby was still there, watching her.

“I said, ‘Are you okay, Son?’ And he said, ‘Yup’.”

It was the last conversation they had. The only inkling of something amiss. . . 

Westland Milk – closing the gap on dairy’s big brother – Jamie Gray:

Hokitika-based Westland Milk fell behind its far larger competitor, Fonterra, in 2016. Under new chief executive Toni Brendish, the co-op is closing the gap.
Extreme volatility in world dairy markets has taken its toll on companies around the world, and Westland Milk has been no exception.

The co-op turned in a $17 million loss over 2016/17 and its payout — at $5.18 per kg of milksolids — was the lowest of all the Kiwi dairy companies. . . 

Farming for the next generation – Michael Grove:

The age of acceleration
For anyone wondering what the focus of this year’s Oxford Farming Conference might be, it was The Archers provided an answer just before Christmas.

Brian Aldridge asked his step-son, Adam, whether he might be attending the conference. Adam replied wearily. ‘I think I’ll give it a miss this year. It’s probably going to be all about Brexit. I get enough of that at home.’

I know how he feels.

I suspect everyone in this room knows how he feels.

And, of course, I’ll say something in a moment about the specific opportunities and challenges for agriculture on leaving the European Union. . .

Yes we have no bananas but monoculture wasn’t so easy to avoid – Steven Savage:

In 1923, Frank Silver and Irving Cohn published a song that became a major hit for the Billy Jones Orchestra, with the signature line “Yes, we have no bananas; we have no bananas today.” It turned out to be sadly prophetic as, in the 1950s, the banana trees that supplied the entire global banana export business were wiped out by a soil-borne fungal disease known as “Panama Wilt.”

The industry at that time was almost entirely based on a single banana cultivar called “Gros Michel” (meaning “Big Mike”), and it was susceptible to infection by a strain of fungus called Fusarium. Once the soil of a given plantation was contaminated with that strain, any Gros Michel tree grown there would soon die.

By good fortune, a different banana cultivar that was being grown in the South Seas was able to substitute for Gros Michel as a commercial line, and this new “Cavendish” cultivar became the new banana of international commerce, as it remains to this day. . .

Speech to the Oxford Farming Conference – Mark Lynas:

Five years ago, almost to this very day, I stood before you and offered an apology for my earlier anti-GMO activism. Today I want to do something different.

Whereas my 2013 speech was something of a declaration of war against my former colleagues in the anti-GMO scene, today I want to offer an olive branch, to map out the contours of a potential peace treaty.

For me it’s been a very intense five years. The 2013 speech really did change my life in ways I had never anticipated. I was accused of having been the global founder of the anti-GMO movement, and my stance was compared with being a rapist by one well known activist.

I don’t like to run away from a fight, so since then I’ve devoted myself pretty much full time to the GMO issue. I’ve been to numerous countries in Africa and Asia and met farmers, scientists, activists and others on both sides of this very contentious debate. . . 


Rural round-up

December 13, 2017

SFF forecasts record spend – Sally Rae:

Silver Fern Farms is forecast to spend more than $230million on livestock this month – its biggest monthly livestock spend so far – as high volumes caused by dry conditions and high prices make their mark.
In an update to suppliers, chief executive Dean Hamilton said the warm weather being experienced throughout the country had pushed stock processing levels higher than normally seen in December.

Plants had been brought on early because of the rapid dry-off after good spring growing conditions and the company had recruited more than 1000 new seasonal staff, who had been trained over the past month. . .

Droughts are not ‘declared’ – so what makes a drought ‘Official’? – WeatherWatch:

WeatherWatch.co.nz head forecaster Philip Duncan speaks with the Ministry for Primary Industries to make sense of it all.

Parts of New Zealand are very dry now, which is concerning many farmers and growers up and down the country with many asking us if we are going into a drought.

But what actually is a drought and who decides if we are in one?

The process may not be quite what you think:

It’s a myth that the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) “declares a drought”. In fact, the Government doesn’t declare a drought is present just like they don’t declare a river is flooded, or that there is snow on a mountain. However the Government may provide recovery assistance if it is requested, when it meets the criteria under the Primary Sector Recovery Policy. . .

Sometimes we’re mean to our cows – Dairy Carrie:

Well this is awkward. I have spent the last two years talking about our farm and how much I love my cows. If you have read more than a few posts here I hope that you understand my deep love for the cows in my care, “my girls“.

That being said sometimes I am mean to my cows. If you were to ask me if I have ever hit one of my cows I couldn’t tell you no without lying.

I am going to let you in on a secret, PETA and Mercy For Animals have shown you some truth in their undercover videos on dairy farms. The truth is sometimes as a dairy farmer I am mean to my cows.

I think it’s time we talk about “down” cows. . . 

Italian farmer wages lonely battle against a continental tide of superstition – Mark Lynas:

Near the north-eastern Italian town of Pordenone, where the fertile plain stretches between Venice on the Adriatic coast and the foothills of the Alps, one man has been waging a lonely battle against superstition.

Giorgio Fidenato is an unlikely warrior. He is a small-holder farmer, growing maize (corn), tomatoes and soybeans on just five hectares of cultivated land that was handed down to him from his father.

But Fidenato is also a campaigner. As chair of the local farmers federation he pushes for more sustainable agriculture and lower pesticide use — an effort that has driven him into an unlikely confrontation with environmentalists and even the Italian state.

Maize is an important food in the region. The local staple is maize-derived polenta rather than the more famous Italian pasta, which is derived from durum wheat. . . 


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

June 18, 2015

Winning vet ever on the go – Sally Rae:

Oamaru-based veterinarian Dave Robertson has been described as ”someone who lives and breathes sheep and beef”.

Mr Robertson, a partner at the Veterinary Centre, has received the inaugural sheep and beef cattle vet of the year award from the sheep and beef cattle branch of the New Zealand Veterinary Association. . .

Never too busy for trialling – Sally Rae:

Newly elected New Zealand Sheep Dog Trial Association president Graham White may have a big year ahead of him – but he will still fit in some dog trialling.

”Too right”, Mr White (64), who already has several judging appointments for the next season, said. His involvement with dog trials spans more than 40 years and he has been vice president of the association for the past four years. . .

Tech expos for everybody – Sally Rae:

From the technophobes to the techno savvy, all farmers will be catered for at technology expos in Otago this month.

The Beef and Lamb New Zealand farming for profit technology expo is being held in Tapanui on June 25 and Alexandra on June 26.

The focus was on profiling innovative technologies designed to make farming more efficient, profitable and easier, AgFirst Otago agricultural business consultant Nicola Chisholm said. . .

Scientists reveal underpinning of drought tolerance in plants – American Society of Plant Biologists

Regions all over the globe are suffering from severe drought, which threatens crop production worldwide. This is especially worrisome given the need to increase, not just maintain, crop yields to feed the increasing global population. Over the course of evolution, plants have developed mechanisms to adapt to periods of inadequate water, and as any gardener can tell you, some species are better able to handle drought than others. Accordingly, scientists have invested much effort to understand how plants respond to drought stress and what can be done to increase the drought tolerance of economically important plants. . .

 

Africa must modernise its farms in order to fight hunger and poverty – Mark Lynas:

Africa desperately needs agricultural modernisation. With the most rapidly growing population in the world and hundreds of millions still suffering malnutrition, African leaders cannot afford to close the door to innovation.

Poverty is endemic and “yield gaps” mean that African farmers commonly harvest less than a tenth of the global average in maize and other crops.

Part of the problem has been political resistance to adopting new and improved technologies, particularly in seed breeding. Some of this unwillingness has been home-grown, but much has been imported to Africa by rich-country NGOs with a colonialist ideological agenda that see poverty as dignified and want to keep farmers permanently trapped in subsistence lifestyles. . .

Farmside to offer rural 4G:

Faster 4G internet is coming to parts of New Zealand previously denied access to the latest technology, and Farmside is happy to help roll it out.

“We are the leading rural supplier of 3G through the Government’s Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) that gets in to some of the country’s most hard-to-reach places. Now Farmside, through Vodafone, can offer this next generation technology in selected areas,” says General Manager of Sales and Marketing, Stuart Cooper. . .

 

 


Where’s the science?

May 24, 2013

People who oppose genetic engineering will be protesting in several cities around New Zealand in support of a global March Against Monsanto.

But where’s the science which supports their contentions?

Can they refute the claim by former anti-GMO activist Mark Lynas?

I think the controversy over GMOs represents one of the greatest science communications failures of the past half-century. Millions, possibly billions, of people have come to believe what is essentially a conspiracy theory, generating fear and misunderstanding about a whole class of technologies on an unprecedentedly global scale.

This matters enormously because these technologies – in particular the various uses of molecular biology to enhance plant breeding potential – are clearly some of our most important tools for addressing food security and future environmental change.

I am a historian, and history surely offers us, from witch trials to eugenics, numerous examples of how when public misunderstanding and superstition becomes widespread on an issue, irrational policymaking is the inevitable consequence, and great damage is done to peoples’ lives as a result.

This is what has happened with the GMOs food scare in Europe, Africa and many other parts of the world. Allowing anti-GMO activists to dictate policymaking on biotechnology is like putting homeopaths in charge of the health service, or asking anti-vaccine campaigners to take the lead in eradicating polio.

I believe the time has now come for everyone with a commitment to the primacy of the scientific method and evidence-based policy-making to decisively reject the anti-GMO conspiracy theory and to work together to begin to undo the damage that it has caused over the last decade and a half. . .

It shouldn’t be hard for scientific methods and evidence-based policy making to triumph over a conspiracy theory, generating fear and misunderstanding about a whole class of technologies.

But emotion beats facts which is why people will be marching.

 

 

 


Calling out the anti-GMO conspiracy theory

May 2, 2013

Since Mark Lynas gave his speech in Oxford in January supporting GMOs he has been subject to a co-ordinated campaign of intimidation and hate, mostly via the internet.

He’s not giving in to the bullies.

. . . I have been encouraged by emails and other support from globally-renowned scientists who are experts on this issue, and who all said basically the same thing to me: ‘You think you’ve got hatemail? Welcome to my world’.

I think these scientists are the unsung heroes of this saga. They carried on with their important work and tried year after year to fight against the rising tide of misinformation, while people like me were belittling and undermining them at every turn. I won’t mention names, but they know who they are. Some of them are here today, and I would like to give them my deepest thanks.

So for me also there is also a moral dimension to this. The fact that I helped promote unfounded scare stories in the early stages of the anti-GMO movement in the mid 1990s is the reason why I now feel compelled to speak out against them. I have a personal responsibility to help put these myths to rest because I was so complicit in initially promoting them.

My activism, which I wrongly thought of at the time as being ‘environmental’, has done real damage in the world. For me, apologising was therefore only the beginning. I am now convinced that many people have died unnecessarily because of mistakes that we in the environmental movement collectively made in promoting anti-GMO fear. With that on your conscience, saying sorry and then moving on is not enough. Some restitution is in order.

Following a decade and a half of scientific and field research, I think we can now say with very high confidence that the key tenets of the anti-GMO case were not just wrong in points of fact but in large parts the precise opposite of the truth.

This is why I use the term conspiracy theory. Populist ideas about conspiracies do not arise spontaneously in a political and historic vacuum. They result when powerful ideological narratives collide with major world events, rare occasions where even a tiny number of dedicated activists can create a lasting change in public consciousness. . .

. . . The anti-GMO campaign has also undoubtedly led to unnecessary deaths. The best documented example, which is laid out in detail by Robert Paarlberg in his book ‘Starved for Science’, is the refusal of the Zambian government to allow its starving population to eat imported GMO corn during a severe famine in 2002. . . .

Thousands died because the President of Zambia believed the lies of western environmental groups that genetically modified corn provided by the World Food Programme was somehow poisonous. I have yet to hear an apology from any of the responsible Western groups for their role in this humanitarian atrocity.

Friends of the Earth was one of those responsible, and I note that not only has no apology been forthcoming, but Friends of the Earth Europe is still actively promoting GMO denialism in the EU in a new campaign called Stop the Crop. Check out their Youtube video to see how they have learned nothing in ten years.

Another well-known example is that of Golden Rice, genetically modified to contain high levels of beta carotene in order to compensate for the vitamin A deficiency which kills hundreds of thousands of children around the world and blinds many more every year. One study on the prospects for Golden Rice in India found that the burden of vitamin A deficiency could be reduced by 60%, saving 1.4 million healthy life years.

Here the actions of Greenpeace in forestalling the use of golden rice to address micronutrient deficiencies in children makes them the moral and indeed practical equivalent of the Nigerian mullahs who preached against the polio vaccine – because they were stopping a lifesaving technology solely to flatter their own fanaticism. . .

I think this campaign is shameful and has brought the entire environmental movement into disrepute, with damaging consequences for the very beneficial work that many environmentalists do. Greenpeace’s campaign against vitamin A-enhanced Golden Rice should therefore be cancelled, and I call on everyone concerned about children’s health to lobby Greenpeace and demand that this happens immediately and without delay. . .

The anti-GMO campaign is based one motion not science.

It has an anti-business campaign which is not supported by facts.

GMOs aren’t a magic bullet that will end world hunger but they are one of the tools that will help feed the world.


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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