Rural round-up

July 28, 2019

88-year-old dairy farmer keeps ahead of technological changes – Gerard Hutching:

“If you don’t comply you won’t be able to supply.”

Ngatea dairy farmer Ken Jones has seen the future – and at 88 years of age a lot of the past.

He knows farmers will soon be confronted with an assortment of environmental rules they will have to abide by – in fact they already are – and he wants to get ahead of the game.

“I don’t know how far off that is but it’s no good hitting your head against a brick wall. I just want to make the farm compliant so I can hand it on to the family.” . . 

Tech journey discussed – David Hill:

Tina Mackintosh admits there were some late nights loading data after she and husband Duncan opted to embrace technology more than a decade ago.

The Mackintoshs, who farm at White Rock Mains, north of Rangiora, shared their journey of using technology to improve their farm system at last month’s Beef + Lamb New Zealand FarmSmart conference in Christchurch.

”We have a curious mind about data and what it can do, and we also believe it’s about sharing the good things when they work and, equally, not being afraid of sharing when the shite happens,” Mrs Mackintosh said.

”As we were going along the journey we had two babies, so we were entering data late at night. There was a lot of data to enter so it was quite frustrating. . .

$10,200 dog makes quick impression – Yvonne O’Hara:

A farm dog that sold for more than $10,000 in Gore yesterday marked the occasion by lifting his leg on his new owner’s gumboot.

Heading dog Glen sold for $10,200 at the annual sheep and cattle dog sale at the Charlton saleyards.

PGG Wrightson Gore sheep and beef representative Ross McKee said his company was calling it ”a New Zealand record”.

”At $10,200 he is in a league of his own.”

Glen was sold by his breeder, trainer and farmer David Parker, of Teviot Valley, and bought by sheep, beef and venison farmer Richard Tucker, of Becks. . . .

The Poison of Precaution: The Anti-Science Mindset -Riskmonger:

In last year’s excellent book, The Wizard and the Prophet, Charles Mann juxtaposed two polemics on the environment in the 1940s during the turning point of agricultural development: Norman Borlaug and William Vogt. Borlaug (the Wizard) took the scientific approach to innovate and develop new tools to solve problems facing agriculture. Vogt (the Prophet and arguably the founder of the modern environmental movement) would see an environmental problem as a reason for man to pull back and let the planet heal itself.

To this day, both approaches (to innovate or to pull back and take precaution) have defined environmental debates. There is no doubt which side I fall on. Borlaug’s scientific route has allowed humanity to thrive over the last 70 years. The Green Revolution in agriculture led to global economic expansions as abundance led to generations of risk-takers being able to leave the land and develop other opportunities for wealth generation. Environmentalists argue that the agri-technologies have led to deeper problems from saturated soil and poisoned water tables to serious human health issues to climate calamity. Social justice theorists are proposing agro-ecology as a Vogtian response in pulling back from seven decades of agricultural development. . .

Landmark report shows value of pesticides to NZ’s land-based industries:

The New Zealand Institute of Economic Development today released a landmark report, showing that New Zealand’s economy would lose up to $11.4 billion without crop protection products – and that crops would lose 30 percent of their value overall.

The report covers forestry, pasture, horticulture, field crops and vegetable production.

Agcarm chief executive, Mark Ross, says that the report highlights the importance of the crop protection industry to New Zealand’s economy. . .

African farmers increase yields and income with their smartphones -Bekezela Phakathi:

From drones and big data to financing apps, advanced technology can be a game changer.

More farmers across Africa are set to turn to digital solutions within the next three years, which will boost productivity and, potentially, employment across the value chain, according to a new study.

The study by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Co-operation (CTA) and advisory firm Dalberg Advisors, says that several barriers hindering the adoption of digital solutions in agriculture across the continent — notably, limited access to technology and connectivity — will be overcome. . .


Rural round-up

October 19, 2016

New Zealand Food Awards unveils the ‘best of the best’ for 2016:

The winners of the 2016 New Zealand Food Awards, in association with Massey University, were unveiled this evening at a gala dinner among 400 guests at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, with nine products from 11 companies taking out the top spots.

A record number of entries – up 62 per cent on last year – made competition for the prestigious awards more intense than ever this year.

Wanganui’s Coastal Spring Lamb proved the overall champion, claiming the ultimate accolade of the Massey University Supreme Award, as well as the Export Innovation and Chilled Foods Award categories with its Lamb Rack. Judges were particularly impressed with the process used to grow, market and sell the product from pasture to plate.

Coastal Spring Lamb owners, Richard and Suze Redmayne, say winning the Massey University Supreme Award was a dream come true and great recognition for the farming families behind the high quality product. . . 

Exporters back single QA standard for deer farms:

All five major venison marketing companies and the NZ Deer Farmers Association (NZDFA) are backing the introduction of a revamped quality assurance programme for farmed deer.

The companies have agreed on a single standard for deer that will eliminate duplication between companies running their own QA programmes. They have also agreed that, after a three-year phase-in period, compliance with the QA standard will be a requirement for the supply of animals for Cervena™ venison.

The development of the single standard was initiated by the marketers and co-ordinated by Deer Industry NZ (DINZ) as part of the industry’s Passion2Profit (P2P) programme. . . 

NZ to support dairy development in Peru:

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce has today announced New Zealand will contribute $4 million to a four-year dairy development partnership with Peru.

“The New Zealand Peru Dairy Support Project will use our expertise to improve the profitability of up to 90,000 dairy farmers in the Peruvian Sierra,” Mr Joyce says.

“The project will focus on assisting Peruvian farmers with New Zealand technologies to improve milk and cheese production, handling and processing practices, and more effective research and extension.

“Dairying has good potential to increase smallholder dairy productivity and incomes in the Sierra, generating regular cash income and contributing to household nutrition and food security. . . 

Hawke’s Bay Apple Crop Budding Well for a High Quality Season:

Hot, sunny weather in Hawke’s Bay is budding well for another high quality apple crop as the trees reach full bloom.

One of New Zealand’s largest apple growers, BOSTOCK New Zealand is expecting a solid season in 2017.

BOSTOCK New Zealand Owner John Bostock says the outlook is positive thanks to mild weather and few frosts.

“Warm, dry conditions are ideal when trees are in bloom – we have had some really hot days in Hawke’s Bay, with temperatures reaching the mid 20s and indications show it’s a strong bud. . . 

The Stories of Ehrlich, Borlaug and the Green Revolution – Gopi Rajagopal:

 Fifty years after high yielding variety seeds came to India, a look at how they got here – and what may have happened if they didn’t.

For the average person, the names Ehrlich and Borlaug may not mean anything. However, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the two Americans, in their own way, did something extraordinary. Paul R. Ehrlich, a professor of biology at Stanford University, painted a depressing picture of the state of the world – a picture that had hundreds of millions dying within a decade, and nations such as India and England ceasing to exist.

Norman Borlaug, along with his associates, proved Ehrlich wrong. Borlaug helped nations such as Mexico and India double, even triple, their crop yield – an increase that outpaced the population growth rate and ensured that famines would remain only in the history books. . . 

Inland Revenue considers updating farmhouse expenses rules:

Inland Revenue is looking to bring tax accounting practice regarding farmhouse expenses into line with the law.

This is all part of a review of out-dated practices and policies.

The practice of full-time farmers deducting 25% of farmhouse expenses without needing to provide evidence of their business use has been accepted by the department since the 1960s.

Farmers have also been able to deduct 100% of rates bills and interest costs on loans.

Inland Revenue Group Tax Counsel Graham Tubb said this has allowed some farmers to claim deductions for private spending. . . 

Farmers’ Market Comes to Town:

Four New Zealand farmers have joined forces to bring the freshness of farmers’ market free range eggs to selected supermarkets across the country – introducing Craft Farmers’ Co-op. Kiwis can now enjoy premium free range eggs, within days of local hand-picking.

Located in Northland, Auckland, Wairarapa and Canterbury, the four independent farmers share common philosophies in the way they care for their hens and respect their environment. By collaborating as Craft Farmers’ Co-op, the farmers can provide farm-fresh free range eggs direct to more Kiwis in more locations.

Craft Farmers’ Co-op eggs are hand-packaged at the farm, into biodegradable, recyclable cartons, each with a story about the local farmer who picked them. This means people know exactly where their eggs have come from – the ultimate in traceability. . . 

Pioneering vineyard placed on the market for sale:

The first sheep farm/vineyard conversion property in the Marlborough district of Ward, continuously owned by the same family for six generations, has been placed on the market for sale.

A pioneering vineyard that led the conversion from sheep farming to grape growing in its region has been placed on the market for sale, ending six generations of family ownership.

Francis Estate Vineyard at Ward, South-East Marlborough, was established as a sheep and beef breeding farm by Frederick William (Billy) Francis and his wife Agnus Elizabeth Francis in 1905. The farm remained a meat and wool production focused operation until the late 1980s when the removal of farm subsidies affected the profitability of the sector nationwide. . .

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March 25 in history

March 25, 2013

1199 Richard I was wounded by a crossbow bolt while fighting France.

1306 Robert the Bruce became King of Scotland.

1347 Catherine of Siena, Italian saint, was born d. 1380).

1409 The Council of Pisa opened.

1584 Sir Walter Raleigh was granted a patent to colonize Virginia.

1634  The first settlers arrived in Maryland.

1655 Saturn‘s largest moon, Titan, was discovered by Christian Huygens.

1802 The Treaty of Amiens was signed as a “Definitive Treaty of Peace” between France and Britain.

1807 The Slave Trade Act became law, abolishing the slave trade in the British Empire.

1807 – The Swansea and Mumbles Railway, then known as the Oystermouth Railway, became the first passenger carrying railway in the world.

1811 Percy Bysshe Shelley was expelled from the University of Oxford for his publication of the pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism.

1821 Greeks revolted against the Ottoman Empire, beginning the Greek War of Independence.

1847 Duel between Dr Isaac Featherston, editor of the Wellington Independent, and Colonel William Wakefield, the New Zealand Company’s Principal Agent in New Zealand.

Wakefield and Featherston duel

1881 Mary Gladys Webb, English writer, was born  (d. 1927).

1894  Coxey’s Army, the first significant American protest march, left Massillon, Ohio for Washington D.C.

1897 John Laurie, Scottish actor, was born (d. 1980).

1899 Burt Munro, New Zealand motorcycle racer, was born (d. 1978).

1903 Racing Club de Avellaneda, one of the big five of Argentina, was founded.

1908 Clube Atletico Mineiro was founded in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

1911 In New York City, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire killed 146 garment workers.

1913 Sir Reo Stakis, Anglo-Cypriot hotel magnate, was born (d. 2001).

1914 Norman Borlaug, American agriculturalist, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, was born (d. 2009).

1917 The Georgian Orthodox Church restored its autocephaly abolished by Imperial Russia in 1811.

1918 The Belarusian People’s Republic was established.

1922 Eileen Ford, American model agency executive, was born.

1924  On the anniversary of Greek Independence, Alexandros Papanastasiou proclaimed the Second Hellenic Republic.

1934 Gloria Steinem, American feminist and publisher, was born.

1937 Tom Monaghan, American fast-food industry entrepreneur, was born.

1939 Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli beccame Pope Pius XII.

1940 John A Lee was expelled from the Labour Party.

John A. Lee expelled from Labour Party

1941 The Kingdom of Yugoslavia joined the Axis powers with the signing of the Tripartite Pact.

1942 Aretha Franklin, American singer, was born.

1947  An explosion in a coal mine in Centralia, Illinois killed 111.

1947 Elton John, English singer and songwriter, was born.

1948  The first successful tornado forecast predicted that a tornado would strike Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma.

1949  The March deportation was conducted in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to force collectivisation by way of terror. The Soviet authorities deported more than 92,000 people from Baltics to remote areas of the Soviet Union.

1957  United States Customs seized copies of Allen Ginsberg‘s poem “Howl” as obscene.

1957  The European Economic Community was established (West Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg).

1958  Canada’s Avro Arrow made its first flight.

1960 Steve Norman, British saxophonist (Spandau Ballet), was born.

1960 Peter O’Brien, Australian actor, was born.

1965  Sarah Jessica Parker, American actress, was born.

1965  Civil rights activists led by Martin Luther King, Jr. successfully completed their 4-day 50-mile march from Selma to the capitol in Montgomery, Alabama.

1969  During their honeymoon, John Lennon and Yoko Ono held their first Bed-In for Peace at the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel (until March 31).

1971 Beginning of Operation Searchlight of Pakistan Army against East Pakistani civilians.

1975 Faisal of Saudi Arabia was shot and killed by a mentally ill nephew.

1979  The first fully functional space shuttle orbiter, Columbia, was delivered to the John F. Kennedy Space Center to be prepared for its first launch.

1988  The Candle demonstration in Bratislava – the first mass demonstration of the 1980s against the communist regime in Czechoslovakia.

1992  Cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev returned to Earth after a 10-month stay aboard the Mir space station.

1995  The world’s first wiki, a part of the Portland Pattern Repository, was made public by Ward Cunningham.

1996  An 81-day-long standoff between the anti-government group Montana Freemen and law enforcement near Jordan, Montana, began.

1996  The European Union’s Veterinarian Committee bans the export of British beef and its by-products as a result of mad cow disease (Bovine spongiform encephalopathy).

2006  Capitol Hill massacre: A gunman killed six people before taking his own life at a party in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

2006 Protesters demanding a new election in Belarus following the rigged Belarusian presidential election, 2006 clashed with riot police. Opposition leader Aleksander Kozulin was among several protesters arrested.

Sourced from NZ History Online & Wikipedia


Science converts environmental activist to GM

January 21, 2013

British environmental activist Mark Lynas began his speech to the Oxford Farmers’ Conference with an apology:

I want to start with some apologies. For the record, here and upfront, I apologise for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s, and that I thereby assisted in demonising an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment.

As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path. I now regret it completely.

So I guess you’ll be wondering – what happened between 1995 and now that made me not only change my mind but come here and admit it? Well, the answer is fairly simple: I discovered science, and in the process I hope I became a better environmentalist. . .

It’s hard to argue against good science but some people don’t let it get in the way of their emotional stories.

When I first heard about Monsanto’s GM soya I knew exactly what I thought. Here was a big American corporation with a nasty track record, putting something new and experimental into our food without telling us. Mixing genes between species seemed to be about as unnatural as you can get – here was humankind acquiring too much technological power; something was bound to go horribly wrong. These genes would spread like some kind of living pollution. It was the stuff of nightmares.

These fears spread like wildfire, and within a few years GM was essentially banned in Europe, and our worries were exported by NGOs like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth to Africa, India and the rest of Asia, where GM is still banned today. This was the most successful campaign I have ever been involved with.

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. . . .

He isn’t the first former insider to criticise the anti-science approach by some environmental groups.

For me this anti-science environmentalism became increasingly inconsistent with my pro-science environmentalism with regard to climate change. . .

I found myself arguing constantly with people who I considered to be incorrigibly anti-science, because they wouldn’t listen to the climatologists and denied the scientific reality of climate change. So I lectured them about the value of peer-review, about the importance of scientific consensus and how the only facts that mattered were the ones published in the most distinguished scholarly journals. . .

And yet, incredibly, at this time in 2008 I was still penning screeds in the Guardian attacking the science of GM – even though I had done no academic research on the topic, and had a pretty limited personal understanding. I don’t think I’d ever read a peer-reviewed paper on biotechnology or plant science even at this late stage.

Obviously this contradiction was untenable. What really threw me were some of the comments underneath my final anti-GM Guardian article. In particular one critic said to me: so you’re opposed to GM on the basis that it is marketed by big corporations. Are you also opposed to the wheel because because it is marketed by the big auto companies?

So I did some reading. And I discovered that one by one my cherished beliefs about GM turned out to be little more than green urban myths.

I’d assumed that it would increase the use of chemicals. It turned out that pest-resistant cotton and maize needed less insecticide.

I’d assumed that GM benefited only the big companies. It turned out that billions of dollars of benefits were accruing to farmers needing fewer inputs.

I’d assumed that Terminator Technology was robbing farmers of the right to save seed. It turned out that hybrids did that long ago, and that Terminator never happened.

I’d assumed that no-one wanted GM. Actually what happened was that Bt cotton was pirated into India and roundup ready soya into Brazil because farmers were so eager to use them.

I’d assumed that GM was dangerous. It turned out that it was safer and more precise than conventional breeding using mutagenesis for example; GM just moves a couple of genes, whereas conventional breeding mucks about with the entire genome in a trial and error way.

But what about mixing genes between unrelated species? The fish and the tomato? Turns out viruses do that all the time, as do plants and insects and even us – it’s called gene flow. . .

He then goes on to talk about the population growth, increasing GDP in developing countries, the need to produce more food and the environmental challenges from that.

But as a result of this growth we have very serious environmental challenges to tackle. Land conversion is a large source of greenhouse gases, and perhaps the greatest source of biodiversity loss. This is another reason why intensification is essential – we have to grow more on limited land in order to save the rainforests and remaining natural habitats from the plough.

We also have to deal with limited water – not just depleting aquifers but also droughts that are expected to strike with increasing intensity in the agricultural heartlands of continents thanks to climate change. If we take more water from rivers we accelerate biodiversity loss in these fragile habitats.

We also need to better manage nitrogen use: artificial fertiliser is essential to feed humanity, but its inefficient use means dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and many coastal areas around the world, as well as eutrophication in fresh water ecosystems. . .

He says the solution is technological innovation, moving rapidly and in the right direction for those who need it most.

 . . . So what did Norman Borlaug do? He turned to science and technology. Humans are a tool-making species – from clothes to ploughs, technology is primarily what distinguishes us from other apes. And much of this work was focused on the genome of major domesticated crops – if wheat, for example, could be shorter and put more effort into seed-making rather than stalks, then yields would improve and grain loss due to lodging would be minimised.

Before Borlaug died in 2009 he spent many years campaigning against those who for political and ideological reasons oppose modern innovation in agriculture. To quote: “If the naysayers do manage to stop agricultural biotechnology, they might actually precipitate the famines and the crisis of global biodiversity they have been predicting for nearly 40 years.”

And, thanks to supposedly environmental campaigns spread from affluent countries, we are perilously close to this position now. Biotechnology has not been stopped, but it has been made prohibitively expensive to all but the very biggest corporations.

It now costs tens of millions to get a crop through the regulatory systems in different countries. In fact the latest figures I’ve just seen from CropLife suggest it costs $139 million to move from discovering a new crop trait to full commercialisation, so open-source or public sector biotech really does not stand a chance.

There is a depressing irony here that the anti-biotech campaigners complain about GM crops only being marketed by big corporations when this is a situation they have done more than anyone to help bring about. . . .

He gives examples of how the bureaucratic burden is increasing in around the world then says:

. . . We well-fed consumers are blinded by romantic nostalgia for the traditional farming of the past. Because we have enough to eat, we can afford to indulge our aesthetic illusions.

But at the same time the growth of yields worldwide has stagnated for many major food crops, as research published only last month by Jonathan Foley and others in the journal Nature Communications showed. If we don’t get yield growth back on track we are indeed going to have trouble keeping up with population growth and resulting demand, and prices will rise as well as more land being converted from nature to agriculture.

To quote Norman Borlaug again: “I now say that the world has the technology — either available or well advanced in the research pipeline — to feed on a sustainable basis a population of 10 billion people. The more pertinent question today is whether farmers and ranchers will be permitted to use this new technology? While the affluent nations can certainly afford to adopt ultra low-risk positions, and pay more for food produced by the so-called ‘organic’ methods, the one billion chronically undernourished people of the low income, food-deficit nations cannot.”

As Borlaug was saying, perhaps the most pernicious myth of all is that organic production is better, either for people or the environment. The idea that it is healthier has been repeatedly disproved in the scientific literature. We also know from many studies that organic is much less productive, with up to 40-50% lower yields in terms of land area. The Soil Association went to great lengths in a recent report on feeding the world with organic not to mention this productivity gap.

Nor did it mention that overall, if you take into account land displacement effects, organic is also likely worse for biodiversity. Instead they talk about an ideal world where people in the west eat less meat and fewer calories overall so that people in developing countries can have more. This is simplistic nonsense.

If you think about it, the organic movement is at its heart a rejectionist one. It doesn’t accept many modern technologies on principle. Like the Amish in Pennsylvania, who froze their technology with the horse and cart in 1850, the organic movement essentially freezes its technology in somewhere around 1950, and for no better reason.

It doesn’t even apply this idea consistently however. I was reading in a recent Soil Association magazine that it is OK to blast weeds with flamethrowers or fry them with electric currents, but benign herbicides like glyphosate are still a no-no because they are ‘artificial chemicals’.

In reality there is no reason at all why avoiding chemicals should be better for the environment – quite the opposite in fact. Recent research by Jesse Ausubel and colleagues at Rockefeller University looked at how much extra farmland Indian farmers would have had to cultivate today using the technologies of 1961 to get today’s overall yield. The answer is 65 million hectares, an area the size of France.

In China, maize farmers spared 120 million hectares, an area twice the size of France, thanks to modern technologies getting higher yields. On a global scale, between 1961 and 2010 the area farmed grew by only 12%, whilst kilocalories per person rose from 2200 to 2800. So even with three billion more people, everyone still had more to eat thanks to a production increase of 300% in the same period.

So how much land worldwide was spared in the process thanks to these dramatic yield improvements, for which chemical inputs played a crucial role? The answer is 3 billion hectares, or the equivalent of two South Americas. There would have been no Amazon rainforest left today without this improvement in yields. Nor would there be any tigers in India or orang utans in Indonesia. That is why I don’t know why so many of those opposing the use of technology in agriculture call themselves environmentalists. . . .

Lynas asks where the opposition comes from and says there seems to be a widespread assumption that modern technology equals more risk.

Actually there are many very natural and organic ways to face illness and early death, as the debacle with Germany’s organic beansprouts proved in 2011. This was a public health catastrophe, with the same number of deaths and injuries as were caused by Chernobyl, because E.-coli probably from animal manure infected organic beansprout seeds imported from Egypt.

In total 53 people died and 3,500 suffered serious kidney failure. And why were these consumers choosing organic? Because they thought it was safer and healthier, and they were more scared of entirely trivial risks from highly-regulated chemical pesticides and fertilisers.

If you look at the situation without prejudice, much of the debate, both in terms of anti-biotech and organic, is simply based on the naturalistic fallacy – the belief that natural is good, and artificial is bad. This is a fallacy because there are plenty of entirely natural poisons and ways to die, as the relatives of those who died from E.-coli poisoning would tell you.

For organic, the naturalistic fallacy is elevated into the central guiding principle for an entire movement. This is irrational and we owe it to the Earth and to our children to do better.

This is not to say that organic farming has nothing to offer – there are many good techniques which have been developed, such as intercropping and companion planting, which can be environmentally very effective, even it they do tend to be highly labour-intensive. Principles of agro-ecology such as recyling nutrients and promoting on-farm diversity should also be taken more seriously everywhere.

But organic is in the way of progress when it refuses to allow innovation. Again using GM as the most obvious example, many third-generation GM crops allow us not to use environmentally-damaging chemicals because the genome of the crop in question has been altered so the plant can protect itself from pests. Why is that not organic?

Organic is also in the way when it is used to take away choice from others. One of the commonest arguments against GM is that organic farmers will be ‘contaminated’ with GM pollen, and therefore no-one should be allowed to use it. So the rights of a well-heeled minority, which come down ultimately to a consumer preference based on aesthetics, trump the rights of everyone else to use improved crops which would benefit the environment.

I am all for a world of diversity, but that means one farming system cannot claim to have a monopoly of virtue and aim at excluding all other options. Why can’t we have peaceful co-existence? This is particularly the case when it shackles us to old technologies which have higher inherent risks than the new.

It seems like almost everyone has to pay homage to ‘organic’ and to question this orthodoxy is unthinkable. Well I am here to question it today.

The biggest risk of all is that we do not take advantage of all sorts of opportunities for innovation because of what is in reality little more than blind prejudice. Let me give you two examples, both regrettably involving Greenpeace.

Last year Greenpeace destroyed a GM wheat crop in Australia, for all the traditional reasons, which I am very familiar with having done it myself. This was publicly funded research carried out by the Commonwealth Scientific Research institute, but no matter. They were against it because it was GM and unnatural.

What few people have since heard is that one of the other trials being undertaken, which Greenpeace activists with their strimmers luckily did not manage to destroy, accidentally found a wheat yield increase of an extraordinary 30%. Just think. This knowledge might never have been produced at all, if Greenpeace had succeeded in destroying this innovation. As the president of the NFU Peter Kendall recently suggested, this is analogous to burning books in a library before anyone has been able to read them.

The second example comes from China, where Greenpeace managed to trigger a national media panic by claiming that two dozen children had been used as human guinea pigs in a trial of GM golden rice. They gave no consideration to the fact that this rice is healthier, and could save thousands of children from vitamin A deficiency-related blindness and death each year.

What happened was that the three Chinese scientists named in the Greenpeace press release were publicly hounded and have since lost their jobs, and in an autocratic country like China they are at serious personal risk. Internationally because of over-regulation golden rice has already been on the shelf for over a decade, and thanks to the activities of groups like Greenpeace it may never become available to vitamin-deficient poor people.

This to my mind is immoral and inhumane, depriving the needy of something that would help them and their children because of the aesthetic preferences of rich people far away who are in no danger from Vitamin A shortage. Greenpeace is a $100-million a year multinational, and as such it has moral responsibilities just like any other large company.

The fact that golden rice was developed in the public sector and for public benefit cuts no ice with the antis. Take Rothamsted Research, whose director Maurice Moloney is speaking tomorrow. Last year Rothamsted began a trial of an aphid-resistant GM wheat which would need no pesticides to combat this serious pest.

Because it is GM the antis were determined to destroy it. They failed because of the courage of Professor John Pickett and his team, who took to YouTube and the media to tell the important story of why their research mattered and why it should not be trashed. They gathered thousands of signatures on a petition when the antis could only manage a couple of hundred, and the attempted destruction was a damp squib.

One intruder did manage to scale the fence, however, who turned out to be the perfect stereotypical anti-GM protestor – an old Etonian aristocrat whose colourful past makes our Oxford local Marquess of Blandford look like the model of responsible citizenry.

This high-born activist scattered organic wheat seeds around the trial site in what was presumably a symbolic statement of naturalness. Professor Pickett’s team tell me they had a very low-tech solution to getting rid of it – they went round with a cordless portable hoover to clear it up.

This year, as well as repeating the wheat trial, Rothamsted is working on an omega 3 oilseed that could replace wild fish in food for farmed salmon. So this could help reduce overfishing by allowing land-based feedstocks to be used in aquaculture. Yes it’s GM, so expect the antis to oppose this one too, despite the obvious potential environmental benefits in terms of marine biodiversity.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough. So my conclusion here today is very clear: the GM debate is over. It is finished. We no longer need to discuss whether or not it is safe – over a decade and a half with three trillion GM meals eaten there has never been a single substantiated case of harm. You are more likely to get hit by an asteroid than to get hurt by GM food. More to the point, people have died from choosing organic, but no-one has died from eating GM.

Just as I did 10 years ago, Greenpeace and the Soil Association claim to be guided by consensus science, as on climate change. Yet on GM there is a rock-solid scientific consensus, backed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Society, health institutes and national science academies around the world. Yet this inconvenient truth is ignored because it conflicts with their ideology.

One final example is the sad story of the GM blight-resistant potato. This was being developed by both the Sainsbury Lab and Teagasc, a publicly-funded institute in Ireland – but the Irish Green Party, whose leader often attends this very conference, was so opposed that they even took out a court case against it.

This is despite the fact that the blight-resistant potato would save farmers from doing 15 fungicide sprays per season, that pollen transfer is not an issue because potatoes are clonally propagated and that the offending gene came from a wild relative of the potato.

There would have been a nice historical resonance to having a blight-resistant potato developed in Ireland, given the million or more who died due to the potato famine in the mid 19th century. It would have been a wonderful thing for Ireland to be the country that defeated blight. But thanks to the Irish Green Party, this is not to be.

And unfortunately the antis now have the bureaucrats on their side. Wales and Scotland are officially GM free, taking medieval superstition as a strategic imperative for devolved governments supposedly guided by science.

It is unfortunately much the same in much of Africa and Asia. India has rejected Bt brinjal, even though it would reduce insecticide applications in the field, and residues on the fruit. The government in India is increasingly in thrall to backward-looking ideologues like Vandana Shiva, who idealise pre-industrial village agriculture despite the historical fact that it was an age of repeated famines and structural insecurity.

In Africa, ‘no GM’ is still the motto for many governments. Kenya for example has actually banned GM foods because of the supposed “health risks” despite the fact that they could help reduce the malnutrition that is still rampant in the country – and malnutrition is by the way a proven health risk, with no further evidence needed. In Kenya if you develop a GM crop which has better nutrition or a higher yield to help poorer farmers then you will go to jail for 10 years.

Thus desperately-needed agricultural innovation is being strangled by a suffocating avalanche of regulations which are not based on any rational scientific assessment of risk. The risk today is not that anyone will be harmed by GM food, but that millions will be harmed by not having enough food, because a vocal minority of people in rich countries want their meals to be what they consider natural.

I hope now things are changing. The wonderful Bill and Melinda Gates foundation recently gave $10 million to the John Innes Centre to begin efforts to integrate nitrogen fixing capabilities into major food crops, starting with maize. Yes, Greenpeace, this will be GM. Get over it. If we are going to reduce the global-scale problem of nitrogen pollution then having major crop plants fixing their own nitrogen is a worthy goal.

I know it is politically incorrect to say all this, but we need a a major dose of both international myth-busting and de-regulation. The plant scientists I know hold their heads in their hands when I talk about this with them because governments and so many people have got their sense of risk so utterly wrong, and are foreclosing a vitally necessary technology.

Norman Borlaug is dead now, but I think we honour his memory and his vision when we refuse to give in to politically correct orthodoxies when we know they are incorrect. The stakes are high. If we continue to get this wrong, the life prospects of billions of people will be harmed.

So I challenge all of you today to question your beliefs in this area and to see whether they stand up to rational examination. Always ask for evidence, as the campaigning group Sense About Science advises, and make sure you go beyond the self-referential reports of campaigning NGOs.

But most important of all, farmers should be free to choose what kind of technologies they want to adopt. If you think the old ways are the best, that’s fine. You have that right.

What you don’t have the right to do is to stand in the way of others who hope and strive for ways of doing things differently, and hopefully better. Farmers who understand the pressures of a growing population and a warming world. Who understand that yields per hectare are the most important environmental metric. And who understand that technology never stops developing, and that even the fridge and the humble potato were new and scary once.

So my message to the anti-GM lobby, from the ranks of the British aristocrats and celebrity chefs to the US foodies to the peasant groups of India is this. You are entitled to your views. But you must know by now that they are not supported by science. We are coming to a crunch point, and for the sake of both people and the planet, now is the time for you to get out of the way and let the rest of us get on with feeding the world sustainably.

No-one is forcing anyone to consume genetically modified food.

Those who wish to get non-GM and/or organic food are free to do so. But when science finds no danger in GM then they have no right to prevent others benefiting from it.

They might argue, correctly, that the absence of proof of danger is not the same as proof of safety.

But life is a risky business and if we waited for 100% proof of safety before doing anything we’d do nothing.


Direct drill inventor up for World Food Prize

June 2, 2012

The sight of one of our neighbour’s paddocks blowing past our kitchen window in a nor wester is one of my enduring memories of the droughts which punctuated the 1980s in North Otago.

Thankfully it is something I’ve never seen since and one of the reasons for that is that soon after  that happened direct drilling was introduced.

This low tillage method of cultivation doesn’t leave the soil exposed to wind and weather as conventional ploughing does and it is now the preferred practice in our district.

The drill revolutionised farming and its inventor has been nominated for the US$250,000 (NZ$327,000) World Food Prize.

Dr John Baker perfected the cross-slot seed drill over 30 years as a scientist at Massey University and then spent 10 years fighting to win ownership of it from companies the university sold it to.

He regained control of the drill in 1998, after $10 million had been spent on developing it, and set up a factory in Feilding to build them.

Cross-slot tillage is described as the keyhole surgery of farming. The drill creates two side-by-side pockets as it passes through the soil, depositing seed in one and fertiliser in the other.

Unlike ploughing, it does not disturb the surface of the soil and preserves soil micro-organisms and carbon. . .

 . . . Nomination follows Baker reaching the finals of the World Technology Awards in 2010. Baker said the food prize nomination stemmed from his lift in profile at the technology awards.

“It awakened a lot of people to the fact 90 per cent of the world’s food is annual crops. They all start off as seed and if you don’t sow those seeds correctly, they won’t grow and we all starve.

The drill, sold widely in New Zealand at prices ranging from $200,000 to $600,000, is also being exported to 17 countries . . .  

The inventor of the drill which protects soils and as a result increases yields is a worthy nominee for this prestigious prize.


March 25 in history

March 25, 2012

1199 Richard I was wounded by a crossbow bolt while fighting France.

1306 Robert the Bruce became King of Scotland.

1347 Catherine of Siena, Italian saint, was born d. 1380).

1409 The Council of Pisa opened.

1584 Sir Walter Raleigh was granted a patent to colonize Virginia.

1634  The first settlers arrived in Maryland.

1655 Saturn‘s largest moon, Titan, was discovered by Christian Huygens.

1802 The Treaty of Amiens was signed as a “Definitive Treaty of Peace” between France and Britain.

1807 The Slave Trade Act became law, abolishing the slave trade in the British Empire.

1807 – The Swansea and Mumbles Railway, then known as the Oystermouth Railway, became the first passenger carrying railway in the world.

1811 Percy Bysshe Shelley was expelled from the University of Oxford for his publication of the pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism.

1821 Greeks revolted against the Ottoman Empire, beginning the Greek War of Independence.

1847 Duel between Dr Isaac Featherston, editor of the Wellington Independent, and Colonel William Wakefield, the New Zealand Company’s Principal Agent in New Zealand.

Wakefield and Featherston duel

1881 Mary Gladys Webb, English writer, was born  (d. 1927).

1894  Coxey’s Army, the first significant American protest march, left Massillon, Ohio for Washington D.C.

1897 John Laurie, Scottish actor, was born (d. 1980).

1899 Burt Munro, New Zealand motorcycle racer, was born (d. 1978).

1903 Racing Club de Avellaneda, one of the big five of Argentina, was founded.

1908 Clube Atletico Mineiro was founded in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

1911 In New York City, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire killed 146 garment workers.

1913 Sir Reo Stakis, Anglo-Cypriot hotel magnate, was born (d. 2001).

1914 Norman Borlaug, American agriculturalist, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, was born (d. 2009).

1917 The Georgian Orthodox Church restored its autocephaly abolished by Imperial Russia in 1811.

1918 The Belarusian People’s Republic was established.

1922 Eileen Ford, American model agency executive, was born.

1924  On the anniversary of Greek Independence, Alexandros Papanastasiou proclaimed the Second Hellenic Republic.

1934 Gloria Steinem, American feminist and publisher, was born.

1937 Tom Monaghan, American fast-food industry entrepreneur, was born.

1939 Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli beccame Pope Pius XII.

1940 John A Lee was expelled from the Labour Party.

John A. Lee expelled from Labour Party

1941 The Kingdom of Yugoslavia joined the Axis powers with the signing of the Tripartite Pact.

1942 Aretha Franklin, American singer, was born.

1947  An explosion in a coal mine in Centralia, Illinois killed 111.

1947 Elton John, English singer and songwriter, was born.

1948  The first successful tornado forecast predicted that a tornado would strike Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma.

1949  The March deportation was conducted in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to force collectivisation by way of terror. The Soviet authorities deported more than 92,000 people from Baltics to remote areas of the Soviet Union.

1957  United States Customs seized copies of Allen Ginsberg‘s poem “Howl” as obscene.

1957  The European Economic Community was established (West Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg).

1958  Canada’s Avro Arrow made its first flight.

1960 Steve Norman, British saxophonist (Spandau Ballet), was born.

1960 Peter O’Brien, Australian actor, was born.

1965  Sarah Jessica Parker, American actress, was born.

1965  Civil rights activists led by Martin Luther King, Jr. successfully completed their 4-day 50-mile march from Selma to the capitol in Montgomery, Alabama.

1969  During their honeymoon, John Lennon and Yoko Ono held their first Bed-In for Peace at the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel (until March 31).

1971 Beginning of Operation Searchlight of Pakistan Army against East Pakistani civilians.

1975 Faisal of Saudi Arabia was shot and killed by a mentally ill nephew.

1979  The first fully functional space shuttle orbiter, Columbia, was delivered to the John F. Kennedy Space Center to be prepared for its first launch.

1988  The Candle demonstration in Bratislava – the first mass demonstration of the 1980s against the communist regime in Czechoslovakia.

1992  Cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev returned to Earth after a 10-month stay aboard the Mir space station.

1995  The world’s first wiki, a part of the Portland Pattern Repository, was made public by Ward Cunningham.

1996  An 81-day-long standoff between the anti-government group Montana Freemen and law enforcement near Jordan, Montana, began.

1996  The European Union’s Veterinarian Committee bans the export of British beef and its by-products as a result of mad cow disease (Bovine spongiform encephalopathy).

2006  Capitol Hill massacre: A gunman killed six people before taking his own life at a party in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

2006 Protesters demanding a new election in Belarus following the rigged Belarusian presidential election, 2006 clashed with riot police. Opposition leader Aleksander Kozulin was among several protesters arrested.

Sourced from NZ History Online & Wikipedia


March 25 in history

March 25, 2011

On March 25:

1199 Richard I was wounded by a crossbow bolt while fighting France.

1306 Robert the Bruce became King of Scotland.

1347 Catherine of Siena, Italian saint, was born d. 1380).

1409 The Council of Pisa opened.

1584 Sir Walter Raleigh was granted a patent to colonize Virginia.

 

1634  The first settlers arrived in Maryland.

1655 Saturn‘s largest moon, Titan, was discovered by Christian Huygens.

1802 The Treaty of Amiens was signed as a “Definitive Treaty of Peace” between France and Britain.

Gillray - The First Kiss.jpgJames Gillray, The first Kiss this Ten Years! —or—the meeting of Britannia & Citizen François (1803)

1807 The Slave Trade Act became law, abolishing the slave trade in the British Empire.

1807 – The Swansea and Mumbles Railway, then known as the Oystermouth Railway, became the first passenger carrying railway in the world.

 

1811 Percy Bysshe Shelley was expelled from the University of Oxford for his publication of the pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism.

1821 Greeks revolted against the Ottoman Empire, beginning the Greek War of Independence.

Epanastasi.jpg

1847 Duel between Dr Isaac Featherston, editor of the Wellington Independent, and Colonel William Wakefield, the New Zealand Company’s Principal Agent in New Zealand.

Wakefield and Featherston duel

1881 Mary Gladys Webb, English writer, was born  (d. 1927).

 1894  Coxey’s Army, the first significant American protest march, left Massillon, Ohio for Washington D.C.

 

1897 John Laurie, Scottish actor, was born (d. 1980).

 

1899 Burt Munro, New Zealand motorcycle racer, was born (d. 1978).

 

1903 Racing Club de Avellaneda, one of the big five of Argentina, was founded.

Racing Club's Crest

1908 Clube Atletico Mineiro was founded in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Atlético Mineiro

1911 In New York City, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire killed 146 garment workers.

 People and horses draped in black walk in procession in memory of the victims.

1913 Sir Reo Stakis, Anglo-Cypriot hotel magnate, was born (d. 2001).

 

1914 Norman Borlaug, American agriculturalist, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, was born (d. 2009).

1917 The Georgian Orthodox Church restored its autocephaly abolished by Imperial Russia in 1811.

Georgian Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church logo.gif

1918 The Belarusian People’s Republic was established.

1922 Eileen Ford, American model agency executive, was born.

1924  On the anniversary of Greek Independence, Alexandros Papanastasiou proclaimed the Second Hellenic Republic.

1934 Gloria Steinem, American feminist and publisher, was born.

1937 Tom Monaghan, American fast-food industry entrepreneur, was born.

Dominos pizza logo.svg

1939 Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli beccame Pope Pius XII.

Pacelli12.jpg
   

1940 John A Lee was expelled from the Labour Party.

John A. Lee expelled from Labour Party

1941 The Kingdom of Yugoslavia joined the Axis powers with the signing of the Tripartite Pact.

E-tripartite-pact.jpg

1942 Aretha Franklin, American singer, was born.

1947  An explosion in a coal mine in Centralia, Illinois killed 111.

1947 Elton John, English singer and songwriter, was born.

1948  The first successful tornado forecast predicted that a tornado would strike Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma.

Damage to United States Air Force bombers from the first tornado.

1949  The March deportation was conducted in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to force collectivisation by way of terror. The Soviet authorities deported more than 92,000 people from Baltics to remote areas of the Soviet Union.

 “Enemies of the people”: 72% of deportees were women and children under the age of 16

1957  United States Customs seized copies of Allen Ginsberg‘s poem “Howl” as obscene.

 

1957  The European Economic Community was established (West Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg).

1958  Canada’s Avro Arrow made its first flight.

1960 Steve Norman, British saxophonist (Spandau Ballet), was born.

1960 Peter O’Brien, Australian actor, was born.

1965  Sarah Jessica Parker, American actress, was born.

 

1965  Civil rights activists led by Martin Luther King, Jr. successfully completed their 4-day 50-mile march from Selma to the capitol in Montgomery, Alabama.

 

1969  During their honeymoon, John Lennon and Yoko Ono held their first Bed-In for Peace at the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel (until March 31).

1971 Beginning of Operation Searchlight of Pakistan Army against East Pakistani civilians.

1975 Faisal of Saudi Arabia was shot and killed by a mentally ill nephew.

The image above is proposed for deletion. See files for deletion to help reach a consensus on what to do.

1979  The first fully functional space shuttle orbiter, Columbia, was delivered to the John F. Kennedy Space Center to be prepared for its first launch.

Space Shuttle Columbia

1988  The Candle demonstration in Bratislava – the first mass demonstration of the 1980s against the communist regime in Czechoslovakia.

1992  Cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev returned to Earth after a 10-month stay aboard the Mir space station.

Sergei Konstantinovich Krikalev.jpg

1995  The world’s first wiki, a part of the Portland Pattern Repository, was made public by Ward Cunningham.

 

1996  An 81-day-long standoff between the anti-government group Montana Freemen and law enforcement near Jordan, Montana, began.

1996  The European Union’s Veterinarian Committee bans the export of British beef and its by-products as a result of mad cow disease (Bovine spongiform encephalopathy).

 

2006  Capitol Hill massacre: A gunman killed six people before taking his own life at a party in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

2006 Protesters demanding a new election in Belarus following the rigged Belarusian presidential election, 2006 clashed with riot police. Opposition leader Aleksander Kozulin was among several protesters arrested.

Sourced from NZ History Online & Wikipedia


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