Rural round-up

19/10/2020

Rural stakeholders meet over Mackenzie fires – Annette Scott:

Federated Farmers and the Forest and Rural Fire Stakeholders Forum are calling for urgent action following two major fires in South Canterbury’s Mackenzie district.

The embers had barely cooled on the most recent, the Ohau fire, before the debate turned to causes and Feds and Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage crossed swords on what degree fire fuel loads on Department of Conservation (DOC) land were a factor.

“We definitely need some answers sooner rather than later,” Feds high country chair Rob Stokes said.

At a rural stakeholders meeting, including farming and DOC representatives, Stokes said it was a matter of absolute urgency to start planning now before the next fire. . . 

Ag Uni staff facing job cuts – Colin Williscroft:

Staff cuts at Lincoln University and Massey University’s College of Sciences have raised concerns about the impact they could have on future teaching and research of agricultural and horticultural science.

Earlier this month, Massey science staff received a discussion document that says the college’s expenses urgently need to be cut, with most of its curriculum affected by unsustainably low enrolments as a result of New Zealand’s border closure to overseas students.

The document set out two options to address the situation, with both requiring changes to the curriculum, along with a reduction in staff numbers of around a third – which equates to about 100 jobs. . . .

Shareholders Council review – final report out– Sudesh Kissun:

Fonterra Shareholders Council chairman James Barron says the council supports the recommendations of a review into its role and functions.

A steering group delivered its final report to the council today.

Barron says the council is committed to actioning the recommendations.

He says councillors will be meeting farmers in their respective wards next month “to get a greater understanding of their views and expectations”. . . 

Don’t fence me in :

Three New Zealand farms are now using electronic cow collars that use sound and vibration to guide and contain individual cows without the need for fences.

The collars are designed by the Kiwi agri-tech company Halter. 

Basil the Friesian cow munches calmly in the paddock.

As she moves there’s a quiet beep emanating from a collar around her neck. . .

Gisborne sheep shorn after five years producing record-breaking fleece :

A Gisborne sheep that evaded capture for five years has finally been shorn, producing a record-breaking fleece.

Gizzy Shrek was shorn at the Poverty Bay A & P show this morning, producing a 13kg fleece, said its owner Rob Faulkner.

“It’s a hell of a lot of wool to carry around.”

It broke the record for the world’s longest fleece, measuring in at 58 centimetres. . .

Women’s work in agriculture set to take leading role – Andrew Marshall:

Women working in agriculture are increasingly likely to be better educated than their male peers and are on course to make up about half of the industry’s managers in 10 years.

More women than men are now studying and graduating from tertiary degrees in agriculture and environment-related courses according to research by the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group.

The analysis, which covers the entire agribusiness service and production sector, noted a 23 per cent jump in the number of women who completed post school education qualifications in ag-related subjects between 2011 and 2016. . . 


Feds fired up over fires

07/10/2020

Federated Farmers wants to baa DOC from the high country because sheep do a better job:

The fire risk on Department of Conservation-managed land is being mismanaged and neglected, and needs urgent review, Federated Farmers says.

More than 1600 hectares have been destroyed by the fire at Lake Ohau that also ripped through the small alpine village on Sunday morning. Five weeks ago, around 3000 hectares of trees and scrub were turned to ash.

“It’s not even fire season and we have lost almost 50 homes and over 5000 ha because of fire,” Federated Farmers High Country Chair Rob Stokes says.

“In August we had the Pukaki Downs fires, also burning through DOC land, and now just weeks later another fire, again burning through DOC land. Both these fires were entirely avoidable.

“Lake Ohau residents who have tragically lost their homes must today have serious questions around what fuelled the fire.”

Federated Farmers has held grave fears for many years that locking up high country land without the proper care is dangerous.

In future Feds believes the risk will become even greater as the government’s new freshwater policies and the livestock destocking that will come through unreasonable fencing requirements will kick in. These policies will result in the growth of more combustible vegetation.

“This fire is another red flag; how many do we need?” Rob asks.

The 2012 Report of the Independent Fire Review said vegetation fires were arguably New Zealand’s most significant fire risk.

Destocking hill and high-country farms for conservation purposes has not been thoroughly thought through, Rob says.

“There is simply no science to support destocking. Now people have lost their homes because of mismanagement by DOC.”

Passive grazing of these areas in the past has significantly reduced the fire risk by controlling wilding pines and grasses, which left ungrazed become fuel. It also enabled the landowners and leaseholders to manage other pests while preserving open landscapes.

Feds also wants to forget the cheap shots and get serious about fire risk vegetation:

The destruction at Lake Ohau should light a fire under DOC for early negotiations with farmers on a partnership approach to deal with uncontrolled vegetation on conservation land, Federated Farmers says.

“For Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage to suggest yesterday that Federated Farmers was opportunistic in the wake of the Ohau blaze and just looking for free grazing was a cheap shot,” Feds High Country Chairperson Rob Stokes says.

Her comment that farmers are looking for cheap grazing was a very cheap shot and an uniformed one.

“We have been warning about fire fuel loads on DOC land in the South Island for years.  We have only been opportunistic in the sense that the near-miss to human lives, not to mention the stock loss and serious property damage from Sunday’s fire, was a chance to finally get some traction with the department and the government on this issue.

“Farmers aren’t looking for ‘free’ anything.  They operate commercial businesses and they’re looking for a partnership, with contracts, to try and reduce a serious risk to safety, private property and the environment,” Rob says.

Federated Farmers recognises there are some areas of the DOC estate where it’s totally inappropriate to have livestock.  But in less sensitive areas, low numbers of sheep or cattle can keep combustible grass, scrub and immature wilding pine levels down.

“Australia, the UK and the USA have learned this lesson but in New Zealand we seem to be going 180 degrees in the other direction.  In fire risk areas of those other nations, authorities are inviting farmers to graze livestock on public land – in fact, in some places are paying them to do so.”

On her return from the Climate Smart Agriculture event in Bali last year, former Feds President Katie Milne pointed out that Spain had rejected pressure for reductions in livestock numbers after it was pointed out that with fewer livestock chewing down grass and bush in forested areas, the losses and costs of forest fires already equivalent to around 3% of Spain’s GDP would accelerate.

For farmers, grazing adjacent DOC land can be more of a headache than a gain.  Because the areas are not fenced, mustering is time-consuming and the land is often such that the animals don’t put on much weight.

“Any grazing arrangement might only be for three months a year.  What is the farmer supposed to do with the animals for the other nine months?  That’s why it’s sensible to have long-term arrangements with land-owners immediately adjacent to DOC land, so there’s no costs trucking animals in and so on,” Rob says.

“Federated Farmers welcomes an opportunity to sit down with DOC for a sensible discussion on the practicalities of fire fuel loads on the public estate.” 

At least some of the people who are screaming loudest about the dangers of climate change are the ones who oppose mitigation – irrigation, and farming practices such as light grazing which have protected the high country for generations.


DoC policy fueling fires?

06/10/2020

Is DOC policy fueling fires?

Farmers say wilding vegetation on DOC land helped fuel the Lake Ōhau fire but the conservation minister has hit back saying nature does not start fires.

The Ōhau fire destroyed at least 20 homes and forced around 90 people to evacuate.

Federated Farmers High Country Committee chairman Rob Stokes said he had been warning the government about this danger for 12 years.

He said DOC closing up land for national parks meant that the ground was not grazed by sheep and cattle and therefore tussocks and grass were left to grow wild.

“I’ve been in the high country committee for 12 years and we’ve bought it up with DOC every year – the fuel that has been built up over the years is going to be an ongoing issue.

“It’s early in the season to be hit but it won’t be the last fire that’s for sure,” Stokes said.

He said it was good the government was investing a lot into wilding pine and weed control but more needs to be done.

“The scrub builds up over a year – when the country used to be clean we had buffer zones, but the conservation land is a bomb waiting to go off.”

Andrew Simpson farms merino sheep and cattle at Balmoral Station near Lake Tekapo.

He has notified Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage often about this problem.

“I’ve told her they may need to rethink how they manage some of this conservation land it is a fuel load and a disaster waiting to happen.

“She didn’t dismiss grazing it again but I’ve said that she might have to do some strategic fuel loading burns to get rid some of the problem areas like they do in Australia.

“It creates fire breaks and alleviates the risk of so much land being burnt,” Simpson said. . . 

Mackenzie District mayor Graham Smith also blames DOC mismanagement of conservation land:

Five weeks ago, a fire near Lake Pukaki, near Twizel, burned through more than 3500ha of land – much of it wilding pines – on August 30.

Mr Smith has joined a growing chorus of voices calling for better management of Doc land to prevent such blazes from burning out of control in future. . . 

“It is a huge risk to neighbouring properties to have areas of land with that much vegetation and fuel for fires. I would like to see better management practises.”

Ms Sage today visited Lake Ohau village and said she remained focused on the losses people faced in the immediate aftermath of the fire.

However, she said there would be a need for a conversation about ‘‘land management in the bigger picture’’ in future.

The current Government had put $100 million over four years into controlling wilding conifers, Ms Sage said, and on conservation land these had been substantially reduced.

‘‘Federated Farmers, I think, was making a push for free grazing,” she said. “Nature doesn’t start fires except by occasional lightning strikes, it’s managing human activity that is the key.”

No-one said anything about free. If light grazing was permitted it could help fund conservation.

North Otago Federated Farmers high country chairman Simon Williamson, a farm owner between Omarama and Twizel, said he had been woken by news of the Lake Ohau fire after 3am yesterday. . . 

Mr Williamson said the retired land the fire was spreading through was a “huge risk” that had not been addressed.

“All this ground that’s been locked up and hasn’t been grazed is becoming a hazard to life. The fuel loading in the land is just huge.”

Mr Williamson said having two fires in the past month highlighted the dangers of retired land and wilding pines.

“People are saying they want to lock everything up and create a safe habitat, but you’re not locking it up when it’s not being grazed or managed … you get one spark and it spreads and burns everything in sight.”

Mr Williamson said he heard of three or four farms that had lost livestock or had to move it.

“It’s really disappointing. We’ve been warning of this for a long time … once upon a time it was all grazing land.

“There’s a mindset that grazing is bad and it kills wildlife, but the reality is these massive blazes are going to happen more and more and spread further and further.”

The government has put millions into wilding pine control but that is a different issue from the fuel load that builds up when grass and scrub aren’t grazed.

The tenure review process has put many thousands of hectares under DOC control and not all has been a conservation success.

Farmers used to carry out weed and pest control but DOC hasn’t been funded to do as much of that as is needed.

And contrary to the views of those dark green advocates, removing stock doesn’t mean the land returns to the pristine condition in which they think it existed in a utopian past.

The hills around the summit of the Lindis Pass used to be covered in tussock. Without the stock grazing and application of fertiliser that happened when the area was farmed, hieracium is colonising the hillsides and the tussock is disappearing.

That isn’t nearly as scenic as the tussock was but it’s the danger of the growing fuel load that worries neighbouring land owners most.

Lightening strikes excepted, nature doesn’t start fires. But left to its own devices nature does add to the fuel load that increases the risk of fire spreading regardless of how it starts.


Rural round-up

06/09/2020

MfE on different page to farmers – Annette Scott:

Altering law before it has become effective is a tragic situation that farmers say could have been avoided if the Government had consulted properly.

That is the view of high country farmers struggling to come to grips with Government’s freshwater policy reforms that are now law.

Federated Farmers high country chairman Rob Stokes is bitterly disappointed over the Government’s approach.

“It’s been a case of rush through the legislation with no proper consultation and the result is an unworkable policy,” he said. . . 

Plan for the worst hope for the best – Gerald Piddock:

Each month the milk monitor Gerald Piddock delves into the dairy industry and gives us the low-down on the good, the bag, the ugly and everything in between.

NEW Zealand dairy farmers who felt the worst impact of last season’s drought are recovering well thanks to a relatively kind winter.

From all accounts, calving has gone smoothly and most farms have good pasture covers, setting them up well for spring.

But despite those positives, farmers will need this season to be as close to perfect as possible if they are to fully recover from the drought. . . 

Rural veterinarians empathetic but compromised over animal welfare reporting, vet says – Andrew McRae:

A vet who is also a farmer has come out in support of claims rural vets sometimes turn a blind eye to animal welfare issues because they are scared of how their community will react to it.

Animal welfare campaigner Angus Robson told RNZ on Thursday that rural vets are often compromised because reporting a farmer could affect their veterinary business.

Alison Dewes is a vet and farmer from Waikato and said vets played a major part in a rural community and this it made it difficult to dob someone in.

“I have worked myself for 30 years in rural communities and I think as veterinarians they are particularly compromised if they have got to be seen to be responsible for notifying welfare issues.” . . 

Farmers seeking more productive heifers turn to fresh sexed bull semen to meet mating goals:

Herd improvement and agri-tech cooperative LIC, the only provider of fresh, liquid sexed semen to New Zealand dairy farmers, is preparing for a busy spring as more farmers factor this new component into their 2020 breeding programmes.

Fresh sexed semen from LIC is helping dairy farmers accelerate genetic gain within their herds by enabling them to get more replacement heifer (female) calves from their top performing cows. It delivers a 90 per cent chance of producing a heifer, providing surplus calves with having an increased chance of being retained on farm and destined for either domestic or export beef markets.

LIC General Manager NZ Markets, Malcolm Ellis says demand for fresh sexed bull semen has been steadily increasing over the last few seasons with this year set to more than triple 2019 sales. . . 

The value of long-acting drench treatments again under the spotlight:

The outcomes of a Beef + Lamb New Zealand co-funded study has cast even more doubt on the economic value of drenching ewes with long-acting products.

The study, led by AgResearch’s Dave Leathwick and co-funded by B+LNZ and AgResearch, showed that initial benefits of drenching with these products, especially to low body condition score ewes, were short-lived and declined in the interval after the treatments had expired. Untreated ewes tended to catch-up to their treated equivalents.

“This has also been seen in other New Zealand studies and highlights the danger of only assessing benefits at the end of the drugs pay-out period.”

He says many sheep farmers treat their ewes pre-lambing with long-acting drench products (capsules or injections) expecting their ewes and lambs to benefit, however this study shows that any benefits seen at weaning are likely to over-estimate the true value. . . 

Global investors boost NZ red seaweed farming venture:

Aquaculture startup CH4 Global has closed on seed funding of US$3 million (NZ$4.45 million) and will scale up its New Zealand operations with commercial marine and tank-based seaweed cultivation pilots based at Rakiura/Stewart Island. These pilots will serve as the platform to deliver an end to end production module in late 2021.

CH4 Global is currently operating a sustainable wild harvest programme at Rakiura of a specific species of red seaweed – Asparagopsis armata – to use as a livestock supplement solution to reduce ruminant methane emissions by up to 90 percent. The harvesting programme will provide the seed stock for the scale-up as well as finished product for dairy and sheep trials.

“Our focus is on urgently impacting climate change within the next decade, so this investment means NZ farmers, and farmers in the US and Australia, could be the first in the world to make a meaningful impact on emissions in this way,” comments Dr Steve Meller, President, CEO and Co-Founder of CH4 Global. . . 


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