Is Going Organic The Way Forward for NZ ?
Farming - The Backbone of the NZ Economy
We know how important the farming industry is to New Zealand economically. Farmers are “real New Zealanders” - the ones bringing home the bacon for the rest of the country.
Without the farming industry NZ would be desperately poor”, says Sir Paul Callaghan, New Zealander of the Year and one of the country’s top scientists. The average NZ farmer is a battler and gets little financial return. Bruce Wills, the head of Federated Farmers, says that farming “pays the bills” to the tune of earning $24 billion a year and “Agriculture is largely responsible for rebuilding Christchurch and repaying the country’s massive debts”.
Is Our Dairy Industry Sustainable the Way It Is?
Currently our advantages as a dairy producing country are plenty. We produce high-quality milk from a clean, safe environment and we offer produce from grass fed, lean, healthy cows.
These characteristics are highly sought after by consumers in the United States and other offshore markets prepared to pay a substantial premium, but it’s becoming a competitive market with increasing costs, changing weather patterns and environmental issues - we may need to lift the bar to stay in the game.
Does our global reputation as a producer of premium dairy products still stand? Incidents such as the Fonterra/Botulism debacle, the China/Melamine scare and the Sri Lanka/DCD contamination incident, do not help with our clean, green image, it damages our reputation and contributes to a negative brand association.
We need something that gives us a competitive edge and ensures we are a major player – even under threat!
We Need A Competitive Edge
It’s no longer just a matter of supply and demand – we have to get our marketing strategy right, look for the market gap, grab it and run with it.
What is that market gap anyway? Could it be building upon that clean green image and going organic? How many other countries offer organic produce? Could this be our USP (Unique Selling Point)?
Changing Weather Patterns
Droughts, floods and global warming all affect the bottom line for farmers. Northland farmers state that droughts and floods effect production and profit.
Comments from Ruth and Ross, Dargaville farmers - “The weather patterns up here in Northland seem to be getting worse, from droughts to floods all in one year.
When we get a drought it wipes out your savings and any profit you’ve made goes toward damage control. We couldn’t pay our bills for months after the last one and then we had to wait for Fonterra to pay us out. You’ve got to know how to budget and you need a really good relationship with your bank manager, thank God for overdrafts”.
I asked - what can farmers do to ensure the next drought or flood doesn’t wipe them out?
Ruth replied – “What we do is plant alternative crops, don’t just rely on grass alone, stock up on grains and we have a dam and other catchments for water, but these are all extra costs we don’t need”.
Rising transport and fuel costs increase the price of NZ goods. Our competitors are able to keep their prices down because they are geographically closer to the offshore markets and don’t have the same overheads.
Dairy farmers have numerous overheads e.g. - fertiliser, weed sprays, spreading contractors, mechanical equipment repairs, milk shed maintenance, rubber cup inflations, dropper rubber replacements, pulsater tube replacements, air hose replacements, milk vat rubber seal replacements (connecting to the trucks) and these are ongoing absolute essentials to meet operating standards.
It would be even more expensive if the Kyoto Protocol goes through, (an international agreement to address global warming and delay climate change). This would mean farmers would pay for their animals’ farting and burping via the Emissions Trading Scheme, which is supposedly good for the environment but not so good on the pocket.
Hard On The Environment?
There is ample research to support that dairy farming and other forms of agricultural farming, is polluting our environment -land, water and air.
A growing number of public figures say that while farming is important to NZ, its heavy use of natural resources is unsustainable and affects our clean green image and we should look at making improvements. There will come a time when NZ won’t be able to rely on Dairy as the main income.
Professor of Pastoral Agriculture at Massey University, Jacqueline Rowarth says we are making improvements to the way we farm by increasing productivity via the growing of maize for silage and plans to eventually house animals, which will help curb greenhouse gas emissions and boost milk production.
Is this enough? Is this the right strategy? Do we want housed animals? What about robot milking is that the answer? I think we need to preserve out clean green image and go back to the basics.
Why don’t we develop NZ as an organic source of food for the rest of the world? Maybe this could give farmers more money (more bang for their buck) and boost the NZ economy. Could organic farming be the way forward?
Organic Farming is the Way Forward
Organic farming is healthier for farmers, animals and the environment. People are prepared to pay more for organic produce. Fonterra pays farmers more for organic milk solids than regular milk. It’s a polluted world out there now, but not so bad in New Zealand, right? We should use this to our advantage before it becomes too late and we are polluted like everyone else.
Doesn't Deplete Soil
You don’t end up with nitrates in the waterways and you don’t need toxic sprays or chemical fertilisers – but how can a farmer who has spent his life using an in-grained cultural template, suddenly change?
Is there any guarantee he will make money if he implements changes?
I spoke to Culloden a farmer from Northland who has been operating a successful certified organic dairy farm for over 5 years. He says organic farming offers him numerous benefits including increased financial profit. He gets paid more per kilo for organic milk solids than he does for regular milk and has some very interesting ways to increase his turnover and productivity.
Culloden says “Conventional farmers have a mental block when it comes to organic farming – they are afraid their income will go down and they will lose production. At first it’s a bit scary to go through the transition; it requires a different type of thinking like learning a new language - but there is definitely money to be made”.
“Once seen as a fringe activity, organic farming has become a multi-million-dollar industry in New Zealand. Worldwide, organics is one of the fastest growing sectors of food production”.
Read story by Seager Mason
If we consume antibiotic-free produce it’s a win/win. Farmers can save money and consumers will have better health. Culloden says - “Milk farmers can make savings by treating Bovine Mastitis with Homeopathy rather than antibiotics. Homeopathic treatments are not expensive and they keep your animals healthy.
When cows are treated naturally you don’t get antibiotic contamination in the milk, no withholding period and no loss of production. I have seen so many farmers having to dump their milk because of antibiotic contamination, a loss that really costs them”. Check this out – Homeopathy for Dairy Farming, written by Tineke Verkade http://www.farmsupport.co.nz
“We don’t use phosphate fertilisers or Urea” explains Culloden. “ To grow good grass we use, seaweed, or zinc and a special type of lime that is better quality and not expensive.
There is a lot of low grade lime around, like chalk - no goodness in it”.
I asked Culloden what was wrong with phosphate fertilisers, his reply - “Soil contamination can occur when using phosphate fertiliser as it can contain residues of other chemicals in the manufacturing process and it has other minerals in it we don’t need – this binds up the natural minerals in the soil and makes the soil hard”.
Then I asked, what’s wrong with Urea? His reply – “Urea is used for increasing grass growth. It has high nitrates in it and no goodness. It‘s kinda like grass on steroids. Over use of it throws other important minerals in the soil out of balance. It also promotes Lactic Acid build up in animals and humans - effecting health”.
Nitrates can also leach into our water ways from runoff, and cause leaching – and eventually effect fish and plankton/algae balance. Then you have to use chemicals like DCD to prevent this from happening and you don’t want DCD or nitrates turning up in your milk or any other consumable.
Other ways of growing good grass is to spray cow manure back onto the grass and there are ways to do this effectively without the danger or Leptospirosis.
You can also grow good grass by cutting back on the number of cows you have in a field so you don’t over stock and this prevents “pugging” – When stock intensively trample wet soil, the soil aggregates are broken down, and spaces/ pores in the soil are reduced and the root structure is damaged.
This phenomenon is called pugging.
Organic Farming Increases Milk Protein
Culloden also says “Instead of planting maize plant chicory –the cows love it, milk protein levels go up and cows improve in health. The protein content is what we get paid for by Fonterra not volume of milk. It’s all about making our pastures sustainable”.
Natural Weed Control – Less Toxic to the Environment
You can weed control easily without costly chemical sprays by using flowers, herbs and Neem and it doesn’t cost the earth. Spraying chemicals to kill weeds also kills worms, nematodes, anthropoids, fungi and disturbs the ecological balance of the soil let alone what it’s doing to humans health”.
Here’s some valuable input from a Natural Chemistry Health Shop customer Kesley Phillips –
“I wanted to share a post you might enjoy It covers the most and least dangerous produce when it comes to pesticides. According to the EWG, an estimated 65% of 32,000 produce samples test positive for pesticide residue! I thought readers might find this helpful”. http://bit.ly/CleaningUpProduce
Going Organic - Great Idea But Too Hard
I spoke to Ross and Ruth, conventional farmers from Dargaville about going organic they said the thought of it made sense but maybe it was too hard to make the change. They would love to reduce the amount of Urea/Nitrates they use as these tend to build up and affect the soil, and they also realised the harm that toxic sprays can cause to their own health. Ross and Ruth visited me at Natural Chemistry to seek advice for health issues.
Ross said “The idea is great, but for farmers like us, how do we do it? We wouldn’t know how to? How do you stop production going down with these new methods? If they don’t work, we can’t afford anything to go wrong financially. Other methods of weed control rather than chemical spraying would have to kick in fairly quickly otherwise you’d go backward”. Ruth added - “We like the idea but wouldn’t do it at our age, maybe our sons could do it, but I’m not sure how they would learn.”
Message to farmers from Culloden –“The way forward for NZ farmers is to not be afraid of change - do the risk management first, like a business plan and then just change your mind set and go for it. There are ways to work smarter not harder and healthier with less exposure to toxins and stress and to make more money”.
Ruth says – “The way forward is to integrate, take a bit of this and a bit of that and join old methods with the new and just go for it”.
Instead of criticising farmers for polluting the environment, let’s be proactive and talk to local MP’s about Government incentives for using alternative, less damaging farming methods.
Let’s focus on the positives rather than the negatives. Look at the benefits of organic farming and the benefits of eating organic produce rather than bagging conventional farmers and the doom and gloom of agricultural pollution.
Don’t put farmers down for doing the best they can, the only way they know. Enlighten them and educate them. Gently prompt them to get out of their comfort zone, look outside the square and let go of the small minded approach. Give them the tools and info they need to go forward and not just plod along.
Shop at Farmers’ Markets, they are an example of the increasing bio-regionalism taking hold around NZ and the world as consumers seek to connect with producers of fresh food and a means of reducing our impact on the environment.
Influence Fonterra to support Northland organic farmers. Remember farmers get paid more for organic milk solids than regular milk!
Support the NZ organic dairy industry - start buying organic milk or butter or meat.
Make sure its NZ made of course! There’s a better mark up for farmers and it’s better for your health! Help to make positive changes by sharing this Blog with as many people as you think would benefit from it.
Thanks for your attention.
Kind regards from LeahRead more