Envirologue by Dave Hansford

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Envirologue: The Power of N – Nutrient Caps and Peak Dairy

17 Responses

  • Ben Schrader,

    A great, if sobering, piece.

    Farmers like to promote the idea they’re stewards of the land and even even improving it, but the dairy boom shows this is bollocks and that they're in fact slowly poisoning it to death. It’s a rip, shit and bust mentality that has characterised Pakeha approaches to the land since colonisation began, from felling native forests to gold mining. Dairying is another form of mining that looks for short-term economic gains and doesn’t give a shit about what happens along the way.

    This was brought home to me over summer when I spent a week in rural North Otago with my family. Twenty-five years ago I used to swim in the rivers there. On one particularly hot day my 14-year old suggested we go swimming in the nearby Kakanui River. I was told by my sister that this out of the question because it was too heavily polluted from the massive dairy conversions in the district. Can’t see much stewardship going on there.

    It’s about time government realised milk powder is not New Zealand’s economic saviour long-term and will, if the present course continues unchecked, end up ruining the land for all.

    Wellington • Since Mar 2015 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • Ana Simkiss,

    The average farm has increased its production of milksolids by 42 per cent over the last 10 years, while term liabilities have increased almost three-fold from $1.06 million to $2.96 million over the same period. Therefore, term liabilities have increased considerably faster than milk production for the average farm, increasing liquidity pressure on some farms.

    From Dairy NZ Economic Survey 2012-13. So much information for those interested: http://www.dairynz.co.nz/publications/dairy-industry/dairynz-economic-survey-2012-13/

    here is some more: Figure 5.10 shows the debt to asset distribution in 2012-13. The majority of farms are near the mean of 43.7 per cent, some farms
    had very high debt to asset ratios or were in a negative equity situation, 13.5 per cent of farms have over 70 per cent debt/asset ratio.

    My impression is there are a lot of large herds out there and farmers with multiple properties. Those people (some are corporates) are probably fairly heavily leveraged and have the biggest debt on the whole - tens of millions.

    Freemans Bay • Since Nov 2006 • 141 posts Report Reply

  • Rachel Stewart,

    Generally a great article. Some thoughts.

    Firstly, Horizons 'One Plan' is good on paper but is simply not working in reality. There is continual interference being run by the farmer-stacked councillors. In reality, they are consenting in a manner that is breaching their own One Plan on a daily basis. In fact, it would not be a stretch to say that they are worse now on N-loading than they were before the Plan was introduced. I am writing a column (or two) on this very subject as we speak - it is quite shocking.

    Secondly, to label Waikato's Fed Farmer's president a "thinking farmer" is a big stretch. Yes, he said what he said about a moratorium (and then got swiftly put back in line by WGTN) but he's not coming from any notion of altruism or care for the environment. He's firmly figured out that the losers in the cow numbers race are established farms and farmers like himself. Survival of the fittest, baby.....

    Wellington • Since Mar 2015 • 2 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    After reading this my mind turned to ways to fix it (it's pathological I know) and it occurs to me that because of the way we hide the real costs of dairy farming, by making the cleanup a taxpayer and ratepayer responsibility we essentially have no way to develop cheaper or better solutions.

    The way research in NZ is structured, there is pure research funded mostly by Marsden and is about 5-10% of what goes on in NZ depending on how you count. And there is product driven research which is focused on making NZ more economically (export) viable but also includes some environmental stuff as well. Seriously we have to make up ... er ... calculate export dollars values for most of our research.

    The problem is that nitrogen runoff and leeching is strictly an environmental problem, there is no economic value because the export industries bear none of the cost. Without a benefit to NZs export industries you have almost no chance of getting funding.

    So despite having some of the best scientific knowledge in the world about pastures and dairying there is no real way any of them could get funding to do research into finding a solution.

    That leaves the only viable solution as fewer cows.

    Bizarre.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Rachel Stewart,

    Forgot to say, your comment re intensification "That, of course, is precisely what regional councils don’t want them to do" is also, how shall I say this.... naïve. Regional councils are the biggest enablers and cheerleaders of intensification in the land. Here's just today's example of many court battles that Fish & Game, Iwi, Forest & Bird et al find themselves in with regional councils trying to dilute water rules. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/hawkes-bay-today/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503462&objectid=11425696

    Wellington • Since Mar 2015 • 2 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    Great post, thanks. Two relevant news stories today:

    1) Farmer upset about nutrient loading requirements dumps truck of manure outside regional council.

    Council boss explains the situation (audio, 3 mins).

    2) Farming advocate clutches at every straw.

    Federated Farmers President William Rolleston argued the idea of imposing a moratorium on dairy farm conversions was too simplistic and other ways of reducing the environmental impact of farming needed to be considered first.

    He said science and technology would play a part in that.

    "[It] will help us in terms of effective riparian planting, putting in more effective cultivators to be drought resistant and reduce the amount of nitrogen that's flowing past the root zone and also to build a community and allow the community to have a discussion and allow communication.

    "But we need to be open to a whole variety of approaches, be that organics, conventional or using biotechnology, like genetic modification."

    Yep let's delay action as long as possible while we 'build a community'. Clown.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19743 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    praise the lard...

    And that’s the damage already done: future generations will grapple for decades with the insidious, lasting legacy of what we enjoyed as a dairy boom.

    Don't forget the mountains of unsold butter we had to eat back last century... it could happen again, perhaps they could be used for adventure tourism, milk powder snow, taking in the dairy airs among the bovineyards, oxendising the nitro gene could be a barrel of laughs, a gas... anything to stave off the inevitable!

    ;- (

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7953 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __,

    Many of our waterways are already saturated with nitrogen (and its evil twin, phosphorus), such that regional councils are spending tens of millions of ratepayers’ – and taxpayers’ – dollars trying to clean them up. But we haven’t even begun to see the worst of it. Beneath every dairy district, there is a subterranean tidal wave of nitrogen seeping inexorably downhill, into groundwater, into creeks, then rivers, then estuaries.

    Arrrgh. Just waiting for this to happen in Canterbury, funded by the public, against our will.
    The Key government has cancelled regional democracy in Canterbury as "too risky" for their massive irrigation-for-dairy plans. Y'all should watch out.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3894 posts Report Reply

  • tussock,

    It might be worth pointing out that a hell of a lot of modern farmers aren't in it for profits. Debt loads and whatever else don't matter because they bought at 30k/hectare (or 20k, or 10k, or 5k, or 2k if you go back just a few years) and will sell up when it reaches 50k for untaxed capital gains in the tens of millions. Just keep inflating those land prices by fair means or foul and get out before the whole pyramid collapses.

    Damn right there's a lot of them against making it sustainable at the cost of lowering land values. They're not planning on being a farmer in another ten years, what do they care for sustaining it all?

    Since Nov 2006 • 611 posts Report Reply

  • Mary,

    Christchurch • Since Mar 2015 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Mary,

    Thanks Mary, I know it's been happening for a while. But once the Central Plains Water scheme gets going, things will get much, much worse for Canterbury land and water.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3894 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    a country cowed...
    and no place to go it seems: http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/dairy/67570837/the-calls-just-keep-rolling-in

    Fallout from Fonterra's latest pay cheque announcement has seen at least one of its competitors inundated with calls.
    Open Country Dairy chairman, Laurie Margrain, confirmed farmer interest in switching companies. He said OCD had received "quite a substantial number of phone calls", but had not had time to respond to any inquiries yet.
    He also confirmed the company was "substantially full," and not looking for more suppliers.
    It is understood to have a waiting list of more than 500 farmers between Waikato, Southland and Taranaki.

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7953 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    I/S blogs about an influential ruling on river management.

    Fish and Game environmental manager Corina Jordan said Judge Thompson of the Environmental Court had rejected the Council's approach to manage the overall quality of water by allowing a decline in some areas to be balanced out by an improvement in others.

    Why is this significant? Because National's new National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management - the one that sets a "bottom line" of rivers that will make you sick - seems to advocate exactly that approach ..

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19743 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    ...at least we can still share our seeds!

    Community Seed Sharing Increasingly Branded as ‘Illegal’ - John from http://www.growingyourgreens.com/ breaks the news that seed sharing in the USA has been deemed not legal and certain organizations are prohibited from freely sharing seeds…

    But will we be able to in a changed post-TPPA environment?

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7953 posts Report Reply

  • andin,

    It’s all about cows’ wee.

    Yeah this is a NZcentric problem methinks. But its got to the point where worldwide action is required and I dont see that happening, at all.
    Our collective esteemed leaders seem intent on prying into what we (the masses) are doing. Ya know just in case we threaten their positions in any way whatsoever, and it wont be tolerated.
    Yeah way to go guys! (dipshits)

    raglan • Since Mar 2007 • 1891 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    rising sea Canute be ignored…
    and then there’s this as well:
    http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/industries/67674016/sanford-blames-warming-sea-for-christchurch-plant-closure

    Seafood processor Sanford has linked warmer sea to the likely closure of its mussel plant employing 232 people in Christchurch.
    Chief executive Volker Kuntzsch said higher ocean temperatures had affected the growth of its farmed mussels in the Marlborough Sounds and its supply of wild, young mussel spats that it harvests from other places for future stock.
    All fishing companies operating along the northern South Island coastline were finding and growing fewer mussels and it seemed to be linked to different weather, he said.

    the balance is disappearing – flow on effects snowballing…

    Though I notice Pres. Obama don’t put no stock in the ocean rise climate change nonsense (and isn’t expecting any tsunami events in the Pacific…) if rumours of his beachfront retirement home in Hawaii are true…
    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/barack-obama-planning-future-move-to-hawaii-after-friend-buys-compound-used-in-magnum-pi/story-fnb64oi6-1227291854485

    and it'll be ready for a January handover... hmmmm
    http://www.wnd.com/2012/09/secret-retirement-plans-does-obama-expect-to-lose/

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7953 posts Report Reply

  • Rosemary McDonald, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    Funny you bring up mussels....

    Last year, mussel farmers in the Far North were reporting sea temperatures of 23 degrees C around the farms.

    Large snapper caught in the Far North recently have been found to be almost inedible due to the flesh being 'slabby', gelatinous and white.

    Almost as if it had already been cooked.

    And back to dairy....

    There are thousands of acres of dairy farms in the North. Much on formerly marginal land...swamp....only productive by intensive draining and fertilising. Of course the excellent drains, drain right into the harbours.

    Locals who have lived in the area all their lives tell of sandy beaches where now is thick gluggy mud and ever increasing mangroves.

    For now, bird and fishlife are abundant....but these old timers who have fished these harbours all their lives see subtle changes in the environment that portend dire decline.

    The last dairy farm North is at Pukenui. There are a few drystock farms and lots and lots of horticulture...avocados, melon, squash etc.

    The creeks up towards the Cape are nearly crystal clear. ( Yet, strangely, few overseas travellers swim in them because they have been told that ALL freshwater here is unsafe to swim in.)

    A commercial fisherman unloading at Pukenui the other day was saying how the Houhora Harbour has changed over the past few years.

    He is having to replace the sacrificial anode on the hull of his boat with much more frequency.

    Perhaps a physicist/chemist could tell me why?

    Finally....coaxed a German tourist into conversation the other morning...he was reluctant to chat as he did not want to cause offence by being critical of our clean green country.

    He wanted to know....

    Why are we paying more for NZ milk, butter, cheese, lamb, kiwifruit here than we pay at home? (Germany)

    Why have we not been able to swim in the rivers and lakes?

    Why is everything so expensive?

    How come there are so many obviously poor (and angry) people in NZ?

    I suggested he write to our Minister for Tourism.

    Waikato, or on the road • Since Apr 2014 • 1346 posts Report Reply

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