Dairy Farmers Go "Green"
Sunday, March 9, 2014 at 9:50AM
Bill Barclay

A visitor from outer space could be forgiven for thinking that our dairy farmers, or those in Canterbury at least, are God's gift to the environment.

That is, should they read a piece by Jamie Grey - business reporter for the NZ Herald, headed "What's good for the farmer also proves good for the environment" that featured in today's 'Herald on Sunday'. 

It appears that the average Canterbury farmer is well on the way to securing Green Party endorsement until you look closer and see that the main provider of information is once again none other than Fed. Farmers Dairy Chair Willy Leferink, and then comes the confidence killer "Jamie Gray travelled to Canterbury courtesy of Federated Farmers" - This the level of input into the debate to which our self-proclaimed National Newspaper has descended. 

The article is nothing more than a panegyric of unsubstantiated generalisations that should bring tears of shame to the editor of this newspaper.   

Just view some of the quotes:

"On one hand, farmers are under pressure to produce more but also to tidy up their act environmentally".

I would love to know just who it is that is applying the pressure to "produce more" - if it means intensification, it can only be the banks that are providing more and more irrational financing arrangements  

The article goes on to laud the efforts of one Craigie Mackenzie, a Methven farmer who is leading the charge towards more environmentally responsible practices, and who heads up the Precision Agriculture Association, and modern technology including GPS and universal barn use - something that Leferink himself has adopted on his own properties. 

"Cow barns allow a more intensive form of dairying but Leferink does not expect their use to suddenly take off.

He says cow barns are particularly useful during winter because they allow farmers to save pasture for the spring. Financially, he says the numbers stack up well in times when the milk payout is high.

The detractors of cow barns say farmers can run the risk of overcapitalising their properties, which is something Leferink readily admits is a risk.

"I think farmers have come a long way. They are ready to come together and to reach solutions. They do not want to wreck the environment.

"Twenty odd years ago, effluent just went down the drain. That stuff doesn't happen any more, so I think we have come a long way already," Leferink says.

Farmers can find all manner of excuse to avoid putting in facilities that may detract from the bottom line - even when export prices are at record levels. Leferink may have sold one of his farms for $40m but he is still making excuses for overloading nitrates/phosphates into the Canterbury water table, and defending members to whom greed remains the primary motivating factor in their decision making. Nothing will change until legislation is put in place that forces the issue.

Partial adherence to environment saving practices is just that - partial - and about as effective as partial contraception. Anyone who has recently driven through the Canterbury countryside will understand the alacrity with which the old beef, sheep, and cropping families have managed to turn 20%, and growing of the Plains to dairying. 

"Canterbury has overtaken Taranaki in terms of the number of cows and is not far behind the Waikato.

In 1992-3 there were just 409 cow herds in Canterbury - 89,752 cows on 38,598ha producing 24.4 million kg of milksolids.

Last season, there were 1046 herds, or 826,325 cows, on 237,668ha producing 321 million kg of milksolids.

Over the same time span, the average herd size has grown from 219 to 790."

These are not little family farms on the old Taranaki/Waikato model - they are giant enterprises totally dependent on massive pivot irrigation systems. It is no wonder that the average citizen of Canterbury feels threatened (in relation to water quality), and intimidated by the powerful Fed. Farmer interests that that are calling the tune, and pressuring the Government to maintain the current totally undemocratic Environment Canterbury 'jack-up'. 




Article originally appeared on BillBarcBlog (http://billbarclay.co.nz/).
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