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Farming Sector Sound & Fury Misplaced

The article on Palm Oil Expelate (PKE) in last week’s Listener by Johnathon Underhill was one of the more significant to emerge in the long-standing dairy industry debate. It throws light on the relationship between increased dairy prices, and the increased use of PKE in order to achieve higher yields quite removed from the increased use of the supplement during periods of severe drought.

This is game changing information, backed up by statistics prepared by the dairy farmers own lobby group DairyNZ  through its 1 to 5 scaling of all dairy farms related to their use of PKE. Total grass-fed farms being 1, and 5 where imported feeds (PKE) are used all year round.

Bruce Greig of Lincoln University notes “dramatic changes” over the 2000 – 2010 of intensification – grass only (System 1) fell from 75% to just 10%, while those at top end rose by 300% to a still modest 4% overall, but System 4 rose 63% to 18% overall, and System 3 by 11% to 36%. These are very significant changes, and they pre-date the even greater intensification that post-dated these statistics. Landcorp’s announcement that it would cease use of PKE by mid-year certainly sets a lead in the industry, but we know from past experience with the sector that it’s practices are totally price sensitive, and driven!

Fonterra has its problems both image-wise - the move from totally grass-fed has been noted widely in the overseas trade press. But more particularly the practical difficulty in dealing with the increased PKE use given that the resultant milk reportedly adversely effects the manufacture of butter and a whole range of other products. This occurs through significant changes in the fatty-acid profile.

But these are Fonterra’s problems, and they are currently risking a farmer back-lash by backing a campaign discouraging the use of PKE. Federated Farmers representative Andrew Hoggard wants a “clear marker for PKE in milk, backed by research, that will become a quality issue like any other are covered by a demerit system.”

Unfortunately, and again according to Fonterra, “Demand for PKE should rise again now that dairy is becoming more profitable – and there are early signs that it is.” Hoggard claims that farmers now have other alternatives (i.e chicory),  and have re-established their knowledge of how to use their much cheaper harvested dry-matter more effectively during drought. Let us hope he is correct, because of the now proven direct co-relation between the use of imported supplements, and intensification.

Intensification is the direct cause of increased nitrification and phosphates leaching waterways. It is not what enters immediately – it is a slow, but sure increase that results over a period of ten years, plus or minus. The danger lies with those major consolidated 1000 cow plus units where dependence on PKE has become embedded and hard to change. That probably explains the increase noted by Fonterra..

This is not simply another attempt to hammer farmers or their practices, and should not be confused with the concurrent, and proceeeding waterway fencing to exclude e-coli etc. We do understand the need to constantly review practices in order to survive, but we do need to have external oversight of these where there is an increased risk to the environment in which we all have an interest. That is what Plan Change 1 – Healthy Rivers is all about, and the sound and fury emanating from the farming sector as a result is totally misplaced.  




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