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Nitrogen Overuse Now Biting Canterbury

Long-time readers will recall that I have rabbited on over many years about the short-sightedness of the dairy industry in particular over intensification based primarily on the easy availability of nitrate fertilisers from the giant Kapuni conversion plant - leading to a 1,000% increase in their use since the '60s.

Ignorance and defensiveness within the industry, combined with plaintive and unconvincing claims from its leaders that all would be okay in the end as new farming methods were adopted have led us to the situation where we are now recognised as by far the greatest users of this toxic chemical on the entire planet.

It has enabled great wealth to be achieved by relatively few beneficiaries at a huge long-term cost to the entire community, only now being recognised for what it is on the Canterbury Plains where porous sub-soils have enabled the rapid degradation of entire braided river systems while the industry remains in denial, or suggests that fencing a few tributaries will fix the problem.

Now the NZ Farmer, of all media, has printed a story by Charles Mitchell that 'lays it on the line.'

Read this excellent article, and you may think that it would become a 'wake-up call.' If you do, you are  falling into the trap that has been laid by farming interests to persuade us that this is the price we must all pay to ensure the continuation of our standard of living. We have been blinded by this argument for far too long, and bought into fiction promoted by those same interests glorifying conversion from other forms of farming into the outrageous lie surrounding the virtues of dairy. 

The same industry leaders that have led us down this road are represented as a majority on the nations largest company board  that is suddenly being seen for what it is a - a giant stack of cards represented by the satisfying sight of enormous stainless steel silos and factories from one end of the country to the other. They are of course an illusion that could become severely tarnished overnight in the event of a severe downturn in the industry for whatever reason, including international events

These people, inadequately described as 'directors' are mere novices when their skills are put up against those who direct Nestle, and Danone, let alone the Chinese who appear to have been playing a 'long-game' totally on a different level to the tyros of Fonterra. They will all be devising ways and means of picking up the pieces in the event of what is rapidly giving the appearance of being the 'end-game' of our dairy giant, despite hollow assurances to the contrary by its Chair and a/Chief Executive.  

Whoever imagined that having a company controlling 90% (now 80%) of the industry, while protecting farmer pay-outs against the vicissitudes of the market, and at the same time attracting capital requiring a normal market return was bonkers - that is what happened when our Government permitted Kiwi to be  combined with the NZ Dairy Co-op, and it subsequenty dabbled in the capital market through the Stock Exchange with a tame minority of outside directors selected by the farmer interests. 

It was a nonsense of course, and devotion to Co-operative principles in the face of market realities a total illusion. International experience with this form of structure has been universally disastrous, other than where it has been possible to preserve monopolies. Anyone who imagines that Theo Spierings was unaware of the futility of attempting to turn this around when he came aboard is in 'cloud cukoo land.' Hence his splendid and iron-clad remuneration and exit strategy.

But I digress - the story here is of the destruction the entire Canterbury Plains by this form of agriculture. And don't get complacent - the Waikato is not far behind, having commenced intensification far sooner. It is simply that we are looking here at a sixty year plus time-frame due to sub-soil structure, rather that what has been virtually an overnight phenomena in Canterbury - and some would say Southland to a lesser extent.

Scientist Mike Joy, who industry leaders prefer to vilify, is again the voice in the wilderness. Let us hope that the new Government has a plan where the influence of farming interests are sufficiently balanced by the scientific evidence that is now, like climate change, conclusive.  




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