The most valuable thing to farm – My Farming Journey

Written as an editorial for the Otago Daily Times – unpublished

 I’m the 5th generation of my New Zealand farming family. My early childhood memories from the 70’s and 80’s are ones of topdressing planes, hay making and shearing. My most important ones are of sitting in the gorse spraying truck watching dad turning pink from dye marker, and warnings to stay away from the various piles of agrichemicals stored around the shed. Grandad wouldn’t touch the stuff.  

 When I was at university my parents bought a large, run-down sheep station in the Wairarapa. I returned home to help on the farm and get it “up to speed”, erecting tens of Kilometres of fencing and other development work. The more I did on farm, the more I could see some things didn’t add up. After a while there wasn’t enough for all of us to do on farm, so when my brother had enough of the freezing works, I headed off on the OE. This was an eye opener.  

 I meet my partner Kate in Scotland. We travelled many places. I think someone who is born on the land is always looking over the farm fence wherever they go. We lived in the UK for a while, our eldest born there. Two things made a major impact whilst living in rural Yorkshire. One was the sight and smell of the thousands of animals being burnt due to the Foot and Mouth outbreak. The other was walking through aisles of organically grown produce in our local Sainsbury supermarket. I’d never really thought about this before. There was nothing from “clean green” New Zealand.  

 We returned to New Zealand to work on the farm with this idea bouncing around in the back of our heads. I learnt as much as I could about organic farming. When the opportunity arose, we bought a small run-down farm here in Otago and set about becoming organically certified.  

 As we continued our farming path, we learned the truth of what the most valuable product to farm in New Zealand was. It’s not dairy, kiwifruit, avocadoes, or even anything grown organically – it is the Farmer. The ideal animal. Easily herded, trained and lead, long lived, and easily milked and fleeced.  

 We found we didn’t need all the things you’re told you need, the things rural companies sell, no poisons or sprays, artificial fertilisers or drenches to make our farm work. 

 We put native into QE2 blocks. We farmed holistically and encouraged diversity. The water in the stream that flowed through our property was tested cleaner going out than coming in. We were “regenerative” before that was even a thing. I became an advocate, even working with the UN on sustainable farming.  

 We got told by others we were doing it wrong, didn’t deserve a farm. We got told our farm looked a mess. Selling organic lamb was difficult, companies pulled out of processing. Organics was a threat to their business and other farmers. This all became too much. We left farming in 2015. 

 The “conventional” way of farming for the last 50+ years has caused huge environmental damage. Farmers need to understand this. They must change. The rest of us need to realise that farmers are only doing what they have been taught, told and sold to do. They are not to blame. Industrial agriculture and those who sell it are ultimately to blame. Greed is to blame. They don’t care about farmers or the environment – only their profits. Even now they are coming up with new things to sell everybody as a “solution”. 

We’ve now reached a point where things MUST change, because the future of our species is literally at risk. Protesting won’t help. Farmers need to embrace the change – you will benefit – and you can farm a better way…  

Just stop listening to salesmen.  

Glenn Mead works as an advisor on sustainable pathways in Agriculture. 

Mid – Winter 2021 Update

Welcome to the Mid-Winter update for 2021!

Dunedin all lit up for Mid Winter Carnival

Well things are changing pretty quick around here. Despite it being a particularly cool day in Dunedin today we have to acknowledge that June was the warmest on record in New Zealand despite a late winter blast. We see record high temperatures in Canada and Finland being caused by “heat domes” related to our rapid human instigated climate change.

The idea of atmospheric heat domes as a possible side effect of climate change was first put forward in the early 1990’s, and very accurately predicted. I remember talking about climate change and global warming with friends and colleagues when I lived in Scotland in the late ’90’s – joking that it would turn Scotland into a archipelago of tropical islands and that they could all eat bananas instead of haggis. I was at primary school when I first heard about the ozone layer and the “greenhouse” effect. Environmental negative impacts and change caused by the human activity of industrialisation was first suggested a long time ago – back in the late 1840’s to be exact – Abraham Lincoln was the president of the United States at the time to give that date context.

Recent work that I have been undertaking is leading me to change focus of the business to take into account the warmer future we are rapidly heading towards, and to shift focus to working more in the field of sustainable rural development and resilience. Organic and regenerative knowledge is a cornerstone to this work but more focus will be placed on social and economic outcomes as focus shifts from the individual farm or business to the community. This focus is driven by a need to shift agriculture and community into a “carbon negative” sustainable future – being carbon zero is not enough. This will lead to some obvious changes to the website and Facebook pages over the coming months.

I will still be doing work in the organic space and current clients will still be well looked after, and to them and previous clients thankyou for your support.

I’ve also been recently involved with the work being undertaken on the organic regulations and standards within New Zealand and it has been good to catch up with those in the sector involved with this. There have been many workshops hosted around New Zealand on the topic and the wider direction that the organic industry should take in the future.

Regards from the deep south, and have a good winter.

New Year Update 2021

Hi Everybody and welcome to the New Years update. Well Christmas and New Years raced on by and all of a sudden its February 2021 – a race I guess to leave 2020 behind.

Well the end of last year saw me assisting New Zealand Organic Meats (NZOM) in growing the New Zealand organic meat marketplace. The major players in our meat industry chose in their infinite wisdom to reduce there interest in organic meat processing despite the continuously increasing international demand – even through the 2020 year of Covid.

NZOM has leapt into the breach to coordinate supply and processing in a collaborative effort with our ANZAC cousins in Australia and Australian Organic Meats. That saw a quick trip around the North Island to touch base with as many organic farmers that I could. In 2021 that effort continues and there is strong demand for organic meat which NZOM continues to try and source for these lucrative export market. If you are USDA NOP certified for organic meat we have strong demand – please get in touch.

The new irrigation reservoir on Finca el Paraiso, Ecuador

Early 2021 has seen the continuation of the work I have been doing in Ecuador (remotely) and is likely to lead to a significant shift in focus towards more sustainable rural development work for myself and Organic Farm Systems. The more work I do there only highlights how fundamentally broken the “modern” agricultural system is, and how the wealth of the international agricultural systems and companies has been based on manipulation and abuse of rural communities globally.

A local NGO visits Finca el Paraiso in Ecuador
Senor Andres and visiting NGO staff

A reminder to everybody that the Organic Dairy and Pastoral Group ( ODPG ) AGM is coming up on the 21st and 22nd of March at Waihi.

Webinar with Dr Christine Jones

Hey folks, my friend and globally renown soil scientist Dr Christine Jones is hosting a public webinar on Sunday the 23rd of August. The “Fundamentals of Soils” masterclass is a fund-raiser for the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op.

Dr Christine Jones on a previous New Zealand visit

The format will be a 45 minute introduction covering how the use of plant diversity and biostimulants in place of monocultures and high-analysis fertilisers enable soils to function at their best. Slides will be followed by 45 mins of Q&A. All questions submitted during the webinar will be answered, if not during the class, then after.

In addition to explaining how plants extract beneficial genetic material from the soil microbiome in biologically active soils she will also be discussing the activation of nif genes (for free-living N-fixing) through quorum sensing. This enables plants growing in healthy, biodiverse soils to obtain all the N they need in the absence of legumes (or high-analysis fertiliser).

The Masterclass will go to air on Sunday August 23rd, 11am eastern Australian time. That will be 1pm here in Aotearoa.

People not able to participate at that time can pre-register and access the recording later …. as many times as they like. However, the MasterClass will not be accessible once registrations have closed. Sorry, I’ve already taken one spot…..see you there.

Here is the link …

The cost is $35.

Here’s the Facebook link ………….


Some of the crowd last time Christine was here.

2020 Mid Winter Update


Welcome to the 2020 mid winter update. Saying it’s been a funny year so far is probably the understatement of this century.

Thanks to our timely lock down we in New Zealand now look out upon the chaos that is developing in the wider world due to Covid-19 with dismay and horror. The kiwi classic “we don’t know how lucky we are” couldn’t be more true. And I think to some extent we were lucky, as there was a small percentage of our population that just didn’t want to follow the guidance the government was giving, which is still apparent with the many escapes from quarantine we have seen. It’s that kind of selfishness and greed globally that got us to this position in the first place, and only acerbating the problem globally now.

Sociologist and team leader Aron Coste (sitting) at work in Ecuador.

The global shake up has certainly made for an interesting work environment. Zoom, Skype and other tools of connection have become a new normal in a world of limited travel. Currently I have the pleasure of contributing to a rural and regional development project in Ecuador. These tools and other technology aids have helped me provide support externally and have given a unique perspective to “looking in from the outside” to see what options and ideas can be developed in country – without actually being able to be on the ground in the current global environment.

Senor Andres Moreira-Alcivar in a coffee drying tent

Ecuador has such a wide variety of environments and working across the zones and agricultural production systems, from the coast, rain forest and up into the Andes, is testing, stimulating and invigorating. There are not many places in the world were you can deal with a small dairy farm that is milking cows on pasture that is higher above sea level than New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Mt Cook.

Ecuadorian dairy farm at 4200 metres above sea level


Even with the sometimes limited cellular and internet connectivity in rural parts of Ecuador, the ability to directly talk, share video and documents through platforms such as WhatsApp have given the opportunity to be their almost first hand. As they say, pictures are worth a thousand words. Technology even helps with my very very rusty Spanish. This is a long term project that I’m excited to be involved with and I do look forward to a time when I can be on the ground.

Everybody pitches in

I have also had the pleasure to be included in a book being written by a former United Nations Food and Agriculture head of sustainability. This ties into work I did with the UN FAO on alternate food production systems, organics and work on desertification almost 10 years ago. It’s quite humbling to be one of twelve people identified as being able to contribute to the world wide discussion on the future of agriculture, and to be alongside such people as Allan Savory in the book.

Aron and friends

Andres’ son Ramone, and the ever present machete


A local hazard, the coral snake.


It will be interesting to see what the “new normal” is when the world passes through Covid, which it will. It remains to be seen whether we will benefit as a country by coming through relatively unscathed (so far, touchwood), or will find that we have missed the message from the trauma that mother nature has given, that is to sort ourselves out.

Either way, please stay safe out there, and be kind to others.

Ecuador’s Pacific coast

All photos courtesy/copyright of Aron Coste.