Welcome to 2020!! It goes without saying now that the world is coming to face the harsh realities of a global pandemic that is COVID-19. I hope you are all following the protocols that are out there and are doing your best to stay safe, no matter where you are. Currently I get a chance to update the website and catch up on writing a blog as we have gone into a self imposed isolation thanks to a case of COVID-19 at one of my kids schools. Purely precautionary…thanks 2019 😦
Organic Farm Systems has had a few large changes over the busy summer months, primarily a move to Dunedin as a new operating base. You will also note a new email address for contact.
Before COVID-19 started to cause the cancellation of major events, I was able to attend the Regenerative Soil Solution Conference 2020 at Lincoln University, run by the Organic Dairy and Pastoral Group of New Zealand. Nearly 250 people attended over the two day conference.
We heard from many excellent and engaging speakers, including Dr Walter Jehne, Dr Mike Joy, Dr Jack Heinemann, and farmer practitioners such as Hamish Bielski and Simon Osborne. We also visited a couple of interesting properties and ate lots of fantastic foods, with a beer or 7 thrown in for good measure.
Farmer Hamish Bielski captivates with the story of his journey
As part of the retiring Organic Dairy and Pastoral Group executive I was able to provide some on the ground support for those who flew in from the North Island. (see below)
Overall it was a great conference and well done to the organising committee. On the way home I was able to go inland and traveled through the picturesque Mackenzie basin, an area that could well do with some regenerative farming practice.
Undoubtedly it will be an interesting year globally, but good luck to all, keep your spirits up and Covid 19 out. Cheers, Glenn.
Welcome to the Spring Update from Organic Farm Systems.
This week has seen the UN General Assembly meeting in New York and one of the primary things that world leaders will be discussing is the climate crisis. Many of you will have seen Greta Thunberg speak and rebuke world leaders for inaction. I wholeheartedly agree with her sentiments.
At home we have seen a number of submission rounds from the Government on climate change and water quality. Some of you reading this will have been involved on advisory panels for this. This has caused the usual wailing and gnashing of teeth from the usual rural suspects.
This is all related. Let me ask you this question.
What is the most important and profitable thing that’s farmed in NZ?
I’ll give you a clue.
It is hardy, long lived, often quite stubborn, but can be easily led, trained and herded.
It is both very profitable to fleece and milk.
The Kiwi Farmer.
The average kiwi farmer is bearing the brunt of the criticism around the environmental impacts to both our water quality and climate change in the press, and with plenty of justification.
Farmers are being urged to stand up and fight against many of the proposals being put forward by government. The “rural support” entities and political opposition will undoubtedly suggest the government is destroying farming etc etc.
But farmers really aren’t to blame. Those who are milking and fleecing them are…
Farmers are only doing what they have been taught or told to do by so called “rural service” entities.
These are the companies, groups and people who make the most money from farmers and the rural sector, and they will protect their patch and profits first and foremost.
Lets name and shame some.
Ravensdown, Ballance, Fonterra, Dairy NZ, Beef and Lamb NZ, Federated Farmers, Silver Fern Farms, Alliance Group, Farmlands, PGG Wrightson, the Banks, various rural political parties, universities….I could go on, but there’s only so many hours in a day…..
These entities all have self interest and self preservation in common and first and foremost in their minds. Management in many of these entities still collect a salary or wage, entirely unrelated to how well the individual farmer is doing. You’ll also notice that a number that I’ve named above are groups who in theory are meant to work for the benefit of stakeholders.
One thing they have in common is the drive for more production. One thing most farmers haven’t worked out, and that you’ll never hear from these guys, is there is no link between production and profit. But when as a “rural service” entity your viability is based on volume, production at any cost is promoted. This intensity has been a fundamental driver of the environmental damage we see, particularly from the dairy industry.
Nobody will tell you a small family farm is still the most profitable. Get big or get out. Borrow more, use more. I don’t see rural communities getting bigger or more services…housing crisis? How about a population displacement crisis.
Change has needed to come. For 15 years we have been talking about this, with most farmers, encouraged by these “rural service” entities, fighting and arguing all the way, only paying lip service, making token gestures, or proffering mitigation technology band aids, rather than being proactive.
In fact in a number of cases, these token gestures and mitigation band aids have been used to fleece more money out of the farmers pockets, even when they have been shown to be the wrong path.
But now push is coming to shove. Farmers will loose the social license to farm, and these “rural entities” loose their license to print money. Expect a massive fight that farmers can only but be the looser in.
This is indeed a sad prospect. Farmers could have been at the forefront of saving and regenerating our environment, and should be a key part of the social make up of our country, and be cherished by our entire population. But I think now its too late…
The government needs to and will act for the needs of the greater population and social outcome. The government is looking to act in a number of different areas.
The three suggested actions that I believe government should take, and would have the greatest impact, both on environment mitigation and for farmers to regain the social licence to farm would be:
For the government to fully fund and reboot AgResearch and other research institutes for independent science and research.
Currently these “rural entities” fund a majority of AgResearch’s and others budgets under there current models. The science and best practice promoted from these institutions can know longer be trusted to be impartial or in the farmer or countries best interests.
The disestablishment of the Levy Bodies.
Funding for these bodies primarily comes from a volume of production based funding model, and therefore it is in their self interest to promote production based farming systems, and to support and be supported by the other “rural entities”.
Government legislation to ban the use of synthetic fertilisers and “cides”*.
This will really get most farmers jumping up and down. But it is the use of these items that can be directly related to environmental damage or by the unsustainable intensification they cause. Farming systems that do not use these items can rapidly go from environmentally damaging to environmentally regenerative.
Fact: You do not need these things to farm.
We have unfortunately come to a point, whilst some farmers have moved in this direction, that the rest need to be forced in this direction. You can see that many “rural entities” will be against this, as this is what they sell.
*The term “cides”, if you are unfamiliar with it, refers to herbicides, fungicides, insecticides etc.
How does this all relate back to Greta Thunberg?
As she has pointed out, the future planet is gravely under threat, as are the future generations of humankind.
Why? Because past and current generations and many of their various political leaders have put the profit of industrial scale capitalism before democratic social and environmental outcomes. Our current government is now looking to address these environmental and social issues.
Lets be quite clear on this – Capitalism and social democracy are not the same thing…One thing we can be certain on is that the rich have been getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, and more numerous. One should note that rural debt is higher than ever. 10% of the world’s population controls 84% of its wealth. 0.003% of the worlds population (about 220,000 people) control 10% of global wealth. Trickle down theory is best referred to as trickle down fantasy. Industrial scale capitalist greed has gotten us to this place.
The capitalist production at all costs model is now at an end. The world needs balancing environmentally and socially, and here in New Zealand farmers have been getting a lot of the blame. They needed to get on board.
The question is, have kiwi farmers over the last 50 years let themselves be put into this position? I’d say, yes they have.
Welcome to the first blog post for this year. It’s been a busy time in the south since xmas with many visitors to this part of the world.
Firstly we have had a visit from Ian Mitchell-Innes who spoke with a number of groups which hosted some field days. Ian is a knowledgeable speaker on holistic management from South Africa, and tours the world to pass on what he has learnt.
Following hot on the heels of Ian we had a study tour group from the United States in the form of the Organic Valley/CROPP Co-operative. They toured both North and South Island looking at local organic farming practices and of course the scenery. I was lucky enough to be invited to be one of the host guides for the South Island section along with Bryan Clearwater of Clearwater Organics.
Tour members came from various parts of the U.S. and was made up of farmers and staff members of the Co-op.
Fresh Bluff oysters (a rare delicacy) and a cold beer finished of a typically warm and calm busy first day in Otago and Southland. Visits to both dairy and sheep and beef properties were supplemented with a fine organic dinner with the Southern Organic Group and Open Country organic suppliers and staff. The next day moved us through the lower south and onto Queenstown, after visiting the renown Riverton Environment Centre and food forest of Robert and Robyn Guyton.
We then progressed to Tim and Helen Gow’s property at Blackmount. Tim and Helen are some of New Zealand’s very early organic pioneers and have been long time practitioners of sabbatical fallowing, a very ancient practice for soil and pasture management.
A slow bus trip finally took us to Queenstown where the group had dinner with a view. Thanks to everybody involved that helped this be a successful tour, and thank you for inviting me to be a part of this adventure.
Last but not least saw a visit from friend and globally renown soil scientist Dr Christine Jones, who is on tour with AgriSea NZ. It was good to have a catch up and also to see so many new younger faces coming to learn about regenerative farming practice.
If you’d like to keep up to date with what events are happening around the country or would like to learn more about organic and regenerative agriculture, drop me a line.
One of my roles that I have had for a long time is as an executive member of the Organic Dairy and Pastoral Group, the peak body for all organically certified pastoral farmers in New Zealand. Over the last few months we have sort to engage and offer service to the office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.
Recently the group had a response from the office. This cast aspersions on the role of biological carbon sequestration in soil and what organic, biological and regenerative farming has to offer. This appears to be based on the advice of the Biological Emissions Reference Group, and some poor limited scientific data presented to us from the office of the commissioner.
Unfortunately, the Biological Emissions Reference Group (BERG) is made up of the same usual industry bodies. They have no inherent interest either politically or financially in looking at any solutions other than those that benefit themselves. Research solutions they offer are complicated technological hard system responses when the underlying issues and the ecosystem processes that are involved are complex soft system management problems. You don’t find opportunities if you’re not looking for them…
Quiet simply what was offered to the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment is knowledge. The answers are there, the science has already been done. This is the future of the planet and our children’s futures at stake. The office said they are “looking into it more” and would have a full opinion on the subject next year. Sigh.
All we are seeing is a bunch of cronies, middle management bureaucrats and scientists trying to keep themselves employed and look for funding streams at our future expense.
The recently concluded UN climate talks in Poland stated the next two years are the most critical years within the decision-making process for the future of the planet. Time to get on with it then.
I challenge the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment to prove that it understands what it’s meant to be doing and what’s at stake. For that matter the government in general. Do I really have to go to the top to get things done? Are you listening Prime Minister!
Me, angry? Yep.
Because I have four kids.
I’ll put my hand up for the way forward, to be a leader, and I’ll do it for free. Take the opportunity to engage and learn. I dare you too.
Looking forward to Xmas? Well I hope the weather improves! The storm system that brought rain that flooded the Otago region (below) has also meant that some of the Ski fields are offering Skiing in November….White Xmas anyone?
This year has been a busy year with work, with the most recent major project, project managing the transition of a large dairy to certified organic for Craigmore Sustainables, recently coming to an end. Thanks to Che, Shaun and Mark at Craigmore HQ and Ed and the team at the Craigmore farming North Otago pod.
I recently also attended the Organic Exporters Association of New Zealand AGM in Ashburton. It was good to catch up with old friends and make some new acquaintances within the local organic industry. The local organic sector continues to grow strongly and will grow even more when we reach equivalence deals with our major overseas trading partners.
I’d like to take the chance before everybody gets crazy busy in December to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!! See you all in the New Year.