with Peter Burton
Functional Fertiliser Ltd
Professor Derrick Moot of Lincoln University made the following point in his recent lectures: nitrogen fertiliser has helped feed the world, however its environmental impact is such that its continued use is non-sustainable.
He went as far as stating that, should we continue with our present system, a conversation around this country’s ability to continue pastoral farming was essential.
He also spoke of the new technology that allowed the manufacturing of cheap protein, which will be marketed as ‘clean’ protein, with the obvious inference for pasture-produced meat and milk.
He stated that this would split the protein market with the present commodity trade being replaced, at least in part, by manufactured protein. At this stage the impact is unclear.
However, the current cost of production has dramatically reduced from its experimental stages and is markedly less than that of animal-derived protein.
It would be convenient and comforting to think that there will be a sufficiently lengthy lead-in time for the farming industry to make the necessary changes and all will be well. However, the indications are that within three years the shift will already be having a marked impact.
When we factor in uncertain weather patterns and increasing interest rates, and a requirement for debt to be repaid, there’s good reason for farmers to ignore all news items and spend as much time as possible at the back of the farm – and some will take that option.
And I have a confession to make. We’ve recently purchased new carpet for our home and a high quality wool carpet was our preference.
The choice in wool was very limited and the cost substantially higher, so despite our best intent we bought nylon. And we were obviously not alone because the majority of the carpets on display were nylon.
A recently released report states that woollen carpets last longer and fade more slowly, so we’ll make a more determined effort with our next purchase. But when time is short it takes a more-than- heroic effort not to favour the here-and-now lower cost option.
Shifting from the production of commodity-traded meat and milk cannot be done overnight. It will take a three-year period to change nutrient inputs and grazing management, and in some cases animal quality, in order to reach the standard necessary for markets where price is not a consideration.
Those markets already exist and they are the only ones that will provide the financial returns required for pastoral farmers to survive.
From a pasture perspective the reliance on fertiliser nitrogen will have to go. The quality of meat and milk from those systems will not meet the increasingly stringent standards demanded by purchasers, and environmentally the foot print will be unacceptable.
Customers will ultimately set the standard and those who are willing and able to spend whatever it takes to purchase the very best will demand, and have a right to know, where their food has come from and how it has been grown.
On a more cheerful note, Professor Moot finished his presentation by saying that because we are clever and innovative we will be able to adapt to meet the challenge.
The necessary farming systems are already available, and choosing the best option is straightforward. Any company worth considering will be able to provide sound long-term measures of permanent pasture growth, here in this country, without reliance on fertiliser nitrogen.
For more information contact Peter on 0800 843 809.