with Peter Burton
Functional Fertiliser Ltd
Climate change – whether or not you believe that it’s our fault – seems to be an oft quoted phrase at present.
There are still those who might admit to the warming, but choose to see it as part of Earth’s long-term variations. But we are, even today, entitled to our views. Even the science fraternity has taken several decades to make up their minds, and still they aren’t 100 per cent together on this one.
So, is science still the only resource for incontrovertible facts? Many of us were brought up to think so, and from dealings with some of today’s scientists, many are still convinced of their unassailable worth as being right on everything they hold dear. Or does this attitude hold true only when next week’s salary or research funding is being considered? What does a ‘non-scientist’ believe when those who claim to be ‘right’ don’t agree among themselves?
Do we weigh up the numbers professing for and against, in which case the ‘truth’ is no more than the result of a popularity contest? Or do we accept the view of those we know best, trusting that they tell us what they really believe, and don’t have differing public and private views?
And the situation is really no different in discussions on what constitutes ‘sustainable farming’ in relation to effects on the environment. There appears to be a great number of ‘public vs private’ views between scientists, farmers and environmental ‘experts’, on what should and shouldn’t be done in future, and what the results of such actions would be. With so many options, who to believe?
There is a measure of agreement that no-one has the right to make a mess, either deliberately or from gross ignorance, when the same output or better can be achieved without a requirement for costly rehabilitation. The effects of such actions are unlikely to affect just their own business operations, but have ‘downstream’ effects on others, or on the reputation of all members.
Recent study by institutions such as Landcare Research has demonstrated that current ‘conventional’ farming methods on grazed pastoral land, using regular applications of chemical fertiliser N (bag N) is causing a continued loss of carbon from soils, particularly where irrigated.
This is important because as soils lose carbon they lose both moisture and nutrient-holding capacity and long-term (30 year) measures clearly show a steady decline in pasture production, a natural consequence of that loss.
Carbon is also a highly effective filter, and the evidence of increasing concentrations, particularly of nitrogen in groundwater, is a clear and obvious outcome.
Many have argued to date that applying less bag N would decrease both farm production and income, and have significantly bad effects on individuals, communities and the country as a whole.
If this held true, then how to explain why the growing number of farmers, using alternative technology and grazing management have, for the past decade, been growing more feed than before, and generating higher incomes with lower costs.
The measures supporting those farmers’ claims of extra growth and lessened environmental impact are becoming more robust as time goes on, with differences between those embracing fresh methods and their ‘conventional’ neighbours increasingly obvious.
There is never a convenient or comfortable time to make fundamental changes to farm systems. However the consequence of individual operators not making the move voluntarily will be more regulation and greater bureaucratic intrusion; both unwelcome developments as they create even deeper divisions within farming communities.
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