Tuesday, July 25, 2017
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Tipping point for right to farm

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New Zealand agriculture is at a tipping point with the industry’s licence to farm coming under intense scrutiny, says Mike Manning, Ravendown’s general manager innovation and strategy.

“We have an urban population with genuine concerns about the environment and it is beholding on us all in the agriculture sector to address those concerns.”

Mike says he’s confident primary industries can find solutions to resolve issues, including those of declining water quality, but warns there is not a lot of time to do so. New rules and regulations are already in place regarding nutrient leaching and the 2017 election is looming. “The urban vote outweighs the rural vote by a country mile.”

Agriculture and horticulture cannot ignore or deny their impacts on the environment, nor the concerns of urban populations, but responding to challenges is what these industries have always done.

The fertiliser industry in New Zealand evolved from the challenge of increasing productivity on the country’s newly developed farms. Pioneer farmers planted crops, but these began to fail because of a lack of phosphorus. The answer was found in guano, or rock phosphate with the first shipment of rock phosphate sent to New Zealand from Nauru Island in the Pacific in 1867. From 1882, companies such as Kempthorne, Prosser in Dunedin were processing it into superphosphate, which proved a much better fertiliser for farms.

Productivity benefits

“In the early days the industry was about the sensible use of nutrients to increase fertility and productivity and the industry was successful in achieving that. In fact productivity in NZ’s primary sector is ahead of many others. We have all benefited from that, but now the public is challenging us to look at the industry’s environmental impacts.”

The industry is responding to the demands for more environmentally and economically sustainable farming practices.

Technology enables the more accurate application of nutrients. “We are now able to better understand soil fertility than ever before and apply fertiliser only where it is needed using computer control, rather than well-intentioned human control.”

Farmers also have access to significant amounts of data but it’s vital to make the best use of that information. Among the tools to help do that is Ravendown’s HawkeEye, which has a set of pasture bench-marking and forecasting tools that help farmers make smarter nutrient decisions by showing planned versus actual nutrient investments over time.

Team NZ’s win

These and other emerging technologies will find answers, Mike believes. He cites Emirates Team New Zealand’s win of the America’s Cup in June as an inspirational example of this country’s can-do attitude in the face of adversity, and the smart use of expertise and technology.

While those involved in the rural sector know the significant improvements to and investment in the environment being made by individual farmers and industry groups, how to tell those stories to the urban population is a challenge, says Mike.

“People in cities are often not convinced by these good news stories and view them with a degree of cynicism. Finding ways to tell those stories which doesn’t sound self-serving will be the trick.”

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