with Robin Boom
Agronomic Advisory Services
I’ve just spent the previous week working on my oral presentation to Waikato Regional Council PC1 commissioners. Once complete, I worked on my written submission on the Government’s proposed Zero Carbon bill related to greenhouse gases and climate change. I was impressed with the commissioners of the WRC PC1, as they seemed to be engaged and expressed interest in some of the things I had to say. I was given one hour to explain my solutions for solving the nitrogen and phosphorus problems in our waterways. I realise I’m just one voice, but I did have three support people with me who’ve also made their own submissions. And I intend to support them when their opportunities come to go before the commissioners in the next few months.
The commissioners were very aware farmers are generally not at all happy about nitrogen reference point grand-parenting and were also very aware of the inadequacy of the current Overseer model to be used for regulatory compliance.
With the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Simon Upton’s 140-page report in December, criticising the use of Overseer for environmental compliance, the Government announced in June it will spend $45 million during the next four years improving Overseer, so it can be more accurate and fit for regulatory compliance. One of my complaints about Overseer I made is its inadequacy in relation to phosphorus and the fact it currently only accepts Olsen P figures in the model.
Mehlich III extraction
Because I prefer the more modern Mehlich III extraction, I’ve come under a lot of criticism over the years from fertiliser reps, consultants and scientists who don’t understand these figures, and who like to keep themselves in ignorance rather than learn how to interpret them. My question is why are we still using 1950s technology in the 21st Century when there are much better tests available for an element that is a major driver of both production and environmental degradation?
The current Overseer model uses the Olsen P figures and Anion Storage Capacity logarithms to ascertain P losses and the categorising of low, medium and high risk properties, which I think is too broad a brush.
For a little extra cost per soil test, the multi-element Mehlich III extraction can be done from which specific Phosphate Saturation Index figures can be determined. Phosphate Saturation Indexes are used overseas and are a much better indicator of phosphate overload than the categories Overseer spits out, in my opinion. Overseer currently doesn’t accept Mehlich III figures, and there is resistance in certain quarters to use this more modern and accurate soil testing technique and stick with the same old same old, and its raft of shortcomings, resulting in many properties with phosphorus levels well above biological optimum levels.
WITH more 1300 submissions, it’s a long and lengthy process for the commissioners, and with so many voices saying different things I don’t envy their task of having to come up with a final plan. They are certainly not going to be able to please everybody.
Zero Carbon bill
In contrast to this, my submission before the commissioners for the Bay of Plenty Regional Council hearings on PC10 related to Lake Rotorua a couple of years ago, where there seemed to be little interest in what I had to say and my solutions for solving the lake problems. As it so happens, Lake Rotorua’s algae problems have been solved temporarily by alum dosing, which takes out dissolved reactive phosphorus in the water, sinking to the bottom in an insoluble form. How long alum dosing can continue before it creates its own problems will be interesting to see.
As for the Zero Carbon bill, if PC1 is going to restrict some farm enterprises and how they currently operate, the Zero Carbon bill has the potential to completely destroy some rural communities if fully implemented, taking out vast swathes of farmland, planting them in trees for permanent or temporary carbon sequestration. As someone who has worked in agricultural science for 40-odd years, I wrote a 7700-word submission on what I disagree with in the proposed bill, and some alternative solutions to consider. Hopefully, the select committee wade through my reasons and see the logic in it all. But again, like PC1, there’ll be opposing voices wanting to see an end to pastoral livestock farming and hail in a new era of afforestation. These combined with the political will of some MPs with an anti-farming agenda could be disastrous for rural NZ if it goes ahead, resulting in social and economic Armageddon, so it must be challenged.
Robin Boom, CPAg, member of the Institute of Professional Soil Scientists. Ph: 0274448764.