with Brett Petersen
Kiwi Fertiliser & Golden Bay Dolomite
About two-thirds of world carbon emissions come from burning fossil fuels. Over recent time, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased from 280ppm to 400ppm. It needs to go back to 280-350ppm to help mitigate climate change. Does the Government really believe that a country that contributes to 0.1 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas pollution can lead the way?
When running dairy farms, some years ago, I noticed that our fertiliser regime was not meeting expectations. Production stagnated, weeds increased, toxic chemicals increased, animal health deteriorated, and profitability suffered. The corporately-run fertiliser co-ops got the boot. Their annual programme was the same, year in and year out. Some years prior to this, we signed up to a financial programme where the inputs and outputs were analysed on a cents/kg basis, e.g. feed grown, feed eaten, milk produced, stock sold etc. The analyses showed quite clearly that the less feed that was bought in or supplement made, the greater the profit. Research also shows the more the cows’ diets stray from pasture, the higher the greenhouse gas emissions. The more grain, PKE and other inputs they eat, the less healthy the milk and meat.
The key is to match feed supply with feed demand. Make every day a balance date. You can’t of course, but you can increase the number of balance dates you have from two or four a year, to many times more. The more cows/ha you run, the further from this concept you get. Matching supply and demand means choosing a stocking rate that suits the pasture growth. This drives profit. Identify the factors that increase profit; not those that increase production. Once you do that, optimum production follows. Chasing production increases costs, not necessarily profit.
Putting this into perspective, one farm that was most like Lincoln University Dairy Farm in Canterbury produced an annual ROI (Return On Investment) of 12-13 per cent. The best LUDC ROI was 6.4 per cent. NZ average was 2-3 per cent. Our worst was 6.5 per cent when the farm seriously flooded in 2004. Our nitrogen use was 30kg/ha buffered with carbon. LUDC N use was >8 times that, unbuffered. Our production was half LUDC. Our profit was double. It also became very apparent most of the farmers that joined the financial programme also ran alternative fertiliser programmes. They arrived at their decisions independently, being spread all around NZ. In other words, they were free-thinkers, unencumbered by the commercial alliances and constraints that dominate NZ agriculture.
The National Australia Bank discovered some years ago that the most profitable farms had a common theme. That was organic matter. In short, carbon. Carbon and profitability, sustainability, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions all go hand-in-hand. They are inseparable. We at Kiwi Fertiliser source the highest quality fertilisers we can find. We mix our fertilisers from lime to nitrogen with a carbon source Biochar, which has been manufactured locally under strict regulations. Up until recently we had little choice but to source humates from Southland. Biochar is cheaper and is win-win for Kiwi Fertiliser and the farmers and growers that work with us.