|Beneath the surface
with David Law
The media tells us that a regenerative farming movement is sweeping the country.
However, in early-December, two articles were published about regenerative farming that had me questioning if the powers-that-be had missed the point again.
The over-arching focus of government and scientists seems to be on fixing the problem of nitrogen loss at great cost to farmers, rather than finding a solution to the underlying issue.
In addition to an opinion column that pondered whether the “restoring powers of regenerative agriculture is mostly based on examples from overseas”, there was another article published about new AgResearch work that provided scenarios in which farms could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and nitrogen losses to waterways.
It required stocking rate to be dropped by at least five per cent, nitrogen use to decline significantly and greater use of bought-in feed. The latter in itself is concerning; it is always cheaper to grow the feed that you need, and we are focused on growing grass, not buying it in.
The article stated farmers could still increase profit using these scenarios, although some farm consultants were convinced that future profitability would be heavily reliant on farmers getting a value-add premium of 26 per cent for producing in a carbon-neutral manner.
“It is a challenging target to move 12,000 farmers in the time available,” said DairyNZ strategy and investment leader Bruce Thorrold.
It is a challenging target, if you are focusing on fixing the problem with an overly-dramatic solution that has a huge economic impact on farmers.
Bulldozer not needed
There are farmers out there who have taken a “bulldozer” to their farming system, and instead of making a few management changes they are making radical changes at a huge cost to their back pocket, their animal health and production.
There’s no need to undertake such a dramatic system overhaul.
We are focused on a solution that is simple, easy to implement and opposes the saying: ‘You’ve got to be in the black to be green’.
We can slide farmers into a biological transformation without a cost in extra systems, and without loss in production and grass growth.
The reason I went out to prove this theory – first on my farm, and now using a system I’ve streamlined to get results faster – is because there is the belief that you will lose production, grass growth and money – or have to rely on a premium – to survive.
It’s unwise to use a premium as a carrot to change their system – they need to be able to do it comfortably under the current payout.
A lot of farmers have their backs against the wall with the banks, and they need to implement a system that won’t put them further into debt.
Farmers need leadership – but more importantly they need the tools to implement change. We don’t need another money-gobbling bureaucratic body; farmers can do it on their own, with the guidance of someone who understands soil and biology, and who can manage their transition.
It’s a fallacy to think you can’t grow more grass with less synthetic nitrogen; we’ve proved it time and time again.
Our team has worked tirelessly to closely analyse what makes a farm produce its own nitrogen, sequester carbon, and reduce methane and leaching.
The ‘regenerative farming’ phrase is at risk of being like a ‘highway surfie’: someone who drives around with a surfboard on their racks but has no idea how to surf.
We take a team approach, using scientists across the world to fine-tune our system.
We know what we’re doing; we’re surfing the wave. If you want to learn, we can teach you.