Tuesday 25 September 2012

New Zealand Dairy Farms Have So Few Trees. Why?

I want to encourage more trees on dairy farms, including perhaps Cider Apple trees.

 Mixed Tree Species on farms can add to the environmental biodiversity. Imaginative shelter belts create a better work place. Trees add to the aesthetics of the farm. Effective tree shelter belts are good for animal welfare and may increase pasture growth. Could Cider Apple Trees also create another income for dairy farmers?

So why do New Zealand dairy farms have so few trees?

NZ dairy farms dominate the NZ landscape. Too few farmers regularly plant trees on their farms. Too few farmers appreciate how diverse tree planting might add to the sustainable output of the farm. Too many dairy farms have cut out the existing trees. The NZ rural landscape has too few trees.
This wasn't always the case. The black & white photo at the top of this blog is of my grandfather J A Cooksley harvesting home grown pears off his dairy farm at Opiki in the 1930's.

 One of my French farmer friends Yvon (who is himself a very keen farm tree grower) suggests that "Our generation (of dairy farmers) have forgotten how to grow trees"

Do dairy farmers today understand how to grow trees? Every time I visit Europe I’m intrigued by what pasture based dairy farmers are doing to improve their environment & sustainability of their farm business. Farm trees are an essential part of a rural landscape. Trees make a rural farming landscape beautiful. Trees help link the city people to the country and to farmers. More trees on farms would in my view help unite city/farmer thinking about the environment.

In France I saw pasture based dairy farmers planting apple trees on their farms. The apple trees were often Cider tree varieties. Sometimes these Cider trees were planted in small blocks and the apples/pears harvested either for sale to a local Cider maker or bottled into Cider for home consumption. These farms often had bee hives and the apple blossom helped to feed the bees when few other flowers were out. A healthy bee population is of critical importance to agriculture.

French farmers in Brittany (a pasture based dairying area) included apple trees in the tree belts partly for the bees and partly for the sheer joy of being able to eat fresh home grown apples. Every tenth tree in a tree row or talus (French raised soil mound for tree planting on farms) could be a fruit tree. The planted talus--a steep earth berm (an earthen mound often between a road/track & a drain), planted with beeches, oaks, or hornbeam--was traditionally created to delimit the boundaries of farms in both Brittany & Normandy.

Learn about Bretton farmers tree planting

Most New Zealand farmers probably think we live in a country with a lot of trees. Is that really correct? In Europe there are a lot more trees on farms. In Australia most farmers belong to Landcare Australia.

Aussie farmers have planted thousands of trees to help protect and improve the farm environment.
Sadly most NZ dairy farms are stark & bare without many trees. NZ farm tree belts tend to be monoculture species. Have we lost the tree planting skills & the understanding of how trees might contribute positively to a healthy farm environment?
 NZ Landcare Trust can help you learn about trees on farms

Farms can be great places to bring up children. Farmers often forget that they are so lucky to live and work in the country.
I challenge all farmers…..is there a “Magic Spot” on your farm which makes you feel great just sitting, reflecting and thinking? Is it the trees near your favourite place on the farm that makes it really special for you & your family?
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you urgently need to start a tree planting program for your farm.

Saturday 8 September 2012

Please ask Dairy Farmers to contribute to your Research by using Social Media

 Please ask Dairy Farmers to contribute to your Research by using Social Media.

 Low input pasture based dairy farmers are generous with their practical information. In my experience they want to contribute to research that they help fund. However agricultural researchers rarely include farmers to the detriment of the research results & the practical usefulness of the project.

Farmers can easily respond through Facebook & Twitter networks greatly enriching research outcomes. Farmers are often the leading researchers in their field of expertise. Come on we all want good quality research outcomes so include farmers in your research team.

Social Media is either feared or ignored by Agricultural Researchers. Yet it is a brilliant way to communicate with farmers during a research project. Farmers want to contribute & have the ability to do so. Social Media has immense power to connect people. It is the academics who are missing out. The farmers and funding bodies (often farmers) don’t get the best outcome if farmers are not included throughout the projects.

 In the past 6 months I’ve been able to several assist university based agricultural research teams (in different countries) to connect with farmer Facebook networks to enrich the research project outcomes. I guess I’m what Malcolm Gladwell calls a connector. 
Dairy farmer belong to international networks of farmers & rural professionals working together on the internet. Progressive innovative farmers network with other farmers with similar professional interests regardless of where they live & farm. Twitter users effectively form their own professional interest networks. The twitter networks are international.  

The Pasture to Profit Facebook group has 560+ members. The group is now 6 years old. There are low input pasture based dairy farmers and rural professionals from 10 different countries talking together.  The discussion is of the highest quality as they share, compare and support each other to progress their farm businesses.

 Pasture to Profit online groups have provided researchers with their farm data, management experience & advice. The networks helped to locate users of new technology. They tested & reported on the use & practicality of Smartphone Apps. Members sent very useful web links to add research data.

They are experts, who greatly increased the capability of the research teams. The farmers have reduced the research costs. Their input makes limited funding go further. More farmers adopt the research more quickly. The participating farmers become Technology Transfer advocates for the new information. 

Why do funding bodies NOT insist on farmers being part of ALL research projects? So why do researchers NOT invite farmers to be part of projects? Is it ignorance or arroganace or just not understanding how the two parties might work together? Researchers need to embrace Social Media or get left behind.

Once invited to contribute farm data or farm business management advice, farmers have been quick to respond. Progressive farmers want to be part of innovative research projects that might impact positively on their farm business & sustainable profitability. Let’s change the way we do research for pasture based dairy farmers. 

Please include farmers!