Monday, 21 October 2013

Farming for the Future….Do we support Innovation by Leading Farmers?

Farming for the Future….Do we support Innovation by Leading Farmers.

Craige & Roz MacKenzie, are the Canterbury Farm Environment Award winners 2013. Very deserving winners....Congratulations.
The MacKenzie family (including daughter Jemma) are one of the most innovative, creative, Push-The-Boundaries, Farm & Research businesses I’ve ever seen. 

Andy MacFarlane (MacFarlane Rural Business) last week chaired a very successful Ballance Farm Environment Award fieldday at Greenvale Pastures farm near Methven in Canterbury, New Zealand.

 Greenvale Pastures Ltd Mission Statement – “Farming for the Future” That was our mission statement when we started out in 1994 and continues
today. Our aim is to be the best at what we do, maximizing
production and profitability while ensuring that the systems and
resources we use show an excellence in total farming practice
and that the methods we use have good scientific backing and are
sustainable for our family, farm and the environment.
We believe that:
• The environment in which we live is our legacy
• water is a valuable multi-use resource
• attention to detail is what gives us an edge
• understanding of costs is essential
• knowledge is the key.

The NZ Ballance Farm Environment Award regional competition rewards farming families who are working hard to minimise the environmental footprint of their farm. This is to be applauded as it identifies some imaginative &  innovative farmers who in their own right are very effective researchers and implementers of world best practice for the environment. Last week we saw some very advanced smart technology being used to reduce water use, mimimise fertilizer and maximise production for a range to crops & dairy.

I was excited, I could see a future through Craige & Roz’s vision and I can imagine the likely impact both in Canterbury and across New Zealand.

 However on the flight home I felt slightly gutted and left wondering about innovation in NZ and NZ innovators. Are we in New Zealand fully supporting these leading farmers who are at the forefront of Agricultural Science innovation? The research that the entrepreneurial MacKenzie family are energetically leading could not realistically be completed by a NZ institutional research facility.
Where are the R & D tax incentives for farms like Greenvale Pastures???

New Zealand has been constructively criticized by Shaun Hendy and Paul Callaghan (in their book “Get off the Grass”) regarding the lack of innovation or support for innovation.
The country’s lack-lustre economic performance following the free-market reforms of the 1980s is often cast as a paradox: why haven’t sound economic policies led to growth?  Shaun Hendy and Paul Callaghan argue that the New Zealand ‘paradox’ can be explained by our struggle to innovate. On a per capita basis, OECD countries on average produce four times as many patents as New Zealand. Why is this? What determines a country’s capacity for innovation?” Read about it
New Zealand struggles to innovate.
In addition to the 200ha Arable farm there is an interest in a 1200 cow 326ha dairy farm. 
Some of the smart technology we were privileged to see included :- Profit mapping, Electromagnetic EM Variability(soil moisture management), Variable Rate Base Fertilizer, Lysimeter Project, Pasture Mapping with “GreenSeeker” technology, Variable Rate Nitrogen, Variable Rate Irrigation and the BioBed-managing sprayer cleanout waste. 
The list of smart technology on this farm is very long.
BioBed-managing sprayer cleanout waste

Let’s not forget the environmental concerns like pollination & the  Honeybee…..responsible for approx. $50million in honey exports but a $3 Billion contribution to all of NZ food production.

On the dairy farm Variable Rate Irrigation was saving up to 30% of water used. Sure there is a need to invest in capital smart technology but really it’s a “#No-Brainer” if there are different soil types on the farm.

Pasture Mapping w/ GreenSeeker®
􀁄 Mapping biomass variability
􀁄 Identify high nitrogen areas
􀁄 Reduce or eliminate nitrogen application from high N unproductive areas
􀁄 Keep records of pasture
􀁄 Average rate/ha decreased
to 49kg/ha with use of GreenSeeker & VR application
􀁄 Savings = 21 kg/ha of Urea = $19/ha

Much of the commercial technology is managed through the family business. Agrioptics  Learn about this technology 

Craige also plays a leading role in Precision Agriculture in NZ.

This was one of the best days I’ve had in New Zealand….what is slightly amusing in that I was completely out of my depth most of the day but loving the discussion!   
Thinking as I reflect that most institutional research farms could not compete and may no longer be fit for purpose. Yet they have better access to funding.

 Quite unsettling is a conviction that leading innovative farmers don’t get the support they should in NZ.If we in agriculture, are to positively impact the environment this surely must change!

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Moumahaki Experimental Farm. A Controversial Start to Agricultural Extension in New Zealand

I’ve discovered Moumahaki Experimental Farm est.(1892) in South Taranaki, New Zealand. 

A fascinating story of how Research & Demonstration Farms started in New Zealand. It’s what happens when you are left alone and get lost in a book shop! A weekend discovery gem!

This is part of my history. 

I’ve worked as an Agricultural Scientist in Extension and Dairy Farm Consultancy with farmers in NZ, Australia, Taiwan, UK, Ireland and France visiting research and demonstration farms, all my working life. 

For 33 years the Experimental Farm at Moumahaki was a jewel in the crown of the farming industry. Today we debate the merits, funding and roles of these farms just as they did in the 1890s. 
These farms need to take risks, set big targets and go far beyond the practices of the day. They will be criticised and lambasted by non-believers, the unconvinced and the funders. 
Through challenging the thinking of the day, ignoring the boundaries, imagining the future and good science they progress agriculture forward. Moumahaki really did it  in the most extraordinary manner.

Over 2000 farmers visited the Moumahaki Experimental Farm each year to view the research & farm systems being tried on the state run property. Most travelled by train.
Today there is little evidence left of this historic site. (See photos.)

They arrived at the Moumahaki Railhead, were picked up by the farm staff, given dinner then walked over the farm listening to the manager explaining the research results. 

Groups of up to 200 arrived by train. Some like the Feilding A & P farmers came annually to visit & learn. Dairy Farm Discussion Groups still travel together to learn together.....perhaps not by train so much today!

The farm had four distinct purposes- demonstration, experimental, scientific and educational according to Laraine Sole’s book “Moumahaki Experimental farm”. 
The initial 300 acres (120ha) consisted of poor pasture and bush, some good flats & some very steep sidings with a river frontage. The first Manager was Francis Gillanders from Scotland.

Mr Francis Gillanders set about to establish an experimental farm that included dairy cows (Ayrshires), beef, sheep, pigs, poultry, potatoes, arable, vegetables, fruit (apples, pears, grapes & even pineapples). Early experiments included pasture establishment, hedgerows and the use of different fertilizers at varying rates. Breeding trials (with imported selected livestock) were conducted with Kerry Dexter cross cattle, Shire and Clydesdale horses, Ryland sheep, Strawberries, Mangolds, Swedes and Kale varieties.

Mr Gillanders is quoted as saying 
" The public have a right to criticise, and it is only to be expected that they will do so; but with all due respect to some of the critics, they might get a little more authentic information on the subject before attacking what they evidently know next to nothing about". 
Agricultural research funding & extension was obviously alive and well even back then in the 1890s. I'm starting to like this guy!

Experts touted the farm as “the farmers’ laboratory”. The history of Moumahaki Experimental Farm is truly amazing!

Moumahaki Experimental Farm was the very first in NZ. Few farmers or advisors have heard about this remarkable farm. Located in South Taranaki, north of Waitotara, in New Zealand it was the first State Experimental Farm established by the new NZ Department of Agriculture in 1892.

There was an “Agricultural & Pastoral Conference” at Christchurch in 1892 attended by A & P Show representatives from all over NZ.

 They moved “that in the opinion of this conference the establishment of a properly equipped expert agricultural department is urgently required in NZ. That although there was a Department of Agriculture there was no official in a responsible position who could give advice and assistance to settlers” A petition was sent to Parliament demanding action.
From the early 1870s there was considerable discussion, in newspapers and elsewhere, about the necessity of scientific and technical education for farmers. There were numerous commissions, reports and intense debates about how to establish a formal system of agricultural education. Lincoln Agricultural College was established in 1880 and Massey Agricultural College in 1926.
The 1892 A&P conference had recommended that the department provide farmers with scientific information. The departmental response was to establish experimental farms (one (Moumahaki Experimental Farm) near Waverley in Taranaki and one at Waerenga (Te Kauwhata) in the Waikato in the 90s and 7 more by 1910 including Ruakura (1901)).

The state of thinking at this time is reflected in the Governor’s speech on the opening of Parliament in August 1906, "My advisors deem it advisable to encourage the application of scientific methods to productive processes in order that our farmers may successfully meet the increasing competition from other countries. Though much has been accomplished in this direction, much yet remains to be done" (Parliamentary Debates 1906).

So began Agricultural Extension and Experimental Farms for research and demonstration in New Zealand.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Farm Tree Planting Together is FUN

Planting Farm Trees.

Planting farm trees is best when you plant with community friends. I had a great day tree planting in a wetland area on farm with 30 new friends. It was really fun! So much fun that I will continue to invite the community rather than using contractors.

The environment and protecting the quality of our rivers & streams is a community responsibility. Farms need to engage their local communities in helping to plant trees,  Trees that are aesthetically beautiful, trees that are ECO-Sourced, trees for bees, trees that reduce N leaching.

What few farmers appreciate is that the community want to help, they enjoy planting trees, they enjoy planting trees with their children and they like having fun together. Isnt that great….a community having fun together! WOW!
We invited members of our community to come & help plant trees. Horizons the local Regional Council has been involved from the start & have been very helpful to get ECO-Sourced trees from the local region & trees at a reasonable price. 
We invited Massey University Young Farmers to join us as a fund was exciting having all ages working together for the good of the community & the environment.

We plan to plant a total of 20 hectares (17%) in trees out of a total 120 hectares. Some of you might think that is a very big percentage of a pasture based dairy farm? We are planting areas near waterways, riparian planting along rivers & streams. Also due to Nitrate leaching risks we are changing the land use (away from grazing to trees & cropping) based on a NZ system of land classification.

25% of farm area into habitat planting in UK
There is an opportunity here to move away from selling commodities and to add value before the milk leaves the farm. Tracing the product's provenance from farm to fridge needs to be talked about much more in NZ. Factors such as Biodiversity, wildlife, water quality are attributes that could add value to dairy products that are sold in China, India & the EU. There are schemes such as LEAF in the UK and ECO-PLAN (Marks & Spencers in UK) where animals must graze pasture. Farmers in the Netherlands are paid premiums if their dairy cows graze pasture.
Waitrose, UK supermarkets & Dairy Crest (Milk Processors) have introduced a scheme to reward dairy farmers who plant trees on 25% of their farms.

This independently monitored scheme measures habitat levels and species numbers, as well as providing expert advice on enhancing wildlife habitat. The results achieved have been exceptional with the average level of habitat over 25% of the total farm area. There have also been many successful species improvements. Waitrose Wildcare Program  

 The aim is to encourage farms to operate more efficiently whilst addressing consumer requirements for quality and sustainability. The standards will require that suppliers undertake a regular carbon footprint of their dairy operation. They also expect farms to recognise their role as custodians, and consider potential opportunities to enhance the countryside (e.g. via the planting of trees, hedgerows, management of water resources and/or direct engagement with environmental stewardship schemes).

There are some excellent NZ dairy farmers making a real effort to protect the waterways by planting trees.

Old Carpet for weed control

It is important to protect young trees when you are planting on farms. We used old carpet...a local company would have paid to dump this waste material.....we got it delivered to the farm. Hopefully carpet  waste materials will retain moisture & reduce weeds & the need for chemicals.
What do you think?