Farming practices evolving for the better

Farming is seen as a major problem for New Zealand in relation to emissions – cows and sheep burping methane, and meat production is also increasingly under fire from minorities. But farmers are reacting, learning and changing some of their methods.

Farming practices have always evolved, especially through advances in technologies. The gradual switch from horse power (I watched  horse powered hay harvest at Chard Farm, Gibbston in the 1960s) to tractors obviously made a huge difference.  s did the application of fertilisers, which went far too far and is now more often more moderate. Chemicals like weedkillers and animal remedies have been overused and are still a concern –  use of antibiotics to improve animal and poultry growth rates and survival rates a particular problem with wider implications than farming.

The surge in dairy farming and cow numbers this century has resulted in a huge increase in dairy production – and methane, which is coinciding with increasing pressure to reduce carbon emissions.

I’m puzzled about one thing. Cows don’t create carbon, they convert it to methane through digestion of grass. Where does that carbon come from? Absorbed by growing grass? If so it’s just a cycle, so what’s the problem? The conversion from CO2 to methane?

People, for example Greens, have called for cow numbers to be reduced, some saying drastically. But the numbers seem to have at least plateaued.

Stuff: ‘Cow census’ shows NZ farms producing more milk from fewer animals

The latest “cow census” shows Kiwi dairy farms are producing more milk from fewer animals.

While total cow numbers were stable, the animals produced more milk than ever before last season, according to the New Zealand Dairy Statistics report released this week.

Issued by DairyNZ and Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC), the report showed the country hit record milk production per herd and per cow in the year to May 31.

Dairy companies processed 21.2 billion litres of milk containing 1.88b kilograms of milksolids,  both up 2.4 per cent on the previous season.

However, the latest bovine headcount showed New Zealand had 4.946 million milking cows,down 0.9 per cent from the previous season.

The statistics showed farmers’ focus on productivity and efficiency was paying off, DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle said.

“Farmers have been focusing on improving their environmental management in recent years and they have been doing this while stepping up their on-farm efficiency to produce more milk from fewer cows,” he said.

“More efficient milk production has benefits in areas such as greenhouse gas emissions and nutrient losses.”

Dairy cow numbers had remained fairly stable over the last five years and the days of significant growth in the national herd could be over, Mackle said.

These are only small shifts (up in production and down in numbers) but they’re in the right direction, and improving practices and technologies should help further changes.

Stuff: Kiwi farmers are joining a revolution – farming the regenerative way

With many New Zealand farmers facing financial and environmental challenges, a growing number are showing an interest in regenerative agriculture.

Consultant Jono Frew calls a “revolution” that has people “engaged and excited”.

Frew, who hails from an agricultural spraying background, coaches farmers in the new methods espoused to require less intervention and says he can often save farmers 30 per cent in inputs in just one visit.

He’s a founding member of Quorum Sense, a Canterbury-based network promoting regenerative agriculture and supports farmers wanting to learn more.

Simon Osborne is happy to share the knowledge he’s garnered from a long-term, non-traditional approach on his arable farm. He describes regenerative agriculture as having a focus on soil and ecology.

Osborne grows varieties of plants, as many as 15 species in the same paddock, to provide soil functionality.

“Different species of plants have different types of roots and encourage different types of organisms in the soil to be fed and to thrive.”

Osborne says regenerative agriculture is also about keeping the ground covered at all times, and that means no tilling. He says that also results in carbon being retained in the soil, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

South Canterbury farmer Mike Porter reaches down to grab a chunk of freshly-dug Leeston soil. “There will be as many living organisms in that handful of soil as people living on earth.”

Less fertiliser.

One mentions he hasn’t fed out for four years and hasn’t put any fertiliser on for five years.

Less sprays required, healthier soils, healthier stock, and less carbon emissions all have to be good things.

And less water required.

With a lake and streams nearby, dairy farmer John Legge says the farm was under pressure in terms of water usage. “My whole idea was how do we farm without using water at all?”

The answer, according to Legge, was regenerative agriculture.

“We grew everything that we needed last year on the farm and we only irrigated for six weeks.”

These are all positive signs of changes in farming.

Many farms stay in families for multiple generations, so there are good reasons for keeping farms healthy for the long term.

The world still needs food production, and New Zealand is very good at doing that efficiently, despite our distance from markets. The signs are that this will get better as emissions are reduced.

People of NZ

From

Auckland alive as 20,000 empty investment properties while 40,000 don’t have homes. People go hungry while supermarkets lock the dumpsters full of unsold food.

Production of the things we need to survive is already done by workers – so workers should control their distribution and consumption. It’s that simple.

There is already enough of everything for everyone. Let’s let everyone have what they need.

No explanation of how it might work, except through the goodness of everyone and their willingness to share equally.

There’s nothing to stop Emmy (except perhaps for property and money) starting up a commune and putting their ideals into practice, proving them on a small scale before risking the whole country.

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New Zealand’s  account, with a new curator each week. This week, say hi to Emmy ().

Food production and climate change

A modelling study published in  The Lancet says that there could be 314 000–736 000 climate related deaths in the world by 2050 due to the effects of climate change on food production.

Global and regional health effects of future food production under climate change: a modelling study

One of the most important consequences of climate change could be its effects on agriculture. Although much research has focused on questions of food security, less has been devoted to assessing the wider health impacts of future changes in agricultural production.

In this modelling study, we estimate excess mortality attributable to agriculturally mediated changes in dietary and weight-related risk factors by cause of death for 155 world regions in the year 2050.

  • The health effects of climate change from changes in dietary and weight-related risk factors could be substantial, and exceed other climate-related health impacts that have been estimated.
  • Climate change mitigation could prevent many climate-related deaths.
  • Strengthening of public health programmes aimed at preventing and treating diet and weight-related risk factors could be a suitable climate change adaptation strategy.

The model projects that by 2050, climate change will lead to per-person reductions of 3·2% (SD 0·4%) in global food availability, 4·0% (0·7%) in fruit and vegetable consumption, and 0·7% (0·1%) in red meat consumption.

These changes will be associated with 529 000 climate-related deaths worldwide (95% CI 314 000–736 000), representing a 28% (95% CI 26–33) reduction in the number of deaths that would be avoided because of changes in dietary and weight-related risk factors between 2010 and 2050.

Twice as many climate-related deaths were associated with reductions in fruit and vegetable consumption than with climate-related increases in the prevalence of underweight, and most climate-related deaths were projected to occur in south and east Asia.

Adoption of climate-stabilisation pathways would reduce the number of climate-related deaths by 29–71%, depending on their stringency.

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This map shows that climate related deaths may reduce in some countries but increase, in some cases substantially, in most countries.

The biggest potential problems are in China, Russia and south east Asia.

New Zealand is shown as being at risk of a moderate increase which is odd, because of the huge amount of food production here over what the country’s consumption requires.

Lower production would mean less exports but enough for us?

But if there are world food shortages then higher demand will mean higher prices for export, making food less affordable in New Zealand.

What the report doesn’t say in it’s summary is what the risks of war due to food shortages could be. That would be difficult to predict and can’t really be modelled.

Time to act on water quality

Problems with water availability and quantity are of increasing concern in New Zealand.

Today’s NZ Herald editorial: Urgent need to act on our water supply

Trucks are delivering water to parched vineyards in Marlborough. As river levels dip in the hottest months, water quality falls. Warning signs beside freshwater lagoons at Piha, Karekare and Bethells because of overloaded septic tanks are a familiar summer sight.

Toxic algae has been detected at 15 freshwater sites in Canterbury. North of Christchurch, people who draw water from rural supplies with shallow intakes must permanently boil water used for drinking, oral hygiene and food preparation.

The signs are not positive.

Six years ago, the Government asked the Land and Water Forum to create a plan for freshwater management. The forum, which draws together 67 organisations and is meant to work collaboratively, has made dozens of recommendations in a series of reports on how best to manage water.

In its fourth and latest document, issued in November, the forum pleaded for action, warning that without some concrete steps water quality would continue to deteriorate, and the country would further squander what the forum rightly calls a national treasure and strategic asset.

Forum chairman Alastair Bisley delivered a blunt message to Environment Minister Nick Smith and Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy, reminding them that most of the previous 153 recommendations continued to gather dust.

Mr Bisley pointedly noted that the forum’s very first recommendation in its new report was to implement all the others “and do that as soon as possible”.

All New Zealanders expect reliable access to clean water. The economy rests on its assured supply. As many as 200,000 jobs – in dairying, horticulture and tourism – directly depend on water.

The Government has been handed all it needs to make their livelihoods secure and protect a renewable asset. It ought to act soon.

From the Land and Water Forum:

In February 2015 Ministers for the Environment and Primary Industries asked the Forum to assist the Government with further development and delivery of water policy reform.

On 27 November 2015 the Forum released the Fourth Report of the Land and Water Forum (pdf, 2.5MB) on how to maximise the economic benefits of freshwater while managing within water quality and quantity limits that are set consistent with the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management 2014 (NPS-FM). It also recommends exclusion of livestock from waterways on plains and lowland hills, addresses a number of urban issues and suggests tools and approaches to assist the Crown’s exploration of rights and interests with iwi.

From the Fourth report:

Fresh water is however a resource that has come under increasing pressure over the last 20 years. In our first report, we noted that although it is still good overall and rates well internationally, both its quality and its availability have been declining, especially in lowland areas, as land use has intensified and our population has grown.

We have made significant progress in dealing with point source discharges, but diffuse discharges remain an issue, and some urban and pastoral waterways remain highly polluted.

Many catchments are overallocated with contaminants.

Lags mean that impacts of present and past practices may not reveal themselves for some time, while. Climate change will increase our difficulties.

Poorer water quality adversely affects biodiversity, aquatic ecosystems, invasive species and in-stream uses,. impacting our health and our amenities.

The report makes a number of recommendations, starting with:

Recommendation 1: The government should complete implementing the Forum’s recommendations from its three previous reports as soon as possible. Unless otherwise explicitly stated in this report, those earlier recommendations remain unchanged.

Increasing land production and population will keep putting more pressure on water resources. This may be accentuated by affects of climate change.

Water availability and quality are fundamental requirements. Government should be doing whatever it can to provide these.

More gloomy export news – dairy dive continues

The dive in dairy prices continues, with prices in the overnight global auction falling a further 9.3%.

Radio New Zealand reports: New price shock for dairy products

The benchmark price of whole milk powder took a dive of 10.3 percent to $US1590 per tonne.

The biggest drop in the Global Dairy Trade (GDT) auction was a 14.4 percent tumble in the price of skimmed milk powder.

AgriHQ analyst Susan Kilsby yesterday said increased volumes of whole milk powder being offered for auction were likely to keep prices low.

“Volumes for whole milk powder are up by 75 percent, compared with the last auction, so there’s a lot more product to move through, and certainly a lot of the product didn’t even move off its starting price at the last auction,” said Ms Kilsby.

Strong growth in milk production in all dairy export regions – the EU, US, New Zealand and Australia – was also depressing prices.

That’s a huge increase in volumes, so coupled with softening demand it’s no wonder prices are falling.

The boom will have encouraged more dairying, but large increases in production are happening after the market has crashed, making the problems worse.

Whale Oil – another crank post on climate change

Whale Oil had two posts yesterday trying to discredit climate change. See Whale Oil – journalist or one eyed crank?

The second was just as blatantly one-eyed from Cameron Slater – Bugger, another global warming catastrophe claim busted.

It looks like, contrary to the alarmists views, that global warming is actually helping wheat production, not hindering it.

Anything starting with a reference to ‘alarmists’ raises wee warning bells. Slater then quotes:

Forbes reports:

Global wheat production set new records in 2013 and 2014, contradicting alarmists’ claims that global warming is reducing wheat harvests.

But this isn’t a Forbes report. It’s an opinion piece by ‘contributor’ James Taylor. It is clearly stated that “Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.”

The first link is to ClimateChangeConsidered.org which is headlined by Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) – which is linked to the Heartland Institute, another warning bell.

The Heartland Institute is an American conservative and libertarian public policy think tank based in Chicago, which states that it advocates free market policies.

In the 1990s, the group worked with the tobacco company Philip Morris to question serious cancer risks to secondhand smoke, and to lobby against government public-health reforms. More recently, the Institute has focused on questioning the science of human-caused climate change, and was described by the New York Times as “the primary American organization pushing climate change skepticism.”

The Institute has sponsored meetings of climate change skeptics,and has been reported to promote public school curricula challenging the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change.

They use similar tactics to the anti-evolution lobby in the US.

Heartland Institute questions scientific opinion on climate change, arguing that global warming is not occurring and, further, that warming might be beneficial if it did occur. The institute is a member organization of the Cooler Heads Coalition, which describes itself as “an informal and ad-hoc group focused on dispelling the myths of global warming.”

Back to Taylor:

Global warming alarmists and their lapdog media allies decided Christmas Week 2014 should be filled with claims that global warming is crushing wheat production. Grist, Reuters, the UKGuardian, and the Columbus Dispatch are among the many news organizations parroting alarmist assertions that global warming is reducing wheat harvests

Four references to ‘alarmist’ in the first two paragraphs (and fourteen in the article).

Reuters did not indicate whether it had fact-checked the straightforward claim that global crop yields have been declining in recent decades. Reuters also failed to provide any countering viewpoint, giving readers the impression that declining global wheat yields are universally recognized.

Knowing, however, that global warming alarmists and their ventriloquist dummies in the media often make straightforward factual claims that are proven false by objective, verifiable data, I decided to fact-check their straightforward claim about declining global wheat yields.

I decided to check some of Taylor’s claims. The UK Guardian: Global warming will cut wheat yields, research shows.

Production of wheat – one of the world’s most important staple crops – is set to fall by 6% for every 1C rise in temperature, say scientists.

Global wheat yields are likely to fall significantly as climate change takes hold, new research has shown .

The researchers found that wheat production would fall by 6% for every 1C increase in temperatures. The world is now nearly certain to warm by up to 2C compared with pre-industrial levels, with political efforts concentrated on holding the potential temperature rise to no higher than that limit. But some analyses suggest that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow at current rates then warming of as much as 5C could be in store.

A fall of 6% in yield may not sound dramatic, but as the world’s population grows the pressure on staple crops will increase.

That’s talking about future wheat yields, not past yields. And it states “a fall of 6% in yield may not sound dramatic”, compared to Taylor’s statement “that global warming is crushing wheat production”.

It turns out the alarmists and their media allies are also telling lies about wheat production in the very nations and continents they claim are experiencing wheat production declines — India, Africa, Brazil and Australia.

Let’s start by looking at Africa. Egypt is the only African nation that cracks the global top 20 in wheat production. In Egypt, wheat output has quadrupled during the past three decades, with the past 10 years producing the 10 highest wheat crops in Egyptian history. This is quite a contradiction to Reuters’ claim that “In recent decades, wheat yields had declined in hotter sites such as India, Africa, Brazil and Australia….”

Let’s start by pointing out that cherry picking Egypt doesn’t prove anything about Africa as a whole.

Then note that wheat output is not the same as wheat yield.

But if you want to look at facts on production here is the total world wheat production over the twelve years to 2013:

  • 2002 – 574.7 million metric tonnes
  • 2003 – 560.3
  • 2004 – 633.3
  • 2005 – 628.7
  • 2006 – 605.9
  • 2007 – 607.0
  • 2008 – 683.4
  • 2009 – 685.6
  • 2010 – 651.4
  • 2011 – 704.1
  • 2012 – 674.9
  • 2013 – 713.2

Global wheat is forecast to reach a record level of 725 million tonnes in 2014 (and total cereal production is also forecast to be a record).

But remember that there is still quite a lot of people with insufficient food.

And the world population has increased to a similar extent and is predicted to keep rising.

  • 2000 – 6,074 billion
  • 2005 – 6,454
  • 2015 – 7,324
  • 2020 – 7,717
  • 2025 – 8,083
  • 2030 – 8,425
  • 2035 – 8,743
  • 2040 – 9,039
  • 2045 – 9,308
  • 2050 – 9,551

Even a small drop (like 6%) in food production would have a serious impact. In fact if the population increases by 30% as predicted by 2050 then we will need a similar increase in food production.

But Slater and Taylor would seem to prefer to raise the level of cranky alarmist rhetoric and cherry pick data to suit their bias (or agenda) rather than look at the facts that matter.

Taylor concludes:

This newest round of global warming alarmism –with global warming activists and their willfully ignorant media allies attempting to dupe people into believing global warming is causing a decline in wheat harvests – is a perfect illustration of all that is wrong with the alarmist global warming movement.

The alarmists count on people being either too stupid or too detached from the objective facts to discover the falsity of the alarmists’ claims. Fortunately, however, people are smarter than the alarmists think.

Slater responded:

Yes they are…which is why alarmists try to stifle debate and run contrarian views out of town.

Very ironic considering the extent Slater has stifled debate and run contrarian views out of Whale Oil.

Taylor and Slater count on their audience being too stupid to look for objective facts to expose their crank counter claims.