OPINION: There is an adage from the old labour union days which states: It is a poor job that cannot carry a supervisor.
Doug Edmeades told Dairy News at last week's Fertiliser and Lime Research Centre conference at Massey University that he's appalled at the quality of technical advice given to farmers about soil fertility and pasture nutrition.
"The comment I get frequently from farmers is they don't know who to turn to for expertise, skill and knowledge about this art of soil fertility and pasture nutrition."
With the demise of MAF advisors there is a lack of qualified, independent people to advise farmers.
"Overseas visitors used to comment on the wonderful extension service we had. All that's gone and the people who remain – who have general purpose knowledge – are more likely to be managing the resource on the farm or the finances, not the technical side of growing and managing pasture.
Edmeades says scientists have lost their direct contact with farmers. Years ago scientists at the Ruakura Research Station, Hamilton, used to hold a conference and open day before National Fieldays, which was very good. But the way science is now funded has diminished the contact.
"The focus has gone away from doing research for farmers. CRIs such as AgResearch are doing research for their own balance sheets, not for the farmer. That's one reason I quit the organisation. I don't see CRI people around farms. You see them at meeting like this one. These talk-fests are brilliant, but they're mostly full of words and there's nothing a farmer can actually take away from here." He also noted the almost total absence of farmers from the conference.
Edmeades says the Palmerston North conference is not the only event not connecting directly with farmers. "I went to one on biological farming and they had three farmers there who spoke and not one of them put up alot of information or evidence about biological farming."
A hallmark of modern society is the emergence of 'pseudo science', Edmeades says. "Statements are made to look as if they are science because they use scientific terminology, but when you examine them there's no evidence to support the statements. For example, people say biological farming is better for the environment. It sounds good but when you actually look at it, there's no evidence to say that. In fact all the evidence says if we all went organic tomorrow, production would be cut by about 50%."