Wednesday, 10 July 2019 07:55

NZ’s economic engine needs a rebuild

Written by  Tom Pow, founder of Herd Homes, Northland
Tom Pow, Herd Homes. Tom Pow, Herd Homes.

OPINION: The current NZ farming system is no longer profitable and does not meet modern standards. It’s time for an entirely new system. 

What's the future of dairy farming in New Zealand?

Right now, it’s under threat from people and organisations keen to slash and burn the industry into oblivion. Many of these people have no connection to dairy farming yet they push their own agenda which detract from the industry.

But dairy farming is the engine of NZ’s economy. 

Some detractors think the only way to meet environmental targets is to cut cow numbers and farms, waste productive land on carbon set-asides and do away with entire rural communities. 

Or they may argue that productive land should disappear forever under housing subdivisions or shopping centres. 

This thinking poses a danger not just to dairy farming but to our whole country and way of life. 

Farmers must take the lead and refuse to let other people dictate how they run their business. Having regulators and non-farmers telling them what to do has never worked and is now driving NZ dairy farming to the edge of a cliff. 

And there is no ambulance waiting at the bottom -- only famine, discontent and a growing economic wedge between the haves and have nots.

Future farming must feed the world’s growing population without negative environmental impacts so we urgently need to find a solution that allows our farmers to do this. 

Farmers care passionately about the environment and they want to know what is the best way forward. But how do they decide what that is?

Innovators and inventors NZ-wide are bursting with ideas, many of which can’t or won’t be trialled because they don’t fit with the current dairy farming ethos. 

Some have great farming improvements sitting in the wings, just waiting for the right time. Many are frustrated, as their ideas may not suit current farming systems but could easily work in a new farming system.

Current farming practices are based on an outdated model. Many farming practices exist only because that’s the way things have always been done and the old methods are seldom if ever reviewed. 

Throwing more research money at studying a 50-plus year old farming system is unlikely to give the massive change that is required to face the future of farming. The lack of progress has frustrated many scientists, provoking them to make unhelpful comments well outside their field of expertise.

We need to break down the current dairy farming grazing system to its core building blocks and identify which parts are problems now or could be in the future.

These ‘problem blocks’ must be changed or replaced with new ideas and methods. These ideas must be trialled, on a variety of farms of different contours, soil types and climates because one size won’t fit all and what works for one farmer won’t work for another.

Ideally, a new system will:

• Give milking cows more freedom to graze, walk and choose when to return to shelter and shade

• Produce more profit per hectare

• Reduce greenhouse gases and possibly be carbon neutral

• Protect soils

• Decrease production costs

• Ensure staff are happy

The new system will be very different from today’s --  some may say disruptive. Scientists who have spent years studying the current NZ farming system, which is no longer profitable and does not meet modern standards, will have to reassess how their models work. 

I’m calling on all the country’s inventors, farmers and agricultural companies to come forward with their ideas for future-proofing our country’s economic backbone. I want people to review our current systems and give their feedback on how improvements can be made. 

Once solutions are found, all this information must be shared in a format all farmers can access. I envision environmental conferences, events farmers can visit to hear the latest research and get help on how to overhaul their system: how to reduce greenhouse gases through feeding, how to improve their soil health, feeding systems to suit different farm types and so on.

Drastic changes to our farming system will cost money, as will the research to determine the best path or paths forward and ideally this will be Government funded rather than yet another drain on farmers. 

It’s in NZ’s best interests to get this right. Who’s with me?

• Tom Pow is the founder of Herd Homes, Northland.

OPINION: The current NZ farming system is no longer profitable and does not meet modern standards, so it’s time for a new system entirely.


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