fbpx
Print this page
Wednesday, 16 May 2018 08:55

Changes may lead to unforeseen problems

Written by  Pam Tipa
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to reducing nutrient levels, scientists say. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to reducing nutrient levels, scientists say.

Imposing changes on farming without considering wider issues such as economic and community impacts could cause unforeseen problems out ahead, says Robyn Dynes, science impact leader, AgResearch.

She was referring to Minister for the Environment David Parker saying nutrient limits may be used to reduce cow numbers.

Dynes says requirements or targets for reducing nutrient losses on farms are nothing new in many regions; most farmers are already moving that way.

“While reducing stock numbers is one approach to reducing nutrient loss, there is no one-size-fits-all [solution]. Whatever restrictions are put in place, it is important to recognise that every farm is different and has a different capacity to adapt and change,” she says. 

“This is where research plays a crucial role in helping the transition by farmers, including providing better guidance on land-use suitability and technologies such as digital agriculture.”

Many farmers have already changed their systems to meet current and future targets, but the challenge is to meet those targets and make a profit, Dynes says.

“Different approaches can be taken to more efficient use of farm inputs like fertiliser and water, better targeting source areas of contamination, and alternative animal feed like fodder beet and plantain that are shown to reduce nutrient losses.

“A big driver of farming has always been what is economic; now the environment is another important driver. But there are others issues of culture, communities and shared responsibility that we cannot lose sight of. 

“The risk is that if changes are made without all of these issues being considered we could end up with unforeseen problems down the line.”

Environment Minister David Parker says that although no direct cap would be imposed on cattle numbers, “cow numbers have already peaked and are going down, yet in some areas the number of cows per hectare is higher than the environment can sustain”.

Professor Troy Baisden, professor and chair in lake and freshwater sciences, University of Waikato, says in many areas we’re already reaching a level of impacts from nutrients that are difficult to reverse.  But how we reverse the course is another issue, particularly because few nations have, she says. 

“We already have examples, in areas like Taupo and Rotorua, of real commitment and investment to protect iconic lakes…

“Yet, it’s important to understand that the progress in Taupo, Rotorua and elsewhere is a bit short of what’s required to maintain profitability while reducing stock numbers. And as a result, getting plan changes working in those areas takes years of understanding, thinking and compromise. It tends to lead to a feeling of completion only when everyone is equally unhappy.

“To maintain or improve productivity while reducing stocking, we almost certainly need a more forensic set of tools that can convincingly provide the insights farmers need. 

“Those insights can come in the form of ‘gee whizz’ moments, for instance quantifying a huge loss of nitrate over short times on particular soils. 

“And equally importantly, we need to find ways to manage a farm to prevent that. In the case of phosphorous runoff, which is also really important, we may be closer with ways to trap the sediment. We have promising techniques but they still need work.”

More like this

New app to help manage costly invasive weed

A new free web app has been designed to help farmers, landowners and regional councils manage a costly weed that has resisted eradication efforts in New Zealand for over a century.

Fat sources in milk replacers

A recent study by AgResearch suggested that farmers should avoid feeding milk replacers with vegetable proteins and fats to lambs in early life. However, supplier of milk replacers AgriVantage argues that there is plenty of other research around to dispute the conclusion of this study.

Milk-based replacers better

Recently published research suggests that farmers should avoid feeding milk replacers with vegetable proteins and fats to lambs in their early life.

National

Government funds RA research

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor says the Government will fund two new research projects to investigate the impacts of regenerative farming…

Luxton leaves a legacy

Former Agriculture Minister and DairyNZ chair John Luxton leaves behind a legacy and lifetime of achievement in the agriculture sector…

Machinery & Products

Vaderstad's new drill is Inspire(d)

Tillage, seeding and planting specialists Vaderstad has introduced its new Inspire product range – focused on the 12-metre seed drill…

JD's new 6Rs for 2022

With the upcoming market year 2022 (MY22) only a few weeks away, John Deere has released details of changes to…

New features on Case IH Optum

The latest Case IH Optum AFS Connect range features a new cab, interior and connectivity package designed to benefit both…