Sunday, 28 May 2017 07:55

Farming will cop environmental tsunami

Written by  Pam Tipa
Richard Lee. Richard Lee.

Environmental awareness is a “tsunami coming down on us,” says the sheep breeding programme manager for Focus Genetics, Richard Lee.

Lee told a recent Northland Genetics Showcase Day at Landcorp’s Kapiro Station that he chose to hear an environmental talk at a recent conference – something he wouldn’t normally do – and “man, did I get a shake-up.”

He stressed that everything sheep and beef farmers do must take animal welfare into account. “This is a ship on the radar that is much closer than you think – particularly in connection with what we do onfarm.”

Beef + Lamb NZ chairman James Parsons told the audience that the environment is something the board spends a huge amount of time talking about.

“How do we stay on the front foot with this stuff? Our colleagues in the dairy sector have been given a hard time and it is spilling over onto sheep and beef farmers as well.

“We have our issues we have got to work with; nitrates, thankfully, isn’t one of them. But E.coli, phosphates, sediment -- we need to own those issues and do the right thing.

“One of the challenges we have in the environment space is our not being able to measure things easily at farm scale level.”

At catchment level we might know what we are doing, but it is not as clear what to do at farm level to make a big difference, Parsons says.

At farm level there needs to be methods of affordable monitoring in the same way we monitor liveweight gain in animals and get regular feedback loops. That is needed for water quality as well, “and then we can tell the story”.

With niche marketing, Parsons sees a need for emotional connection with consumers, to be able to tell farming’s story in an authentic way.

“Become an industry of story tellers but have integrity behind our claims, which says ‘we are doing the right thing by the environment’.

“No one expects us to be perfect. The NZ public and we ourselves are our own worst critics in a way; [we need to ensure] we are on a journey and that we are improving.

“If we can show we are getting our house in order then they will respect that. If we sit there denying we have issues, that is not a great place to be.

“We just can’t have our heads in the sand,” Parsons concluded.

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