More palm oil for our cows, less rainforest for our future

NZPA noted yesterday that the Port of Napier has reported its first shipment of bulk palm kernel.

You may remember Russel exposed the palm cake industry earlier this year. Imports of palm kernel cake have increased a thousand-fold in order to feed NZ’s rapidly expanding industrial dairy industry. To grow palm oil cake Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia are knocking down rainforests, resulting in release of massive amounts of greenhouse gases and the destruction of the habitat of endangered animals.

And this week we learn:

Imports of palm kernel were now exceeding one million tonnes on an annualised basis, with worldwide supplies increasing as the demand for palm oil rose.

Imports of palm kernel extract had risen from virtually nothing in the year 2000 to rival major imports such as petroleum on a tonnage basis, he said.

The cows would, of course, not need palm cake supplements if they were farmed more sustainably.

palm plantation

Photo credit: Helen Buckland whose photo shows rows of palm trees stretching into the distance. The Leuser Ecosystem, one of the world’s most biodiverse rainforests, stands in the background.

18 Comments Posted

  1. I was under the impression that the vast majority of new plantations are being created to provide an input to biofuels. The deforestation is occurring to create these new plantations, so the ā€œless rainforestsā€? that you mention in the post is the result of biofuel production – not on farm consumption.

    I attended a forum hosted by the ANU’s Resource Management in the Asia Pacific programme (blog), and was surprised to see that in the world’s second largest palm oil producer at least, biofuels made up only a small component of production.

    If oil prices continue to rise (as I have no doubt they will), then the proportion diverted to “biofuel” production will also increase, but for the moment it is food consumed directly, indirectly through animals, and consumer products (soaps etc.) that make up the large majority of use.

  2. “While a proportion is definitely being produced for biofuel, the vast majority is being used for food”

    I was under the impression that the vast majority of new plantations are being created to provide an input to biofuels. The deforestation is occurring to create these new plantations, so the “less rainforests” that you mention in the post is the result of biofuel production – not on farm consumption. As a result, blaming the NZ dairy industry doesn’t seem that fair – when it is truly the fault of poorly thought out biofuel regulation in a number of large countries.

  3. I hope these guys don’t count as the green movement:

    The U.S. EPA gave a big, husky hug to corn ethanol Thursday, declining a request from Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) to reduce the amount of ethanol required to be blended into the U.S. fuel supply. The federal Renewable Fuel Standard mandates that 9 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol be poured into U.S. gas tanks this year — which will suck up about a third of the U.S. corn crop. The mandate jumps to 15 billion gallons by 2015 — if corn production holds steady, that will be about 55 percent of the corn supply. Perry requested a reduction because fuel demand for corn is driving up food prices and crimping the profits of livestock producers in his state. The RFS mandate has been linked to the surge in global food prices. But the EPA determined that the ethanol mandate has caused no harm to the U.S. economy or environment, but rather is “strengthening our nation’s energy security and supporting American farming communities.”

    Or is it the Europeans?

  4. Our experience on a particular farm in Taranaki just 3 years ago was possibly fairly similar to many large farms. Yes, palm kernel and other grains, plus sometimes a lactose (I think) by-product from the dairy factories plus molasses.

    The herds we worked with were pasture fed every morning and night. The above ‘muesli’ was fed in the milking shed (rotary) as the cows were being milked.

    Other supplements such as hay and silage was made on the farm and fed out as the season dictated.

    As far as we understand it, the balance of milk per cow and cows per acre will vary from one farmer to another. Obviously the extra feed in the bails assists with both targets.

  5. weka – my understanding is that the European-style herd homes being adopted here in NZ are part of the problem. Supplementary feed is needed when cows are not given access to pasture and palm cake is cheaper than grain. The management of dairy farms is changing toward the practices we scorned not long ago, and our market advantage is quietly being lost. Clean, green, grass fed no longer. Now we are working toward feed lots and fossil fuel use.

  6. No they soak the palm cake in petrol and light them in paddocks to keep the cows warm at night,… at least thats what they would like to do

  7. greenfly, do they get more milk from each cow, or is it that they can get more cows per acre if they feed them palm cake?

  8. Frog, sure palm oil is used for food. But the increased demand for vegetable oils in recent years (and therefore the increased production and rainforest clearance) has been driven by the biofuel industry, not the food sector.

    If the Biofuel Act will promote local biodiesel from canola oil, how come it has stopped plans by Argent Energy to build a plant to produce biodiesel from waste tallow and chip-shop oil? Surely using waste oil and fat would be more economic and environmentally friendly than having to grow a crop to produce that oil, yet this plant would be uneconomic under this Act. Knowing this, how can we trust that this Act will actually promote local biodiesel over imported biodiesel and ethanol?

  9. weka – because the farmers are pumping it up for maximum production. “Grass-fed”, despite the market edge it gave us, is no longer enough. The rationale is much the same for using soluable, hydrocarbon-based fertilizers to pump up hybridized pasture grasses to feed their poor beasts. IMO, anyway.

  10. Mr Dennis – While a proportion is definitely being produced for biofuel, the vast majority is being used for food. For humans and for cattle. The same is likely to happen here when we start growing canola for biofuel. A big part of the profitability will come from the seed cake, which is larger by volume than the oil you get from the crop. The price of oil will determine whether the oil is more valuable for food or biofuel, but the seedcake has a ready market with our farmers. I foresee a time very soon when Solid Energy is growing canola in rotation as prescribed by the biofuel bill, feeding our dairy industry and killing the need to import all that palm cake.

    That would be a good outcome for the environment and for dairy and for our cars. This will only happen with the biofuel bill, not without it. It’s a lessor of evils, but at least we now control our destiny and the use of resources, rather than international conglomerates dictating to third world governments that they should destroy their forests. Right now, any idiot can import any biofuel or palm cake from anywhere without regard to the environment. Is that what you are advocating, that we continue in that vein?

  11. Frog, I know the Greens would rule out palm oil. I would certainly expect the Minister would rule it out through the Order in Council too, based on those principles. But there is no guarantee of that.

    The fact remains, despite what greenfly would like to believe, that these palm trees are grown to produce biofuel. You don’t grow palm trees to produce palm cake – there wouldn’t be any money in it. You grow palm trees to produce palm oil, and the only reason there is so much demand for palm oil now is because Westerners want to put it in their cars rather than it just being used for food. Although the Green party is opposed to palm oil, it is the green movement as a whole that has caused this situation, not the dairy farmers.

  12. Mr Dennis – if you took the time to read the Green’s biofuel sustainability principles, you would see that biofuel from palm oil is definitely out, based purely on the principles. Officials won’t even have to debate that one when they write the regs. It’s obvious.

    Even chunks (but not all) Brazilian ethanol will be out, just based on the principles.

    Methinks you assume to much. And we know what happens when you
    ass u me.

  13. The fact that farmers use palm cake surely makes palm oil plantations (whatever they’re used for) more economical, because value is added?

  14. Mr Dennis – you what!!! Pushing your reservations about biofuels is fine and dandy, but to deny the obvious around the palm-cake-for-cows story is myopic.
    “The dairy industry here has a use for it” !!! I suppose the opium growing industry is ok in your book because the addicts of the western world ‘have a use for it’!!
    It should be (and is) humiliating for our dairy industry to be importing this product, aside from the damage it is causing in the country of origin. We have shouted from the roof-tops, that we grass feed our cows, as a foil to the food miles debate being fanned in Britain, now is turns out we are as bad as the Europeans. Wait til their industry starts to advertise that fact!!

  15. Frog, no-one is chopping down rainforests to grow palm kernel cake.

    They are chopping down rainforests to grow BIOFUEL.

    Palm oil cake is a by-product that the dairy industry here has a use for. It is legislation like the Biofuel Act (just passed with the Green’s support) in Western countries and the general Western concern about oil supply (also fuelled by the Greens) that is driving this. Don’t blame the dairy farmers for recycling a waste product, if anything the blame should be on yourselves.

    And yes, I know that there are sustainability criteria in the biofuel act, but it is still unclear exactly what will be ruled out (as that is up to an order in council) so we cannot yet assume that palm oil is out.

  16. Fabulous !

    Now modern dairy farming units in AotearoaNZ, using “efficient” methods and modern “cost accounting”, are about to join the group intent upon putting the last nail in the coffin of the Orangutan (who is our second closest surviving cousin, on this Planet that we think we own.)

    Self named “Homo sapiens” is, once again, NOT living up to that name.
    Hopefully “our” Planet will slough us off …

    “The evolution of “high intelligence” has turned out to be a failure.”
    (“Next species please … “)

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