Greens promote good farm stories this Farm Day

Don’t forget to visit our Good Farm Stories website for Farm Day this Sunday.

There are great things going on in rural New Zealand with some farmers proving that we can have both a healthy farming sector and a healthy environment.

One of the last things Jeanette Fitzsimons did before leaving Parliament was to put together a collection of good farm stories about improving animal health, protecting rivers and streams, reducing pesticide use, improving biodiversity, managing the soil, and protecting against drought.

The Good Farm Stories website features eighteen of the best examples of excellence in sustainable farming. Farmers from Otago, Canterbury, Wairarapa, Hawke’s Bay, Bay of Plenty and the Waikato are featured on the website.

Farmers have received a lot of bad publicity of late due to factory pig farming, polluted rivers and streams, and the proposal to farm cows in cubicles in the Mackenzie Country. This Green project helps balance a debate often dominated by a minority of farmers who are abusing the environment.

There is a good farm story for every ‘dirty dairy’ story that turns up in the papers. These good farmers are ambassadors for New Zealand’s clean, green brand.

16 thoughts on “Greens promote good farm stories this Farm Day

  1. Out of curiosity what are the profit margins of the excellence farms – that is most likely what is stopping general companies within Fonterra and others to go more eco-friendly and if they are good I’d be surprising as to why they aren’t following the idea

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  2. One of the barriers to moving to more eco-friendly farming methods (apart from lack of knowledge) is that there is always a transition period in which income falls. Green policy is to for the government to provide a fund to help cover this transition period for farmers choosing to change their methods – however, it is not government policy, which is strictly laissez faire. It is also true that, generally, the output in terms of kgs of butterfat or apples or whatever, is slightly less from organic farms. This is usually compensated for by higher prices for produce, but, as Owen would no doubt point out, that is not going to be the case forever and in a hungry world, neither should it.

    On the other hand, organic farmers have lower inputs of imported fertilisers and do not use synthetic sprays to control insects and pests.

    An extremely interesting film to watch is The Real Dirt on Farmer John which (among other things) shows the evolution of a conventional farmer to an organic farmer – it is not quick or easy and requires a whole different approach, not just to farming, but to marketing as well.

    So, your original question is too complex to answer in a simple way. Would be good to hear from some organice farmers on this thread – if they have time to spend on it.

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  3. I think it is unrealistic to expect “healthy” farms to produce as much as income as the types of farms we have become used to.

    NZ has become an open economy with very few of the protections available to farmers in other countries.

    Our government continues to crow about how “efficient” our farmers are compared to the rest of the world, when in reality what they really mean is our farmers can squeeze out more $ per acre.

    One day that stupidity is going to come home to roost.

    We really need to support farmers who are good at developing methods that are in harmony with natural cycles, growth rates, and soil regeneration.

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  4. Modern farming practices, in some instances, could be likened to putting twenty people in your lounge and making them stay there for a month. Over time people would get sick through over-crowding and having to live in close proximity with others and the need to medicate would arise. Some of the world’s most densely populated cities are in the same category.

    Pharmaceutical companies are some of the biggest and wealthiest in the world providing medicines for both humans and animals. Modern living has created a need for this….the way we live, the way we farm.

    Removing animal remedies would create some serious issues for farmers. I feel that organic farming requires careful planning and an understanding of sustainability before it can be truly successful.

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  5. Yes, it does. Fortunately, there are people and institutions that can teach others how to do this. Yes, it is unrealistic to expect the same level of ‘production’ from organic farms, especially at the changeover,which is why Green policy has a transition fund.

    Ultimately, if farming is about feeding the world, which is the rationale for modern chemicals-based agribusiness, then it can still be done organically – comes back to who owns and controls land, what it is used for and how, and distribution of what is grown. For a long time, conventional farming has mainly been about profit to the farmer and not about feeding the world.
    ‘Good’ farming is much more complex than organic vs conventional – it is a deeply political issue. There is an excellent book about Fair Trade which goes some way to looking at how poorer nations can both feed themselves and earn a living.

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  6. …however, it is not government policy, which is strictly laissez faire

    You’re talking about our government?

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  7. Great idea by the Greens to have this ‘farm stories’ website though – provides an example of what could be, as well as…appeasing those who say the Greens only focus on the negatives.

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  8. Yes Janine, there are a few people out there who could point would be organic farmers in the right direction but it is still a huge learning curve with a fair bit of trial and error on individual properties.

    I may be wrong, but it is my feeling that organic properties generally haven’t a hope of competing with conventional properties in terms of “production” and comparisons between the two are somewhat meaningless at this stage.

    I know a few farmers, most of them good at what they do, and none of them rich from the industry. In fact, talking to a guy a few months back got me thinking. He had just told his casual labour guy (2 1/2 days/week) that he could not give him any more work – he could not afford to. That same 800ha farm in 1950-60 would have bought him a new car every year, put his children through boarding school, employed a married man with a family and a shepherd. The difference may be debt servicing, wool no longer being a valuable commodity, costs rising……a combination of all these things. In most cases, when a farmer increases his profit, he has produced more from his farm which suggests more for the world to eat.

    And are we saying that all conventional farms are bad and organic ones good?

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  9. The difference may be debt servicing, wool no longer being a valuable commodity, costs rising……a combination of all these things.

    Government subsidies too – woo!

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  10. No, Jimmy, definitely not saying that – in fact I am in agreement with you that it is a very complex issue with many variables from costs to prices to world markets, weather, debt and a thousand other things.

    Sustainability is the prime issue it seems to me: if the land is destroyed in the process of extracting every last dollar from it, then that is not good farming, conventional or otherwise. Huge tracts of former Australian farmlands are now useless – should never have been farmed the way they were and now, with the salt pan at the surface, cannot be farmed at all.

    Dairying on the dry Canterbury plains (or the botched attempt to have thousands of cows in cubicles in the McKenzie Country) requires a huge demand of water and fertiliser that changes the place dramatically, and probably not sustainably. Immediate big money, long-term disaster.

    Most of the conventional farmers I know, like your friend, are just getting by with part-time help and perhaps the wife working at a salaried job. They are not over-fertilising or doing much in the way of spraying because they can’t afford it. These are having less impact on the soil and having to manage well.

    They are also the ones who are closest to being able to move to organics.

    I don’t think more profit necessarily equates to more food for the world – it’s just about market prices and timing often.

    Feeding the world is a much bigger issue than producing lots of meat and dairy for rich countries – we are a drop in the bucket as far as that goes. Poor countries’ ability to feed themselves is a more urgent issue and that, as I said, is about land ownership and control – highly political.

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  11. greengeek@6:18 has it right. The model we measure against is badly distorted.

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  12. I guess it would be unlikely our government would ever again consider subsidising farmers but I think it would be nice to see financial encouragement to those developing healthier farms.

    Are there any financial incentives at all for those trying to move away from unnecessarily intensive agriculture?

    Do local councils offer rating relief for farms that produce less runoff or other damage??

    Or do we just use fines as a method of directing what our farmers are doing.

    Unfortunately fines just encourage a farmer to make/recover more money, which means upping the farming intensity to generate more income…

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  13. Here is a quote from one of Jeanettes “good farm” stories:
    .

    “His rates are likely to go to $20,000 a year because the farm has been valued at the price it would fetch if cut up for lifestyle blocks, as some nearby farms have been. The valuation has to be at “highest and best value” and yet lifestyle blocks would be impracticable as there isn’t the water they would need. The rates may compel him to leave his family farm. He acknowledges trees are essential to adapt to drought but that won’t help in the short term – in fact they require even more capital. We clearly need some transitional policies at local government level as farmers struggle to adapt to these changes.”

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  14. There is an environmental fund run by the Northland REgional Council you can use for restoration of forest or wetland and they also support planting on river banks for erosion control. One of my neighbours has used the Enviro fund very effectively to plant several thousand native trees on his property, converting it from being completely overgrown with weeds to native forest with some grass and orchard.

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