It was good news to hear recently that Fonterra has begun to recognise the potential brand damage from dairy farmers moving away from grass-based milk production to rely on unsustainable supplementary feeds such as Palm Kernel Expeller (PKE). Fonterra are establishing and issuing voluntary guidelines about PKE for farmers to maintain the competitive advantage that New Zealand’s pasture-based systems gives them.
Pasture-based farming is considered a low input farming, in that animals largely eat what is grown on the farm. It requires significant expertise in pasture and animal management to optimise pasture production and quality, the production of milk solids and the cows’ reproductive health. More intensive farming can sidestep this systems-based approach in favour of importing supplementary feed such as PKE.
The dairy industry’s increasing reliance on PKE highlights the intensification of dairying and a major change in our agricultural systems. In 14 years New Zealand’s dairy herd has increased from 3.8 million in 2000 to 6.7 million dairy cattle in 2014. In the same time New Zealand has gone from importing 300 tonnes of PKE annually to importing nearly two million tonnes annually to feed more cows on more heavily stocked farms, at a cost of $424.8 million.
Last year New Zealand was the largest importer of PKE in the world , importing 30% of the international supply – showing that we are an outlier in terms of global dairy practice. Nearly two million tonnes was more PKE than New Zealand has ever imported, and highlights the industry’s reliance on this unsustainable feed.
This heavy use of PKE allows the industry to feed more cows on more heavily stocked farms, with major impacts on our water quality. It has major environmental impacts offshore too in promoting rainforest destruction through forest clearance to establish industrial palm oil plantations. PKE is a by-product of the palm oil industry, which is causing major destruction of rainforests in Indonesia, threatening orangutans and Sumatran tigers with extinction this decade.
It is disappointing that Fonterra’s proposed guidelines are only voluntary. To protect our climate, Indonesian rainforests and Fonterra’s brand, there needs to be less reliance on PKE and greater recognition of the value of pasture-based systems. This can also help encourage a shift of focus to adding value rather than continuing to increase volume in terms of cow numbers and milk supply.
The tables below show the massive increase in PKE imports in the last 15 years and New Zealand’s role as the biggest global consumer of PKE.
|Total for all countries|
|Oil-cake and other solid residues; whether or not ground or in the form of pellets, resulting from the extraction of palm nuts or kernels oils|
|Quantity (tonnes)||Cost ($000)|
|Global PKE imports|
|Tonnes PKE imported|
|Country||2010||2011||2012||2013||2014||2015 (to July)||% of global imports in 2014|
|Rep. of Korea||681,447||694,006||797,319||871,082||732,921||0||10.3%|