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Down With Farmer Bashing

Written By: - Date published: 6:05 am, August 13th, 2021 - 126 comments
Categories: climate change, farming - Tags: , , ,

A guest post by DB Brown.

Down With Farmer Bashing Nonsense.

We’ve all heard (at least in the NZ version of events) about how cows and farmers are to blame for climate change and that’s simply not true. For oil and agricultural giants to shift blame onto (mostly) hard working farmers is scummy behaviour indeed. These same people have also shifted the onus onto you, the consumer, as if you recycling and eating tofu is going to cut it. Meanwhile they continue to drill, dig and gaslight our planet.

Don’t get me wrong, every bit of pollution reduction helps at this stage of the game, we should all be decreasing our consumption. But agricultural giants are still destroying rainforest to bring you soy for your latte, while many local farmers have joined the fight against climate change and environmental degradation.

As a wiser person than me once said: It’s not the cow, it’s the how.

Ruminant animals are an integral part of Savannah, Grasslands, Plains and Prairie biomes. They naturally mob together to avoid predators and through this graze and trample down grasses and forbs* in one area. Then, due to lack of feed, they move. This is nature, nature practising rotational grazing.

The cows/bison/wildebeest/add grazers and browsers here… pass and the plants and microbes get to work. The plant wants to rebuild and so it sends carbon in the form of simple sugars down to the root system where it is consumed by bacteria and fungi in exchange for other nutrients. The soil biota sequester large amounts of carbon (raising soil fertility in the form of humus and food web nutrient cycling) as the plant rebuilds above ground.

The litter left on the ground is food for insects and microbes. Grinders and shredders break it down as microbes and fungi colonise surfaces – this in turn attracts worms, some that work in the litter, some that drag organic matter down into the soil. The soil gets enriched and aerated.

Roots get deeper and deeper, biodiversity increases leading to better overall growth through shifting seasons. Ground cover increases leading to some protection from drought. Water infiltration increases leading to some protection from flood.

Another wise person said of all this: It is not man, but management.

The closer we get to understanding and imitating natural cycles the less work we need to do to get a product. As added bonuses we increase both fertility and resilience on our farms.

Trees are also an integral part of agro-eco systems, but that’s another post.

While some of our farmers have chosen climate denial and blaming Labour for their difficulties, many others are leading the charge in creating eco-conscious systems that will help us not only survive, but thrive into the future.

If you’re looking for targets to vent your spleen at, leave farmers alone unless they’re dirty practitioners like those running feedlots.

It’s not the cow, it’s the how.

*forbs are herbaceous flowering plants other than grasses.

Cattle at Zaytuna Farm, New South Wales

126 comments on “Down With Farmer Bashing ”

  1. Ad 1

    If you are going to post on a political site you had best come armed with some idea of politics.

    The most vociferous opponents of change in agriculture in this country are Federated Farmers, Dairy NZ, and rural regional councils whose Councillors roll over their staff and starve them of funds and ability to regulate at all. They are all farmers. They have turned you into National’s subbies.

    If the left had in July organised tens of thousands of drooling morons to protest the foolishness of National policies and poured into the heartlands of Geraldine and Gore, doing burnouts with our used Hondas and decrying the entire rural community, you'd understand how big a set of foolish ingrates you looked. Top work farmers.

    • DB Brown 1.1

      Your bad faith is irritating to put it mildly. Don't remove my posts, just go annoy someone else.

        • DB Brown

          OK, apologies for false accusation Ad. Still not interested in debating with you, your stance is provocative, not useful (imo).

          • Sanctuary

            Watching the farmer protest and listening the federated farmers guy having a whinge on RNZ right now and it isn't hard to conclude the rural sector is largely populated by the people who have been to stupid to work out how to move to a city but who are none the less entitled whiners and shirkers, a rather simple minded bunch who have convinced themselves into believing their own bullshit.

            They don't want to pull their weight on climate change, preferring entitled exceptionalism as a position.

            They don't want to be responsible employers, preferring to whine like babies about the lack of access to third world labour they can exploit.

            They don't want to be held accountable for turning public commons like lakes and rivers into open sewers, instead complaining that when they take a giant, stinking metaphorical shit on the countries front lawn people get upset instead of lauding the size, magnificence and fetid odour of the rural deposit they've so generously favoured us all with.

            Farmers and their useful idiots in the rural sector don't change, from Massey's Cossacks (whose all rushed off to serve the empire where many were then rewarded by being slaughtered at Gallipoli by Kemal Ataturk's boys, nice one Kemal!) to Sid Holland's scabs to the pro-Tour vigilante mobs to the fart tax to the recent protests farmers have always been a force of reaction and revanchism. Collectively they are enemies of progress and socialism, and as far as I am concerned they can all go get in the sea.

            Having a go a farmers is the sort of class war I am all in favour of, to hell arguing like an idiot over a painting let’s push for radical land reform and collectivise agriculture, that’ll put the wind up them.

            • weka

              Shane Jones was a Cabinet Minister in the Labour government. This means that all Labour voters are people who watch porn on the work account and secretly long to be part of NZ First.

              But thanks for your honesty that you think it's appropriate political action to promote prejudice against farmers based on a nonsensical idea that either they’re a hive mind or that they’re all responsible for some industry leaders being neoliberal, ecocidal powermongers, and wage class war on them (presumably including the working class ones).

              • Crashcart

                Isn't this the "not all men" argument that gets rightly decried when there is debate around sexual assault.

                If this farmer is a good farmer who wants to protect the environment, then don't worry the people calling out dirty farmers aren't talking about you. If you take offence then perhaps that is because a little part inside of you is feeling guilty about the amount you are actually doing.

                • weka

                  Isn't this the "not all men" argument that gets rightly decried when there is debate around sexual assault.

                  I don't think so. That would be an accurate comparison if people were pointing to specific farmers as the problem and others were saying not all farmers. But what's happening is the equivalent of saying all men are bastards and sexism/misogyny is all their fault.

                  All that people have to do is change 'farmer' to 'industrial farming'. As DB says, it's not the cow it's the how.

                  If this farmer is a good farmer who wants to protect the environment, then don't worry the people calling out dirty farmers aren't talking about you. If you take offence then perhaps that is because a little part inside of you is feeling guilty about the amount you are actually doing.

                  As I've argued elsewhere, if we want regenag adopted (rather than say just pilorising farmers), then we need the farmers heading in the right direction to be encouraged and supported. The whole hard man LW idea that we can bash people into agreeing with us is old school and in many situations just doesn't work. Who likes to be told they're shit and how often does that change their minds?

                  • Descendant Of Smith

                    Yeah orchardists have been telling New Zealanders they are shit for twenty years now and seem somewhat perplexed that NZer's no longer want to work for them.

                    A lot of farmers too have been doing, and continue to do, the same thing.

                    Sometimes you reap what you sow.

    • weka 1.2

      Fed Farmers etc are the NZ equivalent of feedlot farmers.

      as far as I know most farmers aren’t members of FF, but I agree there is some responsibility in letting FF have so much power. Of course the left could also organise around local bodies elections but prefers to complain about water quality instead of doing one of the most important things it could: voting environmentalists onto regional councils.

      your own political point here seems to be that there is advantage in lefties counter protesting Groundswell. Problem is, lefties don’t organise any more (as you know), *and the whole divisive approach you suggest is unlikely to bring progressive change. More likely to increase polarisation. We need smart counter action not city blinded reactionary action.

      ‘ingrates’ and ‘drooling morons’ is like Clinton’s’deplorables’. If we want rural people on board we need to make a place at the table for them and figure out how to get the progressive ones there.

      the politics in the post are obvious from a green pol pov: climate action requires rapid transition to regenag and we need the large group of farmers who want to do better land management to be supported to change, not continually bashed. You’re ire is misplaced.

      • barry 1.2.1

        "Of course the left could also organise around local bodies elections but prefers to complain about water quality instead of doing one of the most important things it could: voting environmentalists onto regional councils. "

        When the people voted on to ecan tried to restrict access to water they were sacked by the farmer-friendly Key government. Yes to voting environmentalists on to councils, but it is hard to get any traction when anti-climate-action farmer groups are so vocal.

  2. Not all farmers are equal, and some are fighting the good fight. However, these good farmers should be venting their vengeance towards federated farmers and the ilk who have tried to lump all farmers together and tried to hold together the myth that all farms in NZ are family owned and operated…. the problem is not small farms but large industrial type farms. They need to change but they won't and they hide behind the myth of NZ rural life

    • DB Brown 2.1

      You make a good point where the actions of some farmers have sullied the reputation of others. I'd argue that this is the case for many groups, a few bad apples?

      Farmers have become the local poster child for 'climate denial' but that is simply not the case. Some farmers, faced with tremendous pressure to change large holdings overnight, have simply thrown their hands up in despair, or denial, or sided with politicians promising to wind back regulations. While these may be kneejerk reactions, they're all decidedly human reactions to being backed into a corner.

      We all have our moments, and some of them, in retrospect, are a bit embarrassing.

      But imagine working your whole life and being told you're the backbone of the place, and then, overnight, you're the villain. Clearly, neither of these narratives are correct. Also clearly, massive pressure has been placed on individuals, some deservedly so, but many not.

      Media have played a large part in promoting an urban-rural divide, and will trot out the worst farmers they can find, should they be so mindless as to pop their heads up. Then, via social media, they are overrun with people who are also scared and angry, and looking for someone to blame.

      Yes, we should identify non-compliant corporations (and Farmers), but at the same time, recognise the many outstanding efforts being put into place. Farming has a significant role to play in our economy, but also in ecological healing. That is, if we don't scare all the good farmers away first.

      • solkta 2.1.1

        I don't accept the "backed into a corner" argument. I started being politically active nearly thirty years ago. Climate Change, along with GE, was one of the big issues for the Greens at the time. Let's be kind and round that down to twenty years. Twenty years of scientists telling us we are driving flat out towards a cliff. Twenty years for farmers to think about how addressing this might affect their industry.

        • DB Brown

          Yes I've been an environmental advocate for decades myself, albeit decidedly ineffective…

          The entire time there's been more than enough counter argument as to lay doubt at the feet of environmentalists and continue BAU. Huge powerful corporations with teams of professionals talking shit. I posit that, despite there being some classic examples of not giving a toss, farmers are more pawn in this game than chess master.

          • weka

            And how many people criticising farmers as a class understand how the banks, farm advisors, government and research sector factor into why more farmers don't transition to regenag?

        • georgecom

          early/mid 2000's the Labour government proposing a carbon tax of I think a modest $10 a ton. Carbon charges were to be levied on farmers at some point and in some way. Huge amount of moaning from various parts of the rural sector, dishonest Don Brash running round fanning flames, Shane Adern driving tractors onto parliament. That was 15 to 20 years ago. For some (accepting that is not the entire rural sector and some people have faced up to realities) in those rural sectors, what have they done in that time to prepare? No, we won't wait another 15 to 20 years. You had time to put together a plan and make change. You knew climate change was a real issue, you knew change was required, you may have been dumb enough to think smile and wave key would save you from that reality. If you squandered that time then basically, tough shit. reality has hit. Get used to it, get over it and stop your whining.

          • georgecom

            I am not having a go at every farmer here but I am at some of them. The national party back in those times bemoaned the lack of 'scientific solutions' for farmers. they could tackle climate change when science delivered solutions. Key invested tens of millions into such research. Now 2021 and that science magic bullet is not here. there is no breed of low carbon cows, there is no pill that will magic away carbon and methane. yes, there is talk about some possible solutions, but nothing ready for market now. And time has run out. no more time to wait for such smile and wave panaceas.

            there is science about the benefits of regenerative agriculture. it was there 10 years ago, and 20 years ago. it might have been called organic farming, of permaculture, aspects of it was seen in biodynamics. prior to that terms used included fukuokas natural farming, 100 plus years ago a reasonable amount of it was mainstream standard farming practise.

            benefits of RA are various. as a general trend it will probably yield lower operating costs, fewer inputs needed and might even result in lower labour needs for some. no need to import farm staff overseas. with lower costs the need to maximise production will be less for some, that provides for destocking. same profit margins with lower operating costs and stock levels essentially.

            All things been equal the cocky who has taken up RA will find, generally, the land copes better with extremes like drought and wet than the cocky who relied on dishonest Don Brash and smile and wave Key to kick the climate change can down the road. With more extreme drought and floods set for our future the RA cocky will be better placed than the cocky who put their head in the sand and has now taken it out to have a moan and whinge. Will still be a challenge for them, however they are better placed.

  3. Robert Guyton 3

    There are very, very few non-farmers "bashing" farmers. Most non-farmers have little interest in farmers and farming. Farmers themselves are promulgating the belief, their belief, that "townies" are forever bagging them and their animals; they are not. Farmers federations and farmer-led ginger groups are the source of the discontent and fan the flames of hurt furiously. In my opinion.

    • DB Brown 3.1

      Clearly you are not hanging out with the soy latte brigade Robert. A lot of misunderstanding and lumping in going on there. Though I agree much of the 'divide' is being generated by groups with vested interests in painting farmers as victims. Also media, who love the click bait.

    • weka 3.2

      It was pretty obvious on Twitter around the time of the Groundswell protest, and the comments were from left wing people talking negatively about farmers as one group. I see it in environmental activist groups too. And yep Fed Farmers have a specific agenda in their rhetoric too.

      • Incognito 3.2.1

        Are you moderating this Guest Post?

        • weka

          Yes. You can see who puts up posts in the backend.

          • Incognito

            Good to know!

            I cannot easily see who put up the GP unless I put effort into finding out. I now assume it was you.

            Anyway, I’d better stay away from this GP and leave it to you; tempers are frail nowadays …

      • Robert Guyton 3.2.2

        Are the "twitterati" combined with the "latte-drinking set" of any significant number to need to be considered on the issue of whether town and country are "at war"?

        I think froth is being mistaken for substance. Again I say, most non-farmers don't give this issue a moments thought, day or night.

        • weka

          they might not, but the politicised and the activists do and they're not an insignificant part of the political landscape where change is also needed.

          • weka

            for example, if there is sustained messaging from activists that farmers are Bad, is this likely to increase positive farmer engagement with progressive or green politics? Maybe that's not necessary, maybe farmers will ignore lefties and FF and plug on with adopting regenag (and then what comes next), but I doubt we have the time for that slow process.

            There's an author upthread on one of the largest left wing blogs in NZ calling farmers morons and ingrates. I think this is counter productive because it plays into city vs country notions (whether they are true or not) and it encourages the left to keep on with its 'we right and we know it and you should all get in behind', which as far as I can tell is a failed strategy in a number of areas.

        • DB Brown

          I see your point Robert. Perhaps it is overblown (rural-urban divide), but somebody's cooking it up, and there's plenty of people jumping into the debate, most of them with something to say against farmers.

          Plenty of angry people on both sides, perfectly understandable, to quote 2020's favourite slogan: These are unprecedented times.

          Actions and reactions. When we need actions, observations and adjustments.

          • bwaghorn

            National would be my bet on one of the culprits of " cooking it up" trying to shore up their dwindling base.

            That been said it is on the government and groups that want change to take those they want changed with them ,not just decree from on high and have their terriers harass them into it.

            • DB Brown

              I think government and (business) groups only want change where it scores them votes and/or positive spin.

              The general public, with half a notion of climate change, definitely want change. But we're being misdirected as to who to hold to account.

              Yes, we need to clean up farming – but air travel and space tourism and global markets all get a pass? Dodgy! The only reason many are not still posting skite pics of their exotic annual holidays is covid. As for consumption, from where I'm sitting the economy is going gangbusters (or so we're told). That, to me, implies that consumption has not declined.

              There's likely some fine detail in patterns of consumption worth mentioning to counter what I say, and if there are encouraging trends, I'd love to hear them.

              • bwaghorn

                It's like Henny Penny's pie,

                Every one wants to eat it but noone wants to help prepare and bake it

  4. Robert Guyton 4

    If forest is cleared, here in Aotearoa, the soil remaining is deemed "poor". Farmers pride themselves in "improving" that soil, using fertiliser and livestock. How odd, it seems, that millennia of management by nature, results in poor soil?!? At least, this is the view popularly held.

    Fact is, soil is not seperate from forest. It's the removal of the vegetation that has to be "compensated for". The same applies to swamps, bog, mires and other wetlands; it's only when we interrupt the natural processes and systems that we need to "improve" upon nature. If we were (far) less interventionist, far more thoughtful, we could align ourselves more with the natural world and not have to pump her up, having let the air out in the first place 🙂

    • DB Brown 4.1

      Yes, by fertility standards, soil is 'poor' after clearing forest. The efficiencies of a significant soil food web are lost and so enrichment is 'required'. Part of the attraction of regenerative agriculture, to me, is the restoration of soil biology, though the biome type has shifted from forest to grassland. With the soil food web, and proper management, efficiencies can again be realised, with inputs decreased, while net outputs remain of great value.

      With man in the equation a return to yesteryear is highly unlikely, if not impossible in many cases. But that still leaves room for improvement through time and learning, returning diversity and health to landscapes. Starting with healthy mixed pastures, and riparian planting, cleaning up our act is entirely possible.

      There are many useful moves we could make toward improving our landscapes. Some of the most obviously useful in the face of climate change are restoration of riparian and wetland habitats. I'd add to that and posit we need significantly more trees put back on our farms in the form of shelter belts.

      Animals exposed to the extremities of weather lose production to wind chill, heat stress and disease pressure as pastures, likewise, are exposed to extremes. In addition to protection of animals and land, well managed/planned shelter belts can provision farms with many things they may currently pay for: honey, fruit, nuts, timber, fuel, fibre and medicines.

      • Robert Guyton 4.1.1

        Regenerative farming and further refinements of it offer a better way to recreate degraded land, make it more biologically diverse (than super-phosphate/urea-fed farming) and develops a farmer whose thoughts are more tuned to the un-farmed world. However, for me, that's not enough 🙂

        • weka

          I see it as a stepping stone, but would love to see rewilding and forest growing get the same kind of momentum as regenag politically. I've recently seen more people in the mainstream talking about rewilding, which is encouraging.

          • Robert Guyton

            Stepping stone – hmmm…I don't think we have the time for another iteration of agriculture. Still, it'll have to do till the ideal proposal for kaitiakitanga is put forward – it's almost landed, but will need a very willing audience to gain purchase 🙂

            • weka

              You could write a post to that end 🙂

            • weka

              and yes, a stepping stone because not enough people are on board with beyond ag.

              • DB Brown

                Absolutely Weka. While we may be out of time, we are not out of resistance to change. Compromise is called for.

                I'm not a Dairy Farmer, but I've been on many types of farms in various roles through time. Most of my food comes from a food forest. Robert misunderstands where I'm coming from, and demands ideals for all. I see that we require practical/workable solutions right now, working with what we've got, namely, a corporate and capital controlled country.

                The best I can do is attempt to show how real changes lead to real PR, and working with nature produces efficiencies that count for dollars. The side effect is of course an improved environment.

              • Robert Guyton

                DB Brown is, in my opinion, a most excellent thinker; creative and innovative and someone who walks the talk. Here, he's taken on the most challenging of topics and the most push-ya-button position; I admire him for that. When I talk about past behaviours, I don't intend to blame, I hold that scrutiny is vital to forming future behaviours. None of us are culture-free and we all carry "baggage" in our bones and in our behaviours. Where to from here requires an eyes-wide-open look into what we've done so far. Personally, I'm not appalled; I believe we were fate-bound to follow this path and make these messes. Now though, at this critical juncture, is the time to make good decisions based on all of the evidence, gleaned from mind and heart, from across time and across the board. I believe we are very fortunate to have an eloquent tangata whenua here on these islands. Their increasing influence will boost our efforts to hit the sweet spot for how to live. I reckon.

                • DB Brown

                  Thanks Robert. It'd be nice if we had the luxury and time to reach for ideals, but we should never lose sight of them. I'm more interested in saving our asses right now with what we have, and in future – pushing agro-forestry to the fore.

                  Some of the science regarding regen-ag is encouraging indeed. My advocacy for farmers is in no way advocacy for BAU.

                  Complex issues!

              • bwaghorn

                Still waiting for a clearly defined outline of this regneg and how to achieve it while staying solvent.

                • DB Brown

                  Plenty of people doing it, or in various stages of transition.


                  Podcasts of practitioners:



                  Don't let the success stories get in the way of your narrative though… (sarc)

                • weka

                  I wrote a post about what regenag is: https://thestandard.org.nz/what-is-this-regenerative-agriculture-thing-anyway/

                  This thread (or any post about regenag) is a good place to ask questions if you are still unclear.

                  • weka

                    There are examples of working farms under this tag, including NZ ones.


                    • bwaghorn

                      Ok will check out quorum, but if any Sandler's wearing bearded dude or lady wants to give me a hug and sing kumbaya I'm outtakes their

                      Btw I know reasonable amount about porina moth, the best method is to let it's own enemies balance it, but for what ever reason (climate change,people disrupting the cycle with sprays) that could be a rapid track to the poor house.

                  • bwaghorn

                    What I'm really trying to find is a simpleish rd map that a sheep and beef farmer can follow , keep in mind the better ones are already well down the rd fencing creeks and wetlands, retiring bush blocks . What inputs, chemicals etc fit the regneg label.

                    One example of is this ok is .

                    Porina moth is becoming a real issue, the spray used to kill them is dimlin, it's an growth inhibitor (the Caterpillar loses the ability to shed its skin so dies).

                    Last year we missed a paddock its production halved for most of the year while it recovered.

                    • weka

                      that's actually a really good question. Like how certified organic orgs publish transition requirements.

                      So, how to transition, and how to deal with specific issues eg porina moth.

                    • weka

                      Was going to suggest that the best place for regenag solutions to things like porina moth would be online groups where there are farmers talking about what they do. And as it happens the Quorum Sense group had a discussion about porina the other day. You'll have to join the group to see it, but they cover crop rotation, plant choices, biological interventions (Biogro certified), three yearly porina cycles, biodiversity, birds and bacteria controllers, soil balance, non-cultivation and more. Pretty interesting conversation.


                    • DB Brown

                      Yeah check out Quorum Sense for sure, they've got a huge amount of experience between them. And as Weka says, Porina is a recent, and most interesting, topic.

          • DB Brown

            Just a short note on rewilding. I've seen amazing examples, and run an awful example. Where the landscape is not inundated with invasive weeds, just leaving it alone can work. In an Auckland urban setting, leaving a small patch to simply regrow has seen the arrival and proliferation of tree privet, tradescantia, ivy, jasmine, agapanthus, kikuyu… production of any value to humans or native species is close to zero, but birds will eat (and spread) the berries, and bees will pollinate them making honey.

            Again, some management implemented wisely makes the difference between an ecological problem, or not. I am ridiculously envious of persons living in places that have not been completely overwhelmed with practically useless ornamentals. As, while I believe every plant has a unique purpose, they also have a unique place.

            Only a few native pioneers (coprosma, cordyline, karo) have made it onto this experimental patch, after a treefall. To keep them alive requires intervention in the form of knocking back jasmine and ivy.

            It is a failed experiment, but one to learn from.

            Mans footprint on land can be of great benefit, when we know what we're doing.

  5. Lucy 5

    Is there a hint of "not all farmers" going on here. As with "not all men" the quantum does not matter it is how the rest of farmers behave that indicates the direction. Currently farmers are protesting our valid attempts to get cleaner better practices with marches and banners about "Cindy" and anti Maori sentiments. If you wish us to believe farmers are in the main good guys with only industrial farmers doing bad things, then you should not show 20th century attitudes. The fact that you all could take the day off and rush into town in shiny, new tractors and show yourselves to be stuck in an attitude that we need to be so grateful to you, means any change to farming practises will not come from farmers.

    • weka 5.1

      Is DB a farmer?

      I live in the country, I heard rural people talking about the protests. Please stop talking about farmers as an evil hive mind.

    • lprent 5.2

      Farmers aren't monolithic any more than city dwellers, geeks, or any other community are.

      I worked on farms through most of my adolescence. There are the same blustering loudmouths, the anxious about bills, the self-entitled and all of the other variations of people that I find in every group.

      There are also the people who are quietly getting on doing whatever they can to make things better longer term. I just don’t recognize too many of those worthy people in the mouthpieces of the more vocal organisations who claim to represent the farming or rural communities.

      BTW: Reminds me a lot of some of the groups and individuals on the left or green of politics as well. The loudest usually aren't who you should watch to see where things are going.

  6. lprent 6

    Ruminant animals are an integral part of Savannah, Grasslands, Plains and Prairie biomes. They naturally mob together to avoid predators and through this graze and trample down grasses and forbs* in one area. Then, due to lack of feed, they move. This is nature, nature practising rotational grazing.

    Not really the question – more a set of assertions – almost all of which are wrong. At least to my earth sciences and history orientated eye. The question that you seem to be addressing is the impact of farming on the local biosphere and probably especially with the carbon cycle.

    For a starter the post seems to assume that grasslands are native to NZ. I'd love to see DB Brown to provide some support for that assumption. Even the Canterbury plain grasslands appear to be the result of burnoffs by earlier settlers than European – probably in the usual fire driven hunting practices.

    There were no ruminants in NZ, they (like humans, possums, trout and innumerable other flora and fauna) were imported.

    To start with comparing Eurasian or American continental biospheres with that of Zealandia seems like the height of scientific and historical ignorance and stupidity to me.

    Roots get deeper and deeper, biodiversity increases leading to better overall growth through shifting seasons. Ground cover increases leading to some protection from drought. Water infiltration increases leading to some protection from flood.

    In other words in NZ what you are describing is the destruction of the native flora, with its already dense stores of carbon in the form of leaf litter and other biological materials with the shallow and very thin carbon stores that grasslands support.

    Add to that the widespread draining of swamps and the consequent release of their carbon stores as methane and CO2. Basically land clearing and farming in NZ has blown a massive blast of carbon out of storage and into the volatile parts of the carbon cycles.

    Basically the nett effect of all farming practices over the last few hundred years has not, as you seem to assert, increased the biodiversity or the ability of the local biosphere to survive drought and flooding – it has in fact caused all of those things to get far worse.

    Again this seems like the height of scientific and historical ignorance and stupidity to me.

    This is exemplified by the effects of droughts, slips, flooding fouling of waterways and the general drops in overall biodiversity as we get over run with pests are mostly as direct result of farming practices trying to make the NZ biosphere into a european farm.

    The amelioration that the author is ascribing to farmers are just attempts to put some poor pitiable patches on the disastrous effects that they have already caused.

    I could go on, but suffice it to say that authors arguments are, to me, facile and rather myopic. Perhaps if the author starts to look at the reality of the history and science they might be able to make an argument. But mostly this just reads like the self-interested garbage that I have come to expect from the dimwits at organisations like Federated Farmers.

    Federated Farmers are, in my opinion, just another lobby group like the Taxpayers 'Union'. Funded by a small number of wealthy conservatives. More interested in protecting the self-interests of their very small minority. Mainly intent on stopping any realistic progress towards something that works better for our whole country.

    Most farmers I have run across are pretty realistic about their effects on their environment. But FF and their supporters like the National Party just piss me off. They actively get in the way of any major cleanups because they make it to be a competitive advantage to not do them.

    Rather than doing something about climate change issues or the state of waterways – they prefer to ride tractors up Parliamentary steps two decades ago and then proceed to block all attempts to get farmers to do their share of the environmental load ever since. At least the local councils over the last two decades have been cleaning up their act – it shows in where my rates and water charges have been going.

    Watching the progress on delivery of initiatives like methane reduction systems ever since has been like watching the progress towards useable fusion reactors over the last 70 years – it is always going to be something we will see in the next few years… yeah right.

    • Robert Guyton 6.1

      lprent – well expressed.

    • DB Brown 6.2

      I will address the charges you level Lprent (Iprent?). When I can be bothered. For someone versed in science you sure have missed a lot of recent research. But that will require coughing up the papers to show that what I say about ecology is actually true, backed by science, and worth consideration.

      As for facile and myopic – right back at ya.

      • DB Brown 6.2.1

        You might start here

        "Grassland establishment caused a long lasting carbon sink with a relative stock change of 128±23% and afforestation on former cropland a sink of 116±54%, 100 years after LUC (mean±95% confidence interval). No new equilibrium was reached within 120 years. In contrast, there was no SOC sink following afforestation of grasslands and 75% of all observations showed SOC losses, even after 100 years."


        The study is limited, in that it only explores the top 30 cm of soils. It does present the fact that grasslands can hold considerable carbon stores. How they do that is via the soil food web, and the formation of soil peds (below).

        This link is a lengthy, but worthy read, that claims grassland expansion was responsible for Cenozoic cooling (thanks Poisson).

        It explores soils to 1m depth, where carbon deposits reach in healthy grasslands. You know, that fictional stuff I wrote before being given this article (check yesterdays open mic for time stamps if you need proof)

        "Unidirectional, stepwise, long-term climatic cooling, drying, and climatic instability may have been driven not by tectonic forcing but by the coevolution of grasses and grazers"


        What else is 'not in your understanding' the way plants pump carbon, the way herds mob, the soil food web? (admittedly, still quite mysterious).

        • lprent

          It does present the fact that grasslands can hold considerable carbon stores.

          Compared to what?

          Trying to compare a remaining 30cm soil like those on the current NI east coast hill sheep farms or canterbury flood plains against a swamp land where the organic store is measured in 10s of metres depth is ridiculous.

          Trying to compare the current highly eroded farm hillsides with the historic NI forested unlogged east coast hillsides when their humus and litter depth was in the order of a 1-2 metres depth (like you can see in the Urewera park) anchored by trees ?? FFS…

          Try to compare it to the Waikato forests before the farming started and the depth dropped by metres – is also weird. Most Waikato farms are still steadily dropping their organic soils towards the underlying silts and clays since the 1860s despite all of the fertilizer and cowshit deposited on them. This is obvious when you look at the geomorphology at the edges of old bog areas.

          Depends on what your frame of reference is.

          Your reference point appears to be based on Europe like your linked reference paper. That described the conversion of previously cut-over woodlands to cropping or cropping to woodlands. Hell – even most of the fens in Europe were converted from bog or swamp to farmland within the last thousand years.

          Perhaps you should read some classical history of what military / farming cultures like the Romans found when they moved their empire boundaries north 2000+ years ago. Or the European settlements in the original US 13 colonies 300-400 years ago. Forest and bogs – massive long duration carbon sinks. Try reading about Varus or the equally ill-fated incursions into the East cape forests here.

          If you'd referenced a paper that looked at previously uncut forest (and they're really hard to find in Europe), then your interpretation might make sense. The paper you chose simply doesn't make sense. It is as historically and scientifically as shallow as the soils you are referencing.

          Perhaps you should have started your post by defining what the point of comparison was. Against a historical background in NZ it is really hard to see many positive changes in farmers conserving their working environment over time.

          About the only thing that gives any hope is that they're not destroying bogs, estuaries, and uncut forest as fast as they did 40+ years ago. But that could be simply explained as that there simply isn't much left to desecrate. Looking to centimeter changes in soil depth and density isn't that useful and thin wooded windbreaks except to farmers profits (as you pointed out somewhere).

          The more important trend in the last few decades has been farmers voluntarily creating forest reserves around erosion prone hillsides (my parents did that before they sold their bit of farmland). However even that has been less in total than the effect of being involuntarily restrained from destroying streams of bogs or woodlands by regional resource management regimes.

          Sure it is good to encourage the voluntary long-term environmental conservation for land owners. But I suspect that mandating such practices based on regional downstream considerations like flooding, water quality and preventing dead rivers is a far more effective course for the rest of this century. Especially if we still want to have a sustainable farming industry at the end of it.

          • DB Brown

            My reference point for the OP is decades of study in mycology, microbiology and then ecology. There's also extensive other study. But tell me again what a dumbass I am. Added to that a few years recently examining the systems of agriculture that might see us into the future. Your answer is to try and denigrate me with name calling, emotive language, and fuck all facts 'I did earth sciences' – big deal.

            I rattled off a post and got asked if it could be a guest post. Get over the lack of depth you are trying to demand, or supply it yourself. It's not that I can't be assed, I simply can't be assed with you on your high horse.

            The worst people to teach anything are those who think they already know.

            Were I writing a scientific paper on soil carbon, sure, be pedantic, but I did not, nor did I claim to. I spelt out some basic ecology concerning mob grazing of ruminants in grasslands, and how that leads to soil carbon sequestration. So what's your problem – because that ecology is sound. It has and is being applied in a NZ context, were you to pay any attention over the last few years you'd have seen a lot on the subject. But did you already know about that too, earth scientist.

            You seem to think pointing out we were not originally grassland moots my discussing grassland now. My turn to say FFS. For your information, for a large portion of the country, we are indeed grassland. Now, how do we farm it sensibly, accentuating rather than screwing the environment?

            Nowhere did I support conventional agriculture, or it's practises. As close as I got was to point that rotational grazing is similar to historic mob grazing, where cattle eat it down and move/get moved.

            Again: The worst people to teach anything are those who think they already know.

            • weka

              The post is fine. I asked to Guest Post it because I thought it presented some important issues in a simple and straightforward manner and I thought it would generate some discussion (which it has!). I really liked the explanation of the ecology of grazing and biomimicry farming, more eloquent than I've ever explained it and accessible to most people.

              The challenge laid down to stop bashing farmers and to hold the big corporate players accountable didn't seem that controversial to me, but seems to have touched a few nerves.

              Lynn seems to have largely misunderstood what you are saying (that we have large scale pastoral farming here already and that could be vastly improved and made sustainable by using grazing animals to rebuild soil depth and fertility).

              There are plenty of real life examples under the regenag tag. If you did want to write a post presenting the science at some point, that would be fantastic. I don't have the head for it, and have just tended to throw out Salatin's example of growing 8 inches of soil over forty years to replace the shale that had been exposed from over-plowing.

              Sorry if I threw you in the deep end. I think you've done well responding, your comments have been as interesting a the post.

          • DB Brown

            Check that second paper too, it outlines how grassland carbon is long-term sequestered – as soil aggregates were eroded then deposited in wetlands, estuaries and oceans. Really, from what you are typing, I reckon you'll enjoy it almost as much as you enjoy telling people they're stupid.

            • DB Brown

              Hey I'm overly tired now Lynn, and simply in awe of moderators who can do this day in day out. I'll come back with a fresh head and a bunch of papers regarding regen-ag tomorrow or Sunday according to friends demands on my time.

    • weka 6.3

      not quite sure what you are saying there Lynn. Obviously several centuries of Euro farming has had a large negative impact on soils and native ecosystems in NZ. If we want to grow food here via farming we need some land at least, and shifting that to regenag has both science and practical examples in support of it.

      The grazers build soil model is debated within the ag counter culture in NZ, precisely because we didn't have large grasslands and grazing herds. Some argue that because of that, we shouldn't be grazing at all, that the soil structures here are not built for heavy hoofed animals. Others argue that the land has been so impacted on that we need to restore not to original native state but to the best we can for growing food given humans are here and need to eat. The idea being that we can import the grazer/grassland model and apply it here on specific sites. What that looks in NZ like will depend on site and need.

      We can do both. Some land for native restoration (forest, wetlands, scrublands, alpine etc), and some for producing food and materials for humans. Both need to be regenerative.

      • RedLogix 6.3.1

        We can do both. Some land for native restoration (forest, wetlands, scrublands, alpine etc), and some for producing food and materials for humans. Both need to be regenerative.

        A very interesting exchange and thought provoking. While Lynn has a solid point around how very much NZ landscapes have been modified since the arrival of humans, he fails to examine the logical consequences of his position. Pre-agriculture humans lived for millions of years in exactly the 'pristine wildernesses' that he seems to be advocating for – and despite their undoubted toughness and intelligence our ancestors never exceeded a global population of a few 10's of millions. As much as some would like to romanticise the hunter-gatherer world, the obvious conclusion is that the surplus productivity of an unmodified natural world is too low, too intermittent and too seasonal to support human development and civilisation as we know it.

        Agriculture solved some of this problem, it created larger surpluses and reduced the intermittency problem. But dependent as it was on photosynthesis as it's primary energy source, inherently diffuse and seasonal, it compelled any growing society to constantly seek more sunshine and territory. Hence the age of empire. I realise that's a simplification, but I believe this logic underpins the past 10,000 odd years of our history – and despite the obvious turbulence of that era, it enabled us to reach a population of around 800m. Yet a look at the data shows that by 1800 we had more or less reached the limits of agriculture alone – populations were either growing slowly, or increasingly subject to famine and disease.

        Industrialisation then solved another part of the problem – burning coal in high temperature boilers gave us for the first time, concentrated, reliable high quality energy. That led to the explosion of population we're all very familiar with – an increase of about a factor of 10 to around 8b. Note carefully – industrialisation did not eliminate agriculture, rather is intensified it enormously with both positive and negative impacts. The negative impact was on landscape biodiversity as Lynn speaks to, but the positive impact has been on efficiency – we're getting better and better at reliably feeding people using less land and less resource. We've largely broken the cycle of famine and produce so much food more people are at risk from obesity than starvation.

        But as we all know – energy intensification based solely on fossil carbon was only ever a temporary phase, it too has it's limits and all the signs suggest we've bumped up against them, a casual factor I would argue in much of the distress human societies everywhere are embroiled in.

        This line of reasoning suggests the path forward. Each evolutionary step does not discard the components of what came before it, rather they're both conserved and then transformed. Our relationship with the natural world has shifted from a hunter-gatherer's total dependency, to the farmer's ability to modify, manipulate and extract – through to the industrialist's extraordinary capacity to intensify.

        None of this came for free – so far human dependency and impact on the natural world has cost our parent dearly. Our future does not lie in 'living off Mother Earth' indefinitely – rather I would suggest that nature herself points the way. Yes the parent sacrifices a great deal to raise their children, but the goal is their eventual de-coupling and independence from the parent – that the child should become an adult.

        In this light we might consider the fossil carbon based Industrial Revolution perhaps the last and most expensive gift our parent can give to us – almost literally like giving us the keys to our first car. We should not eschew such a gift lightly.

        We will always remain connected to the Earth, our relationship to the natural world will not be severed – but transformed by our new capacities for innovation and more subtle technologies. In more practical terms I envisage humans transitioning to cheap, abundant and clean energy, to closed loop resource economies and far more intense sophisticated food systems that increasingly decouple us from our long dependence and increasing exploitation of nature. Our physical footprint on earth can reduce, wilderness can expand again and as a mature species we might set about repaying some of the debt we owe to the planet which gave birth to us.

  7. vto 7

    there is much to comment on in your post Brown..

    but I will acknowledge one point you make and with which I always agree…. by way of example…. farmers were encouraged to drain swamps to turn into farmland from day dot right up until the late '90s… encouraged by government and society… and the farmers did this…

    … that encouragement has now been reversed to total discouragement… and it isn't right that they are now blamed for what they were, for generations, encouraged to do…

    … I think the public don't know this, or have forgotten it (they actually don't know it)…

    other than that though, I really tire of hearing how farmers are the backbone, keep the country going and the lights on… bullshit… the country would actually be better off without the 90% of farming which gets sent overseas…. farming is only 5% of gdp… just like we are better off now without foreign tourists …

    • Robert Guyton 7.1

      vto – with regard the "farmers were encouraged and so they did" meme; I don't buy it. There have been people speaking out against the despoliation of the environment since forever, way, way, way back. Those who sought to conquer, exploit, dominate the wild-world, rather than align with it, made the choice to plunge ahead, ignoring those pleas.
      In my opinion.

      • vto 7.1.1

        You are right in that people have surely been saying that Robert. However my point was that the farmers were encouraged to drain swamps over that time. Subsidies were available to do so. Even as late as John Key, the government was pouring taxpayer money into schemes to intensify farming (Central Plains Water in Canterbury).

        But guess what Robert – the old maxim of "always follow the hippies" has been proved again… wherever the hippies are is where the rest of the heavy-footed population will be in the future.

      • Ad 7.1.2

        Speak out though they may have, the fact is both the state and local governments have actively financed and regulated for mass irrigation since World War 2 – at the strong behest of farmer groups.

        It was the state itself that sought and achieved the NZ-China Free Trade Agreement in 2002, after which dairy production and its clearances, drainage and damage just exploded.

        It was 2012 when the state formed the Irrigation Acceleration Fund, then further funded in 2014, then Crown Irrigation Investments was formed. And you can readily see the mass acceleration of dairy conversion in the whole of Canterbury and North Otago as a result.

        The state and local governments have worked hand in hand with farmers in the destruction of our land for well over a century.

      • Patricia Bremner 7.1.3

        It is not always Farmers, Councils made decisions to allow housing in areas where we used to have bullrushes and frogs. ' Just put piles in so many metres deep!!'

        We all have made mistakes, overstocking, polymers and plastics. Burying our rubbish or sending it to the third world 'Out of sight out of mind"

        Our failure to keep our water clean is on us. We need to work together, and forget the name calling. Time for that is running out. We need to change!!

        Mother Earth needs us to change what we do.

    • DB Brown 7.2

      Councils also had work gangs whose task was the clearing of riparian vegetation, which we misunderstood as dirtying rivers. True story, I worked on one.

      Now we're all reversing everything, and taking no responsibility – it's them!

      There is a lot of misunderstanding of how we got here, and assumptions that because it is not NZ's original state, somehow we're not covered in grassland. Duh – we are!

      Humans have messed up the entire globe, farming more in line with nature will, surprise surprise, damage nature less. This article is more about exploring that aspect, of how nature can align with farming if done right, than bashing historic screw-ups, about which we could be here for a very long time.

      Some of the posts above are emotional rants implying I'm not aware of mankind's destruction. I'll engage with them when/if I can be bothered. Thank you for your consideration.

    • bwaghorn 7.3

      Add to that ,most farmers still remember how labour well and truly fucked rural nz in the 80s .

      The distrust is well earned.

      • DB Brown 7.3.1

        Yeah I'm not a big Labour fan, the lesser of two evils. This mob not quite so neolib as the last, but still entrenched in sucking up to money. With the PM in my electorate obviously she got my vote for MP, but greens have my party vote so long as they advocate for the environment.

      • lprent 7.3.2

        The major problem wasn’t Labour in the 1980s. It was National in the 1970s and 1980s – the subsidy schemes for farmers like SMP and others screwed the economics of farming away from anything that was sustainable.

        This is the quote in a wikipedia article about agricultural subsidies (my bold) tat is deadly accurate

        In 1984 New Zealand’s Labor government took the dramatic step of ending all farm subsidies, which then consisted of 30 separate production payments and export incentives. This was a truly striking policy action, because New Zealand’s economy is roughly five times more dependent on farming than is the U.S. economy, measured by either output or employment. Subsidies in New Zealand accounted for more than 30 percent of the value of production before reform, somewhat higher than U.S. subsidies today. And New Zealand farming was marred by the same problems caused by U.S. subsidies, including overproduction, environmental degradation and inflated land prices.

        Note that at the time agriculture was something like 70% of all export revenue. Almost all food and wool production (as it is now) was sold offshore, so it wasn’t even an internal book-keeping exercise as agricultural subsidies are in the US or EU. So effectively the government was trying to subsidize the agriculture to about 20% of total export revenue.

        It caused massive over stocking, extraordinary agricultural land prices, and a addictive reliance by farmers on a price that wasn’t even remotely like the world market price. It simply didn’t work.

        I can understand why those programs were put in – they were to handle the farming transition from a british market after the UK moved into the EEC. However they weren’t operated as a cushioning transition, winding down over time. They were purely being a expensive unsustainable and hopelessly addictive subsidy that was run to the point that there would be a nasty correction.

        I’d point out that in 1977 I spent a year between school and university mostly working on commercial farms. I was deciding if I wanted to go into farming. In the end I didn’t purely because I looked at farming as being a business that was heading towards a disaster in anything like its then current operating model. I went into the army training and then to university instead. That was 7 years before the removal of subsidies in 1984.

        If I could see that as being blindingly obvious as a 17 year old – what I couldn’t understand was how those sterling farmers supposably running a business could be surprised when it all turned to custard. Which is basically why I’d say that your statement is sheep shit (we had something like 70 million sheep then). Some farmers didn’t rely on ongoing subsidies – they were the farming survivors because they prepared on how to survive the inevitable economic correction.

        most farmers still remember how labour well and truly fucked rural nz in the 80s .

        I suspect that what you should have considered is the corrosive short-term mentality and outright greed of anyone dumb enough to run a business based not on market prices, but on taxpayer subsidies. Because that describes anyone who’d ‘remember’ it the way that you suggest.

        • DB Brown

          That was worth learning about. Thanks. In the 70's I was a mere child enjoying the large inground pool (reservoir, in tax man speak) subsidised for my farming cousins.

        • bwaghorn

          It wasn't the why ,it was the how .

          • weka

            yes. My teenage memory of the 80s was of farmers being forced off the family farm because of economic settings. This was one of my early political awakenings, my mother's family were farmers, she grew up on a farm, the idea that farmers wouldn't be helped to stay on the land was deeply shocking (think that was banks raising mortgage rates, but am guessing it tied into the subsidies issue).

            It was very neoliberal and a direct forbear of the situation we are in now with corporate farming. To have regenerative farming you either need to legislate or you need the farm being managed by people who live there and love the land.

            • bwaghorn

              Interest rates were in the high teens I believe, labour couldn't have cared less, It would be like removing rent subsidies over night ,(rent subsidies should go btw ,but how) carnage and suicides would follow and the rich would Hoover up the left overs .

              • lprent

                Interest rates were in the high teens I believe, labour couldn't have cared less

                The mortgage interest rates in the late 1970s were above 10% and well above in the 'high teens' in the early 1980s period before the 4th Labour government. The interest rate freeze in about 1982 (?) stopped the rise but also made it almost impossible borrow money at all. When that artifical constaint was released, the interest rates jumped up to exactly the previous trend – and hit 20%. Mandating by fiat that something is true, doesn’t make it true when you’re looking at an actual economic constraint.

                That was an inevitable consequence of having a shortage of local investment capital as government(s) sucked all of the safe money to pay for various kinds of economic subsidies over a very long time. It wasn't exactly a short trend – rather a long term increasingly worsening trend in NZ. Correcting it increased the pain – but was slowly correcting itself by the end of the 1980s.

                Umm… see https://teara.govt.nz/en/graph/23100/interest-rates-1966-2008 where this graph comes from.

                When the mortgage rates hit 20% again during the corrections during the dotcom boom and then the subsequent crash – that was really painful. But by that time the ever increasing government debt level that were a large part of the capital suck in the economy had turned to the trend or reduced government debt that allowed us to survive that later international recessions 'asian flu' in 1997/8, the GFC in 2007/8, and the current one in 2020/1.

                FFS: It'd be nice if people would learn enough about our own history enough to not just repeat rather hackneyed and quite incorrect myths based on timeframes that ignore what happened before, during and afterwards based on the policies of the day.

                Next I expect to see some similar hoary old myths come out about what happened in the basic economics of the depressions in the 1870s, 1890s and 1930s. I heard enough of those from my great grandparents and grandparents

        • bwaghorn

          Just had time to read your as always looooong post and your final paragraph as always reminds me what an arrogant self important toss pot you are.

        • Graeme

          It wasn't only farming that was being subsidised to death and living in an economic fairyland. Most of the public sector that had any sort of trading function was the same. Ministry of Works, Post and Telegraph, Railways and Forest Service.

          All of them, and lots of other State Sector organisations got restructured fucked over as hard or even harder than farming. The system we had ended up with by the early 80's was verging on communism, and like Soviet communism the economic wheels fell off.

          It was a time of profound change in this country, for better in some was and for worse in others.

          It amuses me that political farmers will decry socialism, but in the next breath rail against the NZ Labour Party for removing the excesses of socialism from our economy.

      • pat 7.3.3

        The (widespread, though not total) farmer antipathy towards Labour long predates the 80s reforms


        “In hopes of countering Labour’s rise, United and Reform decided to turn their alliance into a single party.”

  8. "Is DB a farmer?"

    I suspect not. Most of the most vociferous attacks on people criticising farmers (who are merely responding to a farmer protest in the first place) are coming from people who aren't farmers.

  9. esoteric pineapples 9

    "While some of our farmers have chosen climate denial and blaming Labour for their difficulties, many others are leading the charge in creating eco-conscious systems that will help us not only survive, but thrive into the future."

    This claim is being made an awful lot without any statistical proof to back it up. In my job I've interviewed farmers in the Wairarapa who are environmentally conscious but they are definitely a minority and outsiders in the farming community. Some of them are even against the proposed dam which makes them heretics to other farmers. In the Wairarapa come for a drive around the valley and note how many streams (of which there are very many) have no riparian planting whatsoever. About a month ago, I drove from Masterton to Tinui and back and took photos of all the waterways along the route that were not only devoid of any vegetation but also had green water. While this is the way things are, making claims like farmers are looking after their waterways and improving them is simply a form of gaslighting, telling people that what they are seeing is not what they are seeing. Farmers in the Wairarapa are also dragging their heals on any attempts to improve the quality of waterways. Which is why I take such claims about the majority of farmers being environmentally conscious with a good dose of skepticism.

    • DB Brown 9.1

      Your skepticism is more than fair. We live in a world of greenwashing. But people are dragging their heels in every sector. That's why it seems disingenuous to me to blame farmers when the people spending millions on climate denial are really to blame for how things got so bad. The oil barons – fertiliser salespeople and pushers of the mechanised plough. The seed merchants determined to create monocultures for their personal profit margins, the scientists who've chosen money over ethics. The corporates who love glossy PR and do nothing about non-compliance.

      Regen-ag has many detractors, and they're the same people everyone here seems (justifiably) pissed off at – sans farmers. Those bodies that gaslight the rest of us re: progress. But in some places progress is being made, and this is to be celebrated and encouraged.

      Change is inevitable. It is also scary, and understandably resisted. When did we reach the point of being incapable of understanding another's venting is an outlet of pain and frustration, more a cry for help than something to rise to.

      We've got too emotionally invested. That is also understandable.

  10. satty 10

    I just finished reading the book "Soil" by Matthew Evans, which is a good reading for given topic.

    Some of my thoughts:

    • There're still significant gaps in our knowledge on soil, food, climate and how everything interacts. Modern scientific knowledge does not necessarily "outperform" traditional farming knowledge held by earlier human cultures.
    • The "Green Revolution" turned out to be a big capitalist takeover of the food production: Short term financial gain thinking, power concentration of agri-industries, like fertiliser / herbicide / fungicide / insecticide producer, agri-machinery and large global farming conglomerates, pollution, destruction of environment on large scale, one of the biggest green house gas emitter, loss of top-soil… and less-nutritious food, just lots more of it, with large quantities used for non-food products, like bio-fuel.
    • Genetic modified grains and related chemical solutions will make the situation worse.
    • Going forward, we have to be able to grow food without massive irrigation, without artificial fertiliser, without poisons killing the micro-organism in and above the ground, without polluting the river systems…
    • Robert Guyton 10.1

      Salient points, satty!

      We need a metanoia. This sort of discussion precedes such an event, imo.

  11. vto 11

    Another point Mr Brown

    I say to farmers – welcome to the bashing world the rest of us live in. Farmers have been told they are special for so long it has distorted their view of their place imo. This recent turn to telling them they are not special simply brings them into line with the rest of us – being bashed all the time…

    … think school teachers.. think miners… think bankers and lawyers … think port workers… think developers … think politicians … think truck drivers … think bureaucrat … think everyone everyone…

    … so yeah, farmer bashing is simply what most of the rest of us have put up with eons … welcome to our world

    exceptions to this rule – florists .. anyone else?

    • Robert Guyton 11.1

      As a tree hugging, green, environmentalist, I thrill to your message, vto. I once had the pleasure of addressing an audience of rural folk in Gore on the topic of cannabis reform 🙂

    • DB Brown 11.2

      Your use of Brown and Mr Brown suggests you know me or think you do. DB is the name thanks, we're not in the army now.

  12. John Monro 12

    Hello. D B Brown rather gives him or her self away in the first paragraph when he or she states "We’ve all heard (at least in the NZ version of events) about how cows and farmers are to blame for climate change and that’s simply not true. For oil and agricultural giants to shift blame onto (mostly) hard working farmers is scummy behaviour indeed. These same people have also shifted the onus onto you, the consumer, as if you recycling and eating tofu is going to cut it. Meanwhile they continue to drill, dig and gaslight our planet."

    People commenting here I'm sure for the most part, though perhaps I speak purely for myself, don't blame farmers for climate change. That's being over sensitive and defensive. But where you are to blame for some of climate change (which in NZ in particular is around 50% of equivalent of our greenhouse gases, hardly insubstantial and definitely not ignorable), and you are, just as the wider population is by eating and drinking your products and not being vegan, we do blame farmers for their inaction and highly effective lobbying to exclude themselves from any of the measures that we urgently need to take to deal to global warming. The latter part of the paragraph has a grain of truth, the worst abusers of our atmosphere are the oil, coal and gas companies, and they are clever at shifting blame to others. That's not to blame every farmer as an individual, many farms are showing some leadership in farm and environmental management, but the fact is that the economic necessities of a very debt overburdened farming sector means that most dairy farmers literally cannot afford to change their intensive ways and pay off the debt and make a living. I don't wish to cast aspersion on any good man or woman, they've been economically and environmentally cornered, but as smaller cogs they are part and parcel of a huge, corrupt and incredibly damaging agricultural corporatised international industry.

    The major part of D B Brown's article describes some natural systems whereby ruminant animals are a indivisible part of a healthy local ecology. That may be true, but that local ecology also contained wild predators that kept numbers of ruminants in some sort of balance. Nor were they sustained by artificial feeds or fertilisers, if they ran out of grass any one year due to drought, they died. So D B Brown's observation is irrelevant to today's New Zealand. I shouldn't need to point out that every single cow, sheep, pig, deer, hedgehog or mouse is not and never has been part of New Zealand's natural ecology. And whereas 2 million cows in the 1970s was not part of that ecology either, 6 million cows today, nearly a million on the Canterbury plains, are much, much less so. The illustrations of how some natural systems work might be a pointer to a wiser and more sustainable way of managing our land, but it won't come about without truly revolutionary changes in attitudes, from farmers, politicians, investors and the public. I see little sign of this as we desperately and futilely try to return to "normal" post-Covid .

    And whilst we're mostly talking about greenhouse gas emissions, we also understand the serious deleterious effects of such intensive agriculture on so many environmental and health measures. Feedlots are appalling, I agree, they are an attack on our human values in regard to the ethical management of sentient animals and should be banned, but in regard to global warming and environmental damage, they are probably no worse than the damage we're achieving on a wider basis. There is now an excellent series of documentaries on TVNZ that can be seen on TV On Demand, and is definitely worth watching. I was astonished that such an intelligent documentary, painting the dairy industry in a most unflattering light, should appear on TVNZ. Worth subscribing to On Demand, it's free. https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/mediawatch/audio/2018806040/making-sense-of-milk-and-money

    • DB Brown 12.1

      Point out where I advocate for intensive agriculture? I outline a natural system and how that aligns with rotational grazing. Nothing about pouring on nitrates, nothing about all the cides. I talk about restoration of soil biology, and ecosystem services. So look again.

      We're too quick to jump up and declare a side. We got what we got, now, what do we do with it – power structures included.

      Also, the assumption that I'm not aware NZ's undergone significant changes… really? I've studied history, Te Ao Maori, biogeography…

      It's not just farmers that have had the onus put on them – all consumers are being gaslit by oil giants. You do not see that as true? But… this article is about the onus put on farmers. We're ALL subject to being blamed for our way of life as the cause of climate change. Partial truths, partial truths with oil giants behind the 'debate'. It's greenwashed BAU. Soy production and the loss of rainforests is the perfect example of this. Vegan 'advocacy' is rife, with no understanding of where the food is from, or the vital role of animals in grassland ecology.

      Yes NZ's changed. So what do we do with what we've got. There's no magic bus to take us back to a pre-human ecotype.

      If I were to write caveats for every point I'd have to write a book.

      Todays systems have predators to control numbers, they're called humans.

      • DB Brown 12.1.1

        Our PM was in the news* only this week talking about the disproportionate emissions of our Farmers – pandering to the left? While Farmers have special concessions in the drafting of climate/emission related regulations – pandering to the right?.

        When citizen numero uno is on telly talking about such things, yes, there is a large amount of the onus put on farmers. Meanwhile we talk up corporations in the news as if their promises (methane reduction) are tangible results.

        *news/press conference, I can’t keep up with so many platforms of what winds up where. Definitely the PM conducted a press conference this week that was live broadcast on FB.

  13. I agree bashing farmers indiscriminately is totally counter-productive and unwise.

    We are facing a common problem of increasingly scarce water resources and massive water pollution (just look at the Selwyn river). Only a solution backed by most of us will fix things and ensure the next generation enjoys the environment we have had.

    Portraying farmers as guardians of the land is pure BS. The recent doco "Milk and Money" gives an accurate picture of the situation.

  14. roy cartland 14

    There is one farmer who has broken through, and distanced himself from the polluters; Glen Herud, from the Happy Cow milk project. He reckons he's been bashed by farmers for siding with those who want to reduce pollution and cruelty, if his rants are indicative.

    Since kiwis love to have an us-&-them mindset, why can't we use this post as a fulcrum to side with the 'good' environmentally-minded farmers, and against the corporate destructive ones?

    "It's not the farming; it's the way they're farming."

    • weka 14.1

      "It's not the farming; it's the way we're farming."


      Glen Herud is doing good things. He's a bridge between the mainstream and where we need to go.

  15. pat 15

    It is a systemic problem as the whole system is…..and will only be resolved by a systemic solution,

    Farmers are but part of the system.

  16. AB 16

    In general it's a good idea to avoid criticising individuals or a class of individuals – and try to focus on the larger political and economic structure in which they are caught up and how that might affect their behaviour. That might, for example, include looking at the level of farmer indebtedness to banks. In a similar way, we could say that while landlords are not necessarily all bad people, landlordism is a bad thing because it instantiates an economic relationship between citizens that is so unequal it should be seen as illegitimate.

    But it's also difficult to conclude that there isn't a culture of entitlement among farmers. Something like a belief in a divine right to profitability – that means any environmental, labour relations or public policy goals need to be either swept away or configured to guarantee farmer success. In contrast, when urban workers are restructured, outsourced or downsized, this is just seen as a natural and inevitable throwing to the wolves of the un-neeeded, unskilled and unworthy – pure market discipline in action. The difference is very striking.

    • DB Brown 16.1

      There is plenty of truth to what you are saying. But that some farmers are entitled is the same as some landlords are entitled equals some sports people are entitled…

      And some are not.

      Avoiding the criticising/ostracising of whole groups was a main thrust of what I'm trying to say. Thanks for paying attention hehe. These are times that call for understanding, not fighting.

      The ostracising of oil barons and billionaires? Go right ahead!

      If we are to address addictions properly we must also look at mental health and trauma, is addiction to money the same beast? Addiction to consumption? It's killing us and we seem unable to stop – textbook addiction.

      It is my opinion we're collectively fed up, and farmers have been called out via regulations already, and they protested, but it got them nowhere. Now we have some piss-weak legislation in place, where do we go from here?

      My thoughts are that we look to, and educate about, regenerative ag. That we encourage good examples of husbandry and stay on the case of the 'rule breakers' where evidence is found.

      There are various examples of regen-ag in a New Zealand context, but it is not my place to single them out for attention. Farmers may join the discussion if they wish.

  17. Drowsy M. Kram 17

    Imho, delay and other resistance to progressive changes (all of us, no only farmers) are predictable responses that have not so much backed this iteration of civilisation into a corner as pushed it off a cliff. Gravity (in the form of ecosystem degradation, anthropogenic global warming and other environmental pollution) is doing the rest.

    Sustainable changes, to make do with less and to share this 'less' more equitably, were needed some time ago. Maybe we can still do it, but most (myself included) have been well-trained (Buy one, get one FREE!) to resist giving up conveniences and comforts, despite the now 'in-our-face' long-term consequences: collapse, because 'limits'.

    I wish civilisation's current trajectory was like that great sci-fi serial Flash Gordon – some may remember how episodes ended with a 'cliff hanger' where it seemed as if our hero(ine) faced certain doom! Yet, at the start of the next episode, it became apparent that things weren't quite as hopeless as viewers had been led to believe – phew!

    Regrettably, extant civilisation has fallen (at least) as far as it appears. Each new set of projections demonstrates that our massive civilisation (big enough to compromise life on spaceship Earth) has overshot the edge further, and is falling faster, than we thought.

    Time to adopt a plant-based diet (+ eggs), but don't worry, there'll still be enough meat'n'dairy enthusiasts to sustain a fair number of production animals in NZ.

    • DB Brown 17.1

      Interestingly, gravity might help us, where in estuarine, wetland and oceanic sinks some forms of carbonaceous compounds can be stored indefinitely.

      Much of the more obvious environmental degradation might be (might be) undone should we stop salting our fields and poisoning the soil food web, and start adding multiple species like we find in natural biomes.

      The nitrates already in the groundwater will be here for decades, but I have simple (and lets hope effective) plans for using them, rather than simply acceding defeat.

      • Drowsy M. Kram 17.1.1

        Sounds promising – it's important to identify problems and work towards sustainable solutions, although tbh the big problems are well understood and rather intractable.


        If we're unwilling to make do with less, and share that 'less', then that's a big problem, imho. I'm making do with less (yay) – still working on sharing my 'less'.

        We're in this together, using our 'smarts' to carry on, have our cake and eat it too smiley

  18. barry 18

    There are a lot more ruminants now under agriculture than there ever were in nature.

    It sounds like you have been listening to Alan Savory: https://slate.com/human-interest/2013/04/allan-savorys-ted-talk-is-wrong-and-the-benefits-of-holistic-grazing-have-been-debunked.html

    Grazing ruminants in huge numbers are not good for the environment in any way. Cows are unambiguously a huge problem.

    • DB Brown 18.1

      I think McWilliams is both biased and ecologically illiterate.

      While Savory's original numbers may be in question, the results of managed grazing have been documented on varied farms and climates around the world. Local regen-ag folks have shown amazing results in the face of adverse weather, and official opposition where scientists with positions in fertiliser companies get media platforms to bag them.

      McWilliams even wrote a book denouncing locovores. He's all for big ag, big vegan greenwashed ag. It is a nonsense.

      My enthusiasm for regen-ag is not even slightly shaken by this God-bothering champion of Murica and veganism.

      • weston 18.1.1

        Enjoyed the conversation thanks db brown .Ilook forwad to the day when i dont commonly see livestock trying to get some shade out of a fence batten on a hot summers day or stock huddled against a fence trying to get out of a prevailing wind but unable to go further.The human animal is often far dumber than the so called dumb animals they farm unfortunately imo

        • DB Brown

          Thanks Weston.

          I'm getting tired now, and grumpy with it. So I'll try deliver some of the science backing regen-ag tomorrow, for the folks who might enjoy it – but with a fresh head for me so I can enjoy it too.

          I don't know how some of our TS writers do this regularly, I guess they get used to it over time/develop thick skins?

          Have a nice evening everybody. smiley

          • weka

            Don't feel like you have to respond to everything 👍 Go with the stuff that interests you.

  19. DB Brown 19

    The know all scientist/glorified fertiliser salesperson is the farmers biggest obstacle to aligning with a natural world. But widespread regeneration requires widespread change. Many folks have spent a lifetime pushing growth mantras, salts, pesticides and the plough to an increasingly degraded planet. There are also those in the employ of fertiliser companies in New Zealand who love to bag alternatives yet refuse to walk onto a farm and see improvements for themselves.

    Regenerative agriculture has become an umbrella term for the adoption of ‘eco-friendly’ practises in both animal and plant husbandry. The dairy farming version is often called holistic management, holistic planned management, multi-paddock grazing, mob grazing, and I’m sure there are more. The breadth of types of systems and environments they occupy is anathema to reductionist thinking, but merely outlines the widespread adoption of practitioners. These people also have vested interests – to heal their land without going to the wall, or, in many cases, to save themselves from ever decreasing profit margins.

    On a broader scale, it is hoped that, through carbon sequestration, regenerative systems can help mitigate, rather than accentuate, global warming.

    Kleppel 2017: Microbial community structure in pasture and hayfield soils of the Helderberg region of New York State: a comparison of management strategies.

    Higher stocking rates have greater microbial and fungal diversity, biomass and fungal:bacterial ratios.

    Teague & Barnes 2017: Grazing management that regenerates ecosystem function and grazing land livelihoods.

    Superior productivity, fertility, water holding capacity and profitability via adaptive multi-paddock grazing management.

    Teague et al. 2016: The role of ruminants in reducing agriculture's carbon footprint in North America.

    “We conclude that to ensure long-term sustainability and ecological resilience of agroecosystems, agricultural production should be guided by policies and regenerative management protocols that include ruminant grazing. Collectively, conservation agriculture supports ecologically healthy, resilient agroecosystems and simultaneously mitigates large quantities of anthropogenic GHG emissions.”

    Gitau 2020: Influence of Grazing Management Practices and Topographic Positions on Vegetation Attributes, Soil Organic Carbon and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Semi-arid Rangelands of Laikipia County, Kenya.

    Controlled, as opposed to continuous grazing in dry lands increased plant diversity, and lessened losses of soil carbon. But increased fluxes of Nx and Cx species.

    Chepkemoi, Onwanga & Nyakanga 2020: Soil Organic Carbon Stocks as Influenced by Topography and Vegetation Cover Types at Different Soil Depths.

    Grassland vegetation acts as sink to carbon.

    Wang, Teague & Park 2016: Evaluation of Continuous and Multi-paddock Grazing on Vegetation and Livestock Performance—a Modelling Approach.

    Commercial scale (well) managed grazing can improve pasture composition, productivity and animal consumption – despite heavy stocking rates and initial presence of weedy plant species.

    Park, Ale & Teague 2017: Simulated water quality effects of alternate grazing management practices at the ranch and watershed scales.

    Sediment and nutrient loads reduced by 34 – 40% under managed (as opposed to continuous) grazing. “A significant positive impact on water quality improvement and protection of ecosystem function”.

    I hope some of these will be of use to others. There are far too many for me to list here.

    While ‘controversy’, or ‘lack of consensus’ remains… it should be noted that oil companies, who spend tremendous amounts to court controversy, will profit considerably less as regenerative practises continue to spread into a variety of systems and ecotypes. Adding to that, many experimental designs by scientists have simply failed to reflect the systems being developed by farmers on the ground.

    Farmers can’t afford to adopt systems that don’t work. While local uptake has continued to increase – initial hesitancy and stepwise transition is typical as people enter this arena. The folks at Quorum Sense are a large (3.5K plus FB group) local community of farmers and support people who are more than willing to help farmers with enquiries, examples, plans and actions. While slow, the number of regen-ag practitioners continue to rise, because it works. Local examples can speak to other farmers in a way that many scientists have failed to do. Real results speak volumes.


    The end result, one hopes, is widespread adaptation of ecologically sound production systems where plant, animal, human and environmental health are all considered, and enhanced, and some resilience to the vagaries of both weather and markets can be incorporated. These systems may in turn help mitigate climate change, and restore lands to people, and people to lands. Lands under attack (advised) by chemical companies. These companies have waged war on nature for far too long.

  20. gsays 20

    Great post DB, a reminder of 'othering' in another form.

    As a species I think we find big issues easier to deal with if we can blame 'them'.

    For every comment here, there must be 5-10 reading who do not contribute. Keep up the good work, I enjoy reading your input.

  21. Jeffb 21

    Soy lattes are not the problem….


    • DB Brown 21.1

      3/4 of soy is for feedlot aka factory farming.

      Go find a real hill to die on.

      And if you post a link, summarise some of it. Simply not interested in such a lazy effort. That is not engaging it’s what mods here call:

      ‘spray and walk away’.

  22. Further comment: For another documentary on the NZ water situation, see the ABC item "Behind New Zealand's '100% Pure' Image lies a Dirty Truth" , made in March 2021 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_mrSrvlFlQ)

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