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Industrial dairying and blue babies

Written By: - Date published: 8:56 am, October 11th, 2017 - 165 comments
Categories: business, capitalism, class, disaster, Environment, farming, health, human rights, water - Tags: , , ,

This isn’t new, but it came up again recently. Authorities and industrial dairy, including Federated Farmers and Fonterra have known about this from at least 2010. It’s worth revisiting in a week when the next government of NZ is going to be decided by a man who uses rural rhetoric to gain votes.

Stuff are reporting Mike Joy, again, on water contamination, and comment was made about nitrate levels and risk to babies,

Dr Joy said the rise of farming on lands that were unsuitable for intense dairying was also a cause of poor quality water.

Citing the Canterbury Plains Dr Joy said: “These are sort of gravelly outwash lands from the mountains, there is very, very porous soils. You put cows on there and what comes out goes straight down into groundwater, into our rivers, into our aquifers.”

He also discussed a recent warning in Ashburton where mothers were told to use bottled water to feed their babies, after it was found that tap water was causing the babies’ lips to go blue.

Mr Joy said this was the “first of many signs that we’ve gone way way too far”.

My emphasis.

From the Canterbury District Health Board’s pamphlet on nitrates in water and Blue Baby Syndrome (PDF) (yes, we now have DHB’s issuing public health pamphlets because of ongoing water pollution from our primary industries),

Methaemoglobinaemia can affect babies less than six months of age or in the womb.

Exposure to high nitrate levels in drinking water may prevent the blood from delivering oxygen effectively in the body.

As a result an infant may develop blueness around the mouth, hands and feet. If severe, the condition can affect breathing and may be life-threatening.

Nitrate is diffcult to remove from water. Household cartridge/carbon filters, chemical treatment and boiling will not remove nitrate. Reverse osmosis and ion exchange can remove nitrate however these are expensive options.

If your water is high in nitrate, contamination is occurring. This means bacteria could also be in the water. Bacteria can increase the likelihood of methaemoglobinaemia and cause other diseases, so don’t forget to test for the bacteria E.coli at the same time.

One of the things about contaminants in groundwater is they don’t go there immediately. It takes times for them to filter down through the earth into the aquifer. Likewise, when you finally decide its time to clean it up, it takes time for the remaining pollutants in the ground to keep working it’s way down and then for the water to clear. This is part of why National talk about cleaning up water for the next generation, although most likely it’s also because they just want to keep pillaging NZ while they can. If we spread our pollution out far enough, we can defer the crisis and keep pretending everything is alright.

As far as I can tell industrial dairying, Fed Farmers, and Ecan are all saying that pollution is ok so long as we limit it to around the level that we can get away with. Probably not good to poison babies, but if we fence off some water ways then the number of times people have to buy bottled water in a year will be below what makes people complain too much and we can put in an alert system so that babies don’t actually get die.

That’s time and low population density on the polluters’ side.

So it’s not a big public health crisis, just a few babies that if their mothers just did the right thing and bought some bottled water they’d be fine. But reread what Mike Joy just said, and then get educated about ecology and hydrology. Because these are long term problems being created and not ones with easy fixes especially with climate change bearing down hard and fast.

Industrial farming leader William Rolleston gave a speech recently that was reported in the Rural News,

Another example was the claim that babies would die of blue baby syndrome because of increasing nitrates in groundwater in the Ashburton region.

“If you extrapolate the data from the US, we could expect to see one baby die from blue-baby syndrome in the Ashburton region every 5000 years,” Rolleston added.

He said fear and simplicity were powerful weapons in driving public perception.

Nothing we do is without risk, yet the demand was often that any new technology should be risk-free.

That speech is in part about science being used for activism purposes (apparently that’s ok if you are a farmer, but not ok if you are a water protector). I’m less interested in the cherry picking going on there, although the hypocrisy in the speech around that is worth noting (he accuses activists and then uses the same techniques). I am interested in the acknowledgement that we should be taking risks with the environment so that some people can make more money. Useful to have that honesty I guess, and it’s how it looks to me too.

Neoliberalism, industrial farming, big irrigation, National’s wadable rivers standard, ground water contamination, the sacking of Environment Canterbury, bottled water for profit, excess chlorination of water supplies because our catchments can no longer be trusted, risks to foetuses and babies, people being expected to pay extra for uncontaminated water to protect their young children irrespective of their ability to finance that. Not hard to make the connections.

Once you legitimise the contamination of groundwater you are basically a death cult. Water is life, and there’s only so much of it available despite the views of some that it’s all been wasted by allowing it to flow into the sea. In NZ we think we are immune to catastrophe because we have an abundance of natural resources and not too many people. But there are tipping points and there is cumulative effect. We know from water scientists that we’re already well past the point of fresh water ecologies being ok. Let’s move onto human health and see how far we can push it.

I also think when you run an economy that sees harm to babies as acceptable risks that can be mitigated, then you are approaching society’s end game. But we already knew that about NZ.

165 comments on “Industrial dairying and blue babies ”

  1. ianmac 1

    My 83 year old brother-in-law John Hodgson has been running dialog with ECan for some years. The first part of his article reads thus:

    “The following is a simple demonstration to help people understand “Natures processes” for water renewal of the Canterbury Plains.
    Put water in the sink to near the top. Then using a vegetable draining colander immerse in the water and watch how quickly the incoming water fills the colander. Next, lift up and observe how fast the water drains. What you are seeing is how nature’s plumbing system works in regards to aquafer water recharge.

    This is the system of the Canterbury plains and has worked satisfactorily for man and beast etc., and has had sufficient underground reserves of water along the foot hills of the Alps to maintain a flow for the Aquafers for several years when rainfall and snow is at a low ebb. The position now is that there are hundreds of deep bore wells, that have over 10 or more years drained the natural reserves of water so the sink is empty.

    The consequence of this is going to be a massive disaster. The first being no drinkable non-treated water and each year becoming worse.
    It is false information that the rivers are dry because of low rainfall. The cause is excessive draw off of the natural water reserves by the dairy cow industry. (Irrigation for agriculture is not a problem, it is seasonal.)”

    • weka 1.1

      thanks for that. It beggars belief that we still think the aquifers have so much water in them that nothing we do will affect them. Willful ignorance is probably a better explanation.

    • Ian 1.2

      It has rained and the aquifers have been replenished. Central plains irrigation scheme will result in 100’s of deep bores being decommissioned as stored river water will be used instead. Why do you people cherry pick whats happening and ignore all the positives ???

      • weka 1.2.1

        Probably because industrial farming is trying to pull the wool over NZ’s eyes. You want industrial farming, many other people want ecological protection. Why do you keep ignoring that?

  2. Incognito 2

    It seems that Rolleston’s argument is almost like “if it doesn’t kill you it’ll make you stronger”.

    Alive=no harm & good; Dead= harm & bad; probability of Death=miniscule, which is good; Conclusion=all is good, nothing to see, let’s move on.

    • weka 2.1

      Good summation. I was almost shocked when I realised what he was saying, but I guess that is how they actually think.

      • ianmac 2.1.1

        John Hodgson has one of the answers later in his article:

        “Of the many opinions expressed just lately about our water and no matter how correct and genuine they are, no change to the current situation is possible until the deep well owners are required to lift their pumps three metres per year until equilibrium is reached. It has taken less than ten years to get to this very serious state of affairs and will take at least fifteen years to start recovering.”

  3. Philj 3

    And then there was a recent study showing that the riparian fencing policy would not be successful as the majority of pollution comes from smaller streams that will not be fenced off.

    • weka 3.1

      Yes. While I think some farmers want to do the right things and some are doing the right things, I think they, and us, are being lied to about what is needed. If they think people are angry about this situation now, it’s nothing to what it will be once everyone realises how much bullshit Fed Farmers etc are peddling.

      • CoroDale 3.1.1

        Farmers say “pollution from roading-transport must also be reduced”. The required 20% reduction in stocking rate, should be matched in the cities with a 20% reduction in cars.

        • weka

          I don’t think 20% would be enough on dairy or cars 😉

          • CoroDale

            20% less dairy cows per farm, would be enough for sustainable pastoral organic. Pushing for less dairy based on GHG ideology, would be antagonistic and counter productive :-p

  4. If your water is high in nitrate, contamination is occurring. This means bacteria could also be in the water. Bacteria can increase the likelihood of methaemoglobinaemia and cause other diseases, so don’t forget to test for the bacteria E.coli at the same time.

    Sounds like living in Blade Runner.

    I also think when you run an economy that sees harm to babies as acceptable risks that can be mitigated, then you are approaching society’s end game.

    And this is how capitalism has always operated and why it always ends up destroying the society that it arises in.

  5. “Death cult”

    You got it.

  6. greywarshark 6

    Thanks weka, this is a tale that must be told, and should be on our radios, news etc more often than the latest USA news. I know! We will say that some malign overseas entity is creeping around NZ poisoning our water, getting at our heartlands. Some North Korean or Russian is doing it, we will be all up in arms. ‘How dare they’,
    ‘It’s disgusting that our controls are so weak that these people can attack our water systems’.

    Instead, virtually nothing is heard because the enemy is within, presenting itself with an air of confidence and comptency and a smiling face, and talk about stability, and blue being a Good Colour!

    The tale must be told, or we must keep count of those for whom the church bell tolled, until we can move the government of freebooters who are harder to shift than the stone lying on the grounds of the wrecked Christchurch cathedral. This stone they want to spend millions on to re-erect in the interests of apparent stability and concern about the region by the government. But the stone in their hearts can’t be lifted and true interest in Christianity is not apparent, it is that the church is a monument to the elite of Christchurch. So Matthew 9 can be quoted here: Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, [or pure water] will he give him a stone?

    This is from the King James Version of the Bible and it is talking about compassion and giving honestly to others the good things that they need, like pure, healthy water.

    I think this is beautiful poetry for guidance.
    Matthew 7:9 Context
    6Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.
    7Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
    8For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
    9Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? 10Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
    11If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? 12Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.


  7. Antoine 7

    The risk to babies is probably overstated, see https://www.waternz.org.nz/Attachment?Action=Download&Attachment_id=508, the true maximum acceptable concentration is probably at least twice the value currently set out in NZ.

    > I also think when you run an economy that sees harm to babies as acceptable risks that can be mitigated, then you are approaching society’s end game.

    This happens all the time. I let my toddler walk, even though he might trip and skin his knee – its an acceptable risk that can be mitigated. Not the end of society as we know it.

    (Not that I’m advocating filling our freshwater with nitrates!)


    • Do you let them walk on the road? Why not? Hint – maybe the risk is too high? 1 blue baby is 1 too many.

      • Antoine 7.1.1

        > Do you let them walk on the road? Why not? Hint – maybe the risk is too high? 1 blue baby is 1 too many.

        I let them sit in the lounge, even though they might be killed by a meteorite falling through the ceiling. Am I negligent?


        • marty mars

          Do you let them sit in the middle of the road? Not sure you understand the concept of risk.

          • Antoine

            Whereas I think you and Weka are each some combination of (a) greatly overestimating the probability of blue baby occurring as a result of nitrates in freshwater in NZ and (b) being concerned mainly about consequence, and very little about probability, when evaluating risk.


            • weka

              “greatly overestimating the probability of blue baby occurring as a result of nitrates in freshwater in NZ”

              I haven’t said what I think the probability is, so you’re really missing my argument here.

              “being concerned mainly about consequence, and very little about probability, when evaluating risk.”

              Leaving aside the argument being about water quality in general, something that has low probability but high consequence is still in this case an important issue. You appear to be taking a similar stance to Rolleston. If babies aren’t dying there’s nothing to worry about. We don’t go from where we are now to babies dying in one discrete step.

              I’m beginning to think you didn’t bother reading the post.

        • Draco T Bastard

          Can you do anything about the meteorite?


          Can we do something about the pollution of our waterways?


          Do you understand the difference?

      • weka 7.1.2

        Yes, and by the time you get one blue baby, you have multiple other risks permanently. It would be like forcing all the babies to go walk in the middle of the road and deciding you’ll move them if you think a car might be coming.

        • Antoine

          Except it’s not like that, because the chance of blue baby occurring due to nitrate pollution is very low to nil, while the chance of getting run over if you sit in the middle of the road is very high.


          • weka

            Still missing the point. If nitrates get to a level of causing blue babies, then we have a permanent problem that will need mitigating (unless you can figure out how to remove nitrates from the aquifers).

            I see you’ve just given another ridiculous example of a meteorite hitting your house. If you think that farmers knowingly putting pollution into the water table is akin to an extremely improbably event like a meteor hitting your house, then I really think there is no point talking to you.

            • Antoine

              > If nitrates get to a level of causing blue babies, then we have a permanent problem that will need mitigating

              Yes, I agree, of course we do. So suppose here I am, a mom in Ashburton and a Green activist. Then YES, I should campaign for urgent changes to the dairy industry to stop harming our aquifers. But NO, I shouldn’t worry about my baby turning blue every time I give them a bottle.

              > I see you’ve just given another ridiculous example of a meteorite hitting your house. If you think that farmers knowingly putting pollution into the water table is akin to an extremely improbably event like a meteor hitting your house

              It is akin, in the sense that both the risk of blue baby syndrome due to nitrate pollution, and the risk of a meteorite crashing into my living room, are very low probability risks. However, I believe you put very little weight on probability when evaluating risk, so the analogy probably influences you very little.


              • weka

                “But NO, I shouldn’t worry about my baby turning blue every time I give them a bottle.”

                Good for you. Notice that I didn’t suggest that the primary issue here is immediate danger to babies. But well argued against something you brought into the conversation.

                “However, I believe you put very little weight on probability when evaluating risk, so the analogy probably influences you very little.”

                I haven’t addressed probability of babies dying from nitrate poisoning because that’s not what the post was about. I rate the probability of pollution of water in NZ continuing to get worse as very high. So to my mind, I’m evaluating actual risk already, based on both consequence and probability. That in fact is what the post is about.

                Besides I think Draco addressed the meteorite already.

    • weka 7.2

      The risk to babies is probably overstated, see https://www.waternz.org.nz/Attachment?Action=Download&Attachment_id=508, the true maximum acceptable concentration is probably at least twice the value currently set out in NZ.

      I think you might be missing the point. If we’re at the point of arguing over to what extent babies are at risk we are very far down the track of stuffed. Freshwater scientists say for ecology health river quality should be set to liveable for freshwater organisms. Not drinkable, not swimmable, not wadeable, but above all those.

      That we are even having a debate about blue babies tells us that we’re fucking up in the extreme. What I was trying to point to is that industrial farming is basically saying we won’t kill your babies, but we’ll do what we want for as along as we can get away with it.

      Because we’re talking about complex interrelated systems (biological, hydrological, ecological) and not reductionist, mechanistic, input/output theories, by the time you notice damage you’re already into serious trouble. The whole x parts of nitrate per L thing is ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.

      “This happens all the time. I let my toddler walk, even though he might trip and skin his knee – its an acceptable risk that can be mitigated. Not the end of society as we know it.”

      A toddler getting a skinned knee isn’t even close to babies getting nitrate toxicity or e coli infections. Mitigation in my example is expecting parents to buy bottled water and if they don’t or can’t then they’ll have to suck it up because that family is expendable in the face of making money from industrial farming.

      “(Not that I’m advocating filling our freshwater with nitrates!)”

      Are you sure? Because you just argued against the idea that allowing water pollution to head towards being dangerous for babies is a risk that can be mitigated like other risks to babies’ normal lives.

      • Antoine 7.2.1

        > If we’re at the point of arguing over to what extent babies are at risk we are very far down the track of stuffed.

        Not at all. It depends on the conclusion. If we argue over what extent babies are at risk, and we agree “a very low extent, or nil”, then we are not very far down the track of stuffed.

        > What I was trying to point to is that industrial farming is basically saying we won’t kill your babies, but we’ll do what we want for as along as we can get away with it.

        Ah, well, I’m not a great advocate for industrial farming as it is currently practiced in Canterbury.

        The point of my comment is that families in Canterbury should not spend too much time worrying that their bottle fed kids are about to turn blue, because generally pollutants are well below the limit, which is a very conservative limit anyway.

        But I agree it is good to have systems in place to detect when nitrates in drinking water do head up towards the limit.


        • weka

          ” If we argue over what extent babies are at risk, and we agree “a very low extent, or nil”, then we are not very far down the track of stuffed.”

          No. If there are sufficient nitrates in the water to prompt a discussion about whether babies are at risk, we have already seriously damaged the water. I’ll say again, for ecological health, water needs to be liveable for freshwater organisms. That’s a far higher standard than safe for humans. So unless you want to argue that it’s ok to not sustain ecological health, there really isn’t a debate about how far down the track we are.

          “But I agree it is good to have systems in place to detect when nitrates in drinking water do head up towards the limit.”

          Right. So you are one of the people who is ok with the water the way it is.


          • Antoine

            >> “But I agree it is good to have systems in place to detect when nitrates in drinking water do head up towards the limit.”

            > Right. So you are one of the people who is ok with the water the way it is.

            I am not OK with the state of Canterbury’s freshwater, but I don’t think the risk of blue baby should be a significant consideration as we approach the problem. It is a red herring (so to speak).


            • Antoine

              I now bow out of this discussion. I have set out my thinking, and reiterating it further will add little to the sum of human knowledge.


              • I have set out my thinking, and reiterating it further will add little to the sum of human knowledge.

                That’s probably because you thinking is so limited.

                As Weka points out, if we’re talking about babies dying due to pollutants in the water even in low numbers then the damage already showing up is already too much as the fish won’t be able to survive in it. And there’s worse to come as more of those pollutants filter through the earth to the aquifers.

                • tracey

                  That is unfair. Antoine made some points, calmly, respectfully and clearly disagreed with the use of blue baby to possibly “scandalise” people to action when it may not be a substantial risk. Antoine also agreed the water needs attention. Weka clarified what she was meaning by bringing the blue babies up. It was a pretty good discussion imo, as far as online goes when people disagree.

                  To accuse Antoine of limited thinking is a bit bullyish and is the sort of thing that stops people expressing respectful counter views here.

            • weka

              “It is a red herring (so to speak).”

              Only because you’ve repeatedly ignored the fact that by the time water gets so bad we’re thinking about babies, it’s already seriously polluted. But sure, let yourself get distracted by what you think the post is about instead of addressing the actual issues raised.

              • tracey

                Is the 1 baby every 5000 years will die from blue baby syndrome in Ashburton accepted by the scientific community in this area? Or was it plucked from thin air by a vested interest?

    • greywarshark 7.3

      I’ve read your comments before Antoine and regularly you don’t seem to get the point that is being made, but sort of slip alongside the problem to minimise it. And you are doing that here. Trying to compare contamination of food or water, very hard to avoid and basic to life, and an unacceptable thing, to an injury that can occur to your toddler which is unfortunate but must be accepted as occasionally occurring as we go about the world.

      Harm to babies in their food does not compare with a toddler falling over and skinning a knee. We all knock and trip and have to cope with that. Accepting that we have poisoned water and waving that away as no problem doesn’t compare.

      Then having disagreed with our concerns, you put a disclaimer in that you are concerned. Is someone paying you to be disruptive of our discussions with irrelevant disagreements, or do you have time to spare and consider we need to be more ‘she’ll be right’ about falling standards in our country.

      • Antoine 7.3.1

        No one is paying me, nor would anyone pay for such a thing.

        If it makes you feel any better, I’m getting just as much stick over on Kiwiblog for being a crazy leftie


        • greywarshark

          You’ve talent to spare Antoine if you also write to Kiwiblog. I wonder how you can turn it to your advantage? Perhaps National is looking for literate people with the right attitude like yours. Why not give them a try, you seem to have the sort of talent they would like for their PR team.

      • tracey 7.3.2

        1 baby dying every 5000 years in Ashburton, if true and substantiated as a claim, means it is beyond highly unlikely it will happen, isn’t it?

        What else could happen to babies, children and adults from the state of our water which aint great? Couldn’t we focus on that?

    • Ian 7.4

      Probably overstated is an understatement.Fearmongering from activists needs to be put in context.

      • McFlock 7.4.1

        Dude, I know you’re practically a saint amongst farmers, but the water is turning babies’ lips blue.

        Even if that were the beginning and end of adverse events from supposedly potable water, what right do your colleagues have to cause that in someone else just to make a buck?

      • tracey 7.4.2

        Lobbyists are activists ay? Just wealthier and dressed in suits with swipe cards to the 9th floor?

  8. cleangreen 8

    Don’t forget;

    Our over use of road transport instead of rail is another savage form of land based “road runoff pollution” as I have written many blogs on this form of land based pollution that oddly gets ignored, but since stock trucks move the sheep/cattle around our country their urine and other deposits wind up on our roads because many trucks either have no on board tanks or are overfilled because very few discharge stations are provided along the roads we get that animal pollution runnoff from our roads going back into our streams/rivers/lakes/ water aqifers/ and finally our drinking water.

    The top expert Mike Joy, in our conversations with him is very aware of this form of land transpoort pollution that must aso be inclided in the mix now.

    • bwaghorn 8.1

      ” very few discharge stations”

      they tried to get a new fully up to date one in taumarunui , but the people stopped it.


      • greywarshark 8.1.1

        Interesting to read that bwaghorn. The people seem to have some good reasons for being against its chosen site.

        Perhaps in that case in a new approach to decision making, the objectors should be asked to work with the authority proposing the site, and together look for other possible, more suitable sites.

        I think that there needs to be a process where there is collaboration between dissenters and proposers when there is an obvious need for something so important as this. If one site is no good, where then, and the dissenters work on finding suitable sites for consideration.

        • bwaghorn

          the nearest house would be over looking a fert distribution site, a boozer called the ‘Hangi Hole ‘ (the local cossie club),a sprawling building supplies depot, state hw 4 and the intersection to turangi, and the main trunk line , the site would have been at least 100 mtrs further away than any or all of them.

          • cleangreen

            Thanks for the info bwaghorn,

            Same in HB & Gisborne, we have very few discharge stations so it is a large problem for all travellers on Hyway 2 from Hastings to Gisborne because our cars all get the spray of effluent from the stock truck in front of us all the time.

            We had the rail until National stole the rail maintenence funds for Auckland commuter rail and a rainstorm slip caused the rail line to become washed out along a 1km section in March 24th 2012, but have never re-openned it since so National must go!!!!

            And Winston has vowed to reopen our rail when he is in Government.

            So we have some hope now.

  9. A death cult maskerading as a life cult – this blue baby stuff is nightmarish and these things will be more and more prevalent.

  10. Sparky 10

    Utterly shameful and yet another compelling reason why another term of more of the same is so very bad for this country.

  11. Bill 11

    So that took a fair bit of rabbiting around and through various sites and links.

    Nitrate levels of …fck. Lost that info in the clatter of links and pages I had to open.

    Anyway. From here (https://www.cph.co.nz/your-health/drinking-water/)

    Red areas are where nitrate concentrations in groundwater are above the MAV most or all of the time and therefore alternative water sources should be used for drinking.
    Yellow areas are where it is not known if a sample collected from a well will have nitrate concentrations exceeding the MAV and testing is recommended.

    Link to the map for Ashburton for July of last year.


    Blue lips and ‘starved’ physical extremities are all well and good, but what about brain damage? From the skelp through the info I could see, there’s no mention of brain damage …. and the whole “lead in water and air” bullshit springs to mind. That was allowed to continue for decades in spite of the dangers of lead being well known.

    • CoroDale 11.1

      approx 20% reduction in stocking rate, on approx 90% of farms – don’t panic, go organic – that simple

      • bwaghorn 11.1.1

        would you be happy to have the government ease the financial pain of a reduction in stocking rate

        • Robert Guyton

          The financial pain of a reduction in stocking rate would be balanced by an increase in the quality of life for the farmer and an increase in the quality of environmental health on farm and beyond – surely that’s compensation enough?

          • bwaghorn

            i doubt going broke increase s ones quality of life , please keep in mind that they are not all big greedy mongrals , they are people raised in a system that has governments and banks making this dairy growth explosion happen

            • greywarshark

              Yes good point bwaghorn.

              Smaller farmers have been encouraged to amalgamate like Crafur. Others have sold out to bigger entities to get to a good size to industrially farm. It was all presented as being good business and as farmers have never listened to any advice from townies and universities anyway, how would they know what to look out for. Milk rush is on!

              So they got led by the hand by the unprincipled governments and National is meant to be for farmers, but it seems more for the bigger ones. And they are pretty mean at delivering social welfare for ordinary farmers when times are tough. And they don’t support the farmers living on site as much as they should with good policing, good transport to schools, good medical help etc. Fair weather friends are National and Labour haven’t been too friendly either.

            • Robert Guyton

              We’re talking reducing stock numbers, bwaghorn, not shooting the national herd (as Farrar would pitch it) I know farmers who have reduced their stock numbers and profited in the ways I’ve described, so it’s not theoretical. I too point a finger at the banks (rapacious) and the Government (orcs).

        • weka

          Yes, but I’d probably want there to be conditions on that. e.g. more govt assistance for farmers converting to organic or a regenag model. Less assistance for farmers who are tinkering around the edges.

          • Robert Guyton

            More Government assistance? I’d prefer less industry knee-capping of organic producers. And “regenag”? Worst choice of title ever – the “nag” bit gets me every time! Regenerative agriculture is an oxymoron; there is no (significant) regeneration from agriculture; horticulture, delicately applied, might do the trick, but agriculture? Therein lies our destruction.

            • weka

              crikey, thems fighting words. I was about to write a post about Joel Salatin’s work this week.

              “there is no (significant) regeneration from agriculture”

              They’re building soil, I think that’s both regenerative and significant.

              What’s the objection to the practice exactly?

              • Robert Guyton

                weka. I believe Salatin’s message is an inadvertent Trojan horse and threat to the planet’s well being 🙂 He’s right, within the “agricultural story” but wrong in the wider tale. Building soil from the running of hoofed ruminants? Nah; they’re heavy beasts and ill-suited to New Zealand conditions. Aurochs aren’t beasts of the South Pacific and for good reason. Nor are chickens, for that matter. We have an opportunity to craft appropriate systems and technologies down-under, wonderful opportunities which earlier colonizers can advise us on, but those don’t involve our bovine/ovine friends at all, imo.
                Let’s wrassle!


                • weka

                  “He’s right, within the “agricultural story” but wrong in the wider tale.”

                  I agree, and even within regenag there are problems with what he is doing. But I do think regenerative applies and that it’s a pathway that farmers (and food eaters) can head down until they understand the next thing. Trying to get mainstream farming to look too far ahead will just scare them off. We should still be talking about the wider tale too though (*drops post hint*).

                  Salatin isn’t farming in NZ 😉 I think there’s a clear case in places that have had plains/herd ecosystems to be mimicking them. In terms of NZ, well I’m not sure how close to our original soil structure and conditions we are now. Thoughts on that?

                  More of a concern for me than should we have heavy, hoofed animals, is should we be running export farming at all. If we cut back cows and sheep to what was needed to feed ourselves, I think we could make it work on the land.

                  Fibre and leather too.

                  We could eat weka instead of chooks 😈 I am kind of partial to hens, but would be interested in alternative systems so long as it doesn’t mean being vegan or vegetarian (eating less meat and dairy is fine).

                  • Robert Guyton

                    “Fibre and leather too”

                    Harakeke. It’s not pandanas ( subtle allusion) but it’s what we’ve got, in spades!
                    Hemp. Hemp and harakeke. I weep for the lost wetlands of ou matou moutere – imagine if we’d followed the mahi nga kai model and enhanced the tuna harvest! What an opportunity, lost! Aue te mamae!
                    We have new knowledge and access to new plants. Let’s look at what was here, honed by millennia of climatic and ecological process and restore what we can, in order to feed and clothe ourselves. Leather? Please! – weka skin, perhaps, but plants rule; a comfy bamboo-fibre sock inside of a hemp sandal is all we need and all we can afford.

                    • weka

                      Haven’t worn harakeke fibre, but it’s pretty hard to beat the insulation properties of merino.

                      “Let’s look at what was here,”

                      Not hemp and bamboo then 🙂

                      “but plants rule”

                      I think birds ruled NZ*. And if we were to attempt restoration, to the extent we can, then we would have almost unimaginably more bird numbers than we do now. They say you could hear the bird song from sea before you could see land. I’m not averse to eating bird meat. I won’t go back to being vegetarian.

                      Let’s not forget the moa. That’s a heavy footed animal.

                      Āe to ngā tuna, when we restore our waterways so the tuna are as abundant as ngā namunamu.

                      “a comfy bamboo-fibre sock inside of a hemp sandal”

                      Doesn’t sound too appropriate to lots of NZ terrain tbh. I haven’t seen a hemp sandal, but it’s hard to imagine it replacing leather for durability or functionality.

                      *or actually neither did, there was no monarchy.

                    • Robert Guyton

                      Lordy! What a great reply, weka! Ka pai ki ahau i tena!
                      Merino! PETA would have your guts for garters 🙂
                      Birds were players here, foreshore, but no longer; they’re bit-players, sadly. Plants rule now, and ryegrass is King. Let’s change that! We can and must! Hemp and bamboo – I don’t understand your reluctance – both love it here, are manageable and are enormously productive. Remember, we humans arrived here late in the piece and as the result of conscious decision-making; we can do the same with any organism but we must think well before we commit to hoof, horn, rhizome or seed. Moa, btw, we gently-stepping avians, barely scuffing the forest-floor, as elephants are 🙂
                      Have you worn bamboo? Soft as. Brushed your teeth with a bamboo-handled toothbrush? Lovely.
                      Gotta go now, my chariot awaits.

                    • greywarshark

                      Robert \Wasn’t there about a week ago a report of some millions to be spent on research of past Maori knowledge. It resulted in some criticism of course, usual suspects, but sounded interesting to me. And would seem to fit into the line you say we should be taking as to how to utilise our local stuff well and sustainably.

                    • weka

                      I’m all in favour of hemp and bamboo (with a special affection for harakeke). I don’t see why they should obviate the need for sheep and cows for locals. Or animals in general. Most systems have animals in them, is there a problem designing for that?

                      Can bamboo or hemp be knitted in a woolly jumper? Still not convinced the thermal value is close.

                      Am also not quite sure if you are suggesting we stop eating animals (I place animal welfare a high priority, but PETA have lost the plot).

                • bwaghorn

                  ”Aurochs aren’t beasts of the South Pacific and for good reason.”

                  id imagine it’s because they evolved long after the chance of getting to in zed was long passed , or something like that

                  • Robert Guyton

                    Yep. Couldn’t get here by their own steam, so imports. Send ’em home 🙂 If they had arrived, they’d have buggered the place up with their tonnes and hooves – hang on!

                  • weka

                    the argument is that the kinds of hoofs they have is damaging to NZ soils (can’t remember the technical argument exactly). Because those animals and the soils didn’t co-evolve, it’s a problem trying to regenerate and manage those soils sustainably if you have that kind of stock. I’m in two minds about it, I tend to think that numbers of stock is a bigger issue as is the mechanistic philosophies underpinning conventional farming.

                    • Robert Guyton

                      Nah. It’s agriculture .v. the rest. The hooves and soils discussion is a red herring. In a land where birds, lizards and frogs were royalty, why would you release horned beasts?

                    • bwaghorn

                      i took over a place 3 1/2 years ago ( i left in july) covered in weeds pugged , hardly growing grass , i had to use a thistle spray to begin with but with good management of stock and pasture i turned the place into a grass machine turning out far better stock health and size wise, and in the last season the boss didn’t apply urea .
                      the thistle burden was minimal by the time i left (helped in part by having a wet summer, weeds hate grass cover)

                    • Robert Guyton

                      “… i turned the place into a grass machine…”

                      A grass machine. Therein lies our destruction.

                    • bwaghorn

                      ”their in lies our destruction ”

                      na 7 billion humans , oil coal and possible trump or kim will spark that

                    • weka

                      “but with good management of stock and pasture”

                      Can you give some examples b?


                      In the Salatin thing I will write, there’s a bit in a video about settler reports in the US of being able to tie the grass in a knot over the backs of the horses. That’s how healthy that plains/herd ecosystem was. Grass can be a beautiful thing. I hope we don’t start regarding it with the same disrespect as we do Pinus spp. Grass has grassness, and the fact that we don’t know how to support that isn’t grass’ fault.

                      Besides, bamboo is a grass. And grains.

                      “In a land where birds, lizards and frogs were royalty, why would you release horned beasts?”

                      Given they’re already here, why not work with them? Are you applying the same argument to other species that couldn’t get here under their own steam? Rats, mice, stoats. Hedgehogs. Cats, Dogs.

                    • bwaghorn

                      rotational grazing , keeping cattle off the softer country when wet . not over grazing , pretty simple stuff that done well makes a huge diff to soil erosion the amount of spray needed to control weed s and the use of urea to plug feed gaps

                    • weka

                      that makes sense. How high do you let the grass grow before grazing?

                    • Robert Guyton

                      ” Rats, mice, stoats, hedgehogs, cats…” you know we are trying to exterminate those, right??
                      Sheep. From the air, a hillside covered in them looks lice-infested. Cows? Talk to Mike Joy.
                      Sure, keep a cow, or a goat, but concrete and steel rotational robotic milking sheds? He aha ena? He kino te mahi na.
                      Co-evolving is passé; let’s get real. Plants will restore degraded ecosystems fast . Employ new organisms thoughtfully. Accept that the cat’s out of the bag. Ride the wave, encourage volunteers, wave goodbye to the reliant and the susceptible, the weak and the trifling. Grasp the nettle 🙂

                    • weka

                      You are comparing regenerative plantings with industrial farming? That’s an odd thing to do.

                      I consider industrial export farming within a growth economy to be inherently unsustainable. When I’m talking about why get rid of cows, I’m not talking about keeping industrial dairying or conventional sheep farming, I’m talking about sustainable design.

                      Regenag can certainly do with some improvements (I find it pretty blokey, needs more mothers involved), but if we want animals (I think most people do, and along with the wonders of plants I think I can still make a case for why merino and milk should be included) then there’s no good reason to not include them in design processes.

                      “you know we are trying to exterminate those, right??”

                      Who’s this ‘we’?

                      “Plants will restore degraded ecosystems fast”

                      Yes, but will they supply humans with what they need? I sense some complex sorting of values here around species. Sometimes it’s go with what evolved here, sometimes it’s go with what’s already here, but it’s not clear yet to me where you are differentiating (unless it is to favour plants over animals for reasons yet to be determined, but that wouldn’t explain the tolerance for rats and the intolerance for sheep).

            • weka


              • Robert Guyton

                I know – it’s just ugly and if it’s not elegant, it’s wrong 🙂

                • weka

                  One man’s ugly is another woman’s elegance 🙂 I’m grateful I get to type regenag fast instead of having to stumble over permaculture (which is a tricky word to type).

                  • Robert Guyton

                    Permaculture is a word that should never have seen the light of day. These people need to adopt a poet before they set out to change the world. We all should!

          • bwaghorn

            Weka why does it have to be organic , do you ever take modern medicine?

            • weka

              no, I don’t. But I’m not sure what you’re asking. Organic is the least hard option for farmers to start the shift to sustainable practice. Is that a problem?

              • bwaghorn

                no just interested to see if you walk the talk, i’m not saying fully organic is unreachable but it would take a 100 years to unwind from it due to having breed the stock to need it and having to wait for the old school thoughts to die out. it would take massive government intervention i believe.

                i think more science and training on best practice and farming in a lower input way is more realistic

                • greywarshark

                  100 years to modernise! Cripes climate change isn’t giving us the opportunity. Plus some lurch in world trade will stuff us up. People have been changing to organic in increasing numbers, they know how to do it. And dinosaurs died out a millenia ago, or so.

                • weka

                  People convert farms to organics over five years. Where’s the 100 years thing coming from?

                  I agree the old school thoughts slow things down, but it’s like that with anything and if we had decent leadership on it as well as commitment from farm advisors and other parts of the sector I think that would change faster.

            • greywarshark

              But organic is done scientifically bwaghorn. It’s had tests and methods and growth factors and information about the different effects of different plants for growth and health of animals. That is what I understand.
              Someone with more info could back this up with facts which would be better than just my ideas.

        • JC

          There is a better way! And some are onto it:

          “Bryan Clearwater, a dairy farmer from South Canterbury said the groundwater beneath his farm was polluted with nitrates, and clean water was pumped to his house by Fonterra.

          His farm had a low environmental footprint and did not add nitrogen to the soil. He received a premium for the organic milk his farm produced.

          He said dairy farming in Canterbury needed to de-intensify, with a focus on soil management and lower stocking rates.

          “I think farmers are a pretty diverse bunch. When the regulations are put in place as they need to be put in place, they will come up with different solutions.”



          Nb. Regulations are necessary!

    • Ian 11.2

      That map is out of date and was produced using false data due to sampling errors.

  12. ianmac 12

    John’s concluding paragraph:
    “The cause of this serious situation is simply the present Government, the Overseas Investment Office and the Banks that urged farmers to go into a very large debt repayment system with the promise of an abundant water supply. The Government used inadequate water science to start with and is failing to recognise that many farming units are going to fail because of debt repayment. It will be the Government’s responsibility to accept the debt of failed farms and pay the moneylenders.
    It is also ironic the Government is giving millions of dollars towards the rebuild of Christchurch city, but ignores the oncoming disaster that has already started by the destruction of our once famous artesian waters.”

      • ianmac 12.1.1

        Gee! Wow! Thanks Weka. We didn’t know his work could be so accessed.
        John couldn’t get the Press to print that so he published it in the Public Notices at his own huge expense. John is self taught and has incredible attention to detail and has had many one on one meetings challenging ECan, with special attention to temperatures rising as water flows fall affecting fish and other river life. He has kept the temperatures twice daily of 6 Canterbury Rivers especially in the Rakaia and Waimak. Also the river flows of same. When temperatures rise the ability to keep oxygen in the water falls. Over irrigation means lower flows, higher temperatures, death to river life.
        John was sad that his research while annoying to ECan did not get the circulation it deserved.

        • weka

          Would you be able to ask him if we could publish here as a Guest Post? I just need confirmation that he has copyright, not the Press (I assume he does). I would write a brief intro (e.g. info from this http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/SC1112/S00058/long-time-salmon-angler-turns-to-science.htm ).

          • ianmac

            Just confirmed with John by phone, that he would welcome publication in The Standard as a Guest post. He does have full rights because it was published by him at his expense in the Public Notices of the Press. Therefore it is open to the public. He gave me a copy and said I/we could edit it in any way I/we liked.

            • weka

              Thanks ian and please pass on my thanks to John. I have the copy from the Press, is that the same?

    • JC 12.2

      And, … the Government has already invested around $500- Million to subsidise industrial scale irrigation.



      Canterbury medical officer of health Dr Alistair Humphrey said:

      ” [ECan’s] own data still shows that nitrates leaching is continuing to climb. It will take a long time to turn around the increasing levels of nitrates in our ground water and surface water.

      There was a “strange and difficult problem” that the regional council had pledged to both increase irrigation and reduce nitrates.

      The balance was leaning towards irrigation rather than protecting drinking water,

      There needs to come a point as a community where we have to make a choice between increasing irrigation and driving up intensification or whether we want to truly commit to reducing nitrates and other contaminants in our ground and surface water.”

      Over five years, the irrigated area in Canterbury increased from 425,000 hectares to 507,000ha.

      The target is 850,000ha by 2040.!!!!!!!!


    • Robert Guyton 12.3

      ” a very large debt repayment system with the promise of an abundant water supply..”

      That’s illuminating!

    • greywarshark 13.1

      The comments are interesting also.

    • Robert Guyton 13.2

      “Butterworth” – that’s pretty funny!

    • Robert Guyton 13.3

      “The amount of nitrogen leached from soil due to dairy cattle has risen by nearly 30 million kilograms since 1990.

      Dairy cattle contributed 50 million kilograms of nitrogen leachate in soil in 2012, according to the Ministry for the Environment.
      (embolding mine)

      According to Statistics New Zealand, the number of dairy cattle increased 70 per cent between 1994 and 2015, from 3.84 million to 6.49 million.”
      Not sure why you linked to this, bwaghorn – does it help your argument somehow?

      • bwaghorn 13.3.1

        you’re proving how little you understand me , i put it there because it fits the post , i have no argument that the massive increase of dairying and intensification in general is a problem . it’s how you fix it that matters and having the far green hate machine spewing static helps no more than the wadable is good enough morons on the rich side.

        • greywarshark

          Yeah i think that sometimes we should be able to put something up that takes the eye and is interesting without having to raise an argument about it or justify it etc. Sometimes something just is, and we shouldn’t be harrassed about it.

      • JC 13.3.2

        … “From 1990 to 2012, NZ approximately doubled its number
        of dairy cattle, exceeding 6.4 million. (StatsNZ, 2015).

        This has been accompanied by more than 1.426 million tons of P-based fertilizers and 335 000 tons of N-based fertilizers annually (1990–2012 mean; StatsNZ, 2015).

        Of the nutrients consumed by lactating dairy cows, approximately 66 % of P and 79 % of N are returned to the landscape in the form of urine and feces. This results in about 940 000 tons of P-based and 260 000 tons of N-based diffuse pollution

        … Even if best management practices
        are adopted to reduce nutrient export to rivers, there is already a half-century legacy of nutrients distributed across the NZ landscape that will continue to leak to the rivers,(Larned et al., 2016).
        Indeed, the full impact of agricultural intensification on river water quality will not be fully appreciated for another several decades (Howard-Williams et al., 2010; Vant and Smith, 2004)”


      • Ian 13.3.3

        How much nitrate is leached from plants that fix nitrogen on crown land in NZ Robert? All that gorse,broom,trefoil,clovers etc must have an effect . I think stats figures on cow numbers are out of date. The dairy price collapse coupled with the beef price boom has resulted in a lot of hamburgers.

        • Robert Guyton

          Nitrate is fixed by leguminous plants, Ian, why do you say “leached”?
          Where other plants are waiting, breath bated, for that nitrogen, it’s a boon to the system. Only the foolish would waste such a resource, freely provided by our leguminous brothers and sisters. Then, there are the “land managers” that spray, burn, bulldoze and generally mash those utility plants, wasting natural capital like it was confetti at a wedding. Crown land could thrive under enlightened management., especially where there are legumes, volunteering their time.

          • Ian

            You didn’t answer my question Robert .How much nitrate is leached from plants that fix nitrogen on crown land in NZ ?

            • Robert Guyton

              Just checked my data files, Ian, and the answer to your question is 42.

            • weka

              Seems to me you are making a specious argument that hides the fact that inorganic nitrogen (from fertiliser) is different than biological nitrogen from legumes etc.

              The reductionist mind likes to treat like things the same but fails to take into account complex systems. In this case, to keep it simple, inorganic nitrogen harms soil, biological nitrogen is part of a complex system that builds and maintains soil health (especially microbial but also structure), that all fertility is based upon. To compare nitrate numbers in that context is a tool of farming that harms, or perhaps the tool of someone that wants to justify pollution.

              Trying to stop excess nitrogen from intentional overstocking and overuse of artificial fertilisers getting into water ways is ambulance at the bottom of the cliff stuff. I have no idea if you read the post, but that was the point of it, to demonstrate that many industrial farmers want to pollute to the extent they can get away with, and at the moment they’re getting away with a lot. Hence the ‘but we’re doing good things too’ line doesn’t work. Doing good things while you pollute won’t make the pollution go away, because you still want to pollute as much as you can manage.

              For those reading along, there’s a good read here on the interrelatedness of soil, nitrogen, carbon, and the actions of humans here,


  13. Michael 14

    Rolleston is a powerful player in the Agribusiness world. He has extensive financial interests in many agricultural science companies, including genetics, which he protects via his many publicly-appointed offices. I think this man deserves close scrutiny.

  14. millsy 15

    Poisoning a town’s water supply is regarded as a crime against humanity by the ICC. One day, I hope the likes of Rolleston have their day in the Hague. It has gone to that point.

  15. Ian 16

    Any of you guys heard of the managed aquifer recharge trials underway South of Ashburton ? I understand The Makauri Aquifer under the poverty bay flats is also been looked at in relation to aquifer recharge from the Waipoa river.
    It is fascinating science and MAR has the potential to mitigate nitrate loss from agricultural activity on lighter irrigated soils in NZ.
    It also has the potential to lift static water levels when it doesn’t rain enough like the last 3 years up untill the last autumn.
    Bob Bower is the hydrologist in charge .

  16. Keepcalmcarryon 17

    Lack of oxygen to the brain certainly explains federated farmers, and national voters.
    I rest my case.

  17. cleangreen 18

    Most soils this year will be heavily pugged by heavy hoof action (cows).

    I live on a small farm up in the gisborne hills and next door neighour I allowed his dairy cows into a 15 acre paddock as we were not putting our sheep in there this winter and in two short weeks the whole paddock was heavily pugged because of the heavy rainfall this season.

    Never happens with sheep.

    Guess it is the same on the wetter regions of the whole country, and we hear the rainfall this year is a record here, as we exceeeded our annual rainfall over a month ago already.

    The future for intensive farming is uncertain now with annual rainfall increases occurring.

    “We reap what we sow eh”!!

  18. As a retired dairy farmer who finds any herd of cows over 200 as abhorrent for bovine welfare, as herds have within them complex relationship systems within them, in short a hierarchy structure totally unsuitable for huge groupings; this said I still want to see these blue lipped babies before blaming an industry so necessary to this country, albeit done very differently!

    • weka 19.1

      The problem exists with or without blue babies. It’s that we’re having a conversation about blue babies at all that tells use things have gone way too far.

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