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Totally shit farming

Written By: - Date published: 7:10 am, August 12th, 2019 - 47 comments
Categories: Environment, farming, sustainability - Tags: , , , ,

I grew up in a town, but one side of my family are farmers and I’ve lived in and around rural areas much of my adult life. I’ve seen the changes and like many been appalled at what has happened to so many lowland waterways and landscapes that I know and love. I believe strongly that farming is core to New Zealand: culturally, spiritually and in terms of our ability to survive in a climate change future that is already threatening food supplies.

Photo via RadioNZ

Because of that I’m more supportive of farmers than some, and see encouragement of the ones wanting to do the right things as part of my politics. New Zealand has good, long term examples of farming with nature in mind, and many more farmers would be doing better land management with a change in support around finance and advice.

I also believe there are farmers who are dangerous and will need to be stopped because there is no telling them. To my mind this isn’t farming, it’s strip mining nature for short term profit. It destroys the land, the soil, fertility and waterways. It’s industrial, for-maximum-profit, export-driven farming that trashes the very environment upon which it, and all of us, depend. In a climate crisis world, this is not about growing food, and this hubris will kill us. It beggars belief that industrial farmers are being allowed to do this. Looking at you regional councils.


 
So I’m pleased to see that a few weeks ago environmentalist Angus Robson launched a campaign against winter cropping (a practice of letting stock strip graze a winter crop like swedes). This video footage shows why, watch all 3 minutes to see the scope of what is going on,

While I have some degree of acceptance of farmers needing time to change practice, what I see in the video is wilful ignorance and it sets my sustainability heart and brain on fire. Industrial dairying is not necessary, it’s been going on far too long, and it’s the epitome of greed farming. I don’t know who farms the land in the video, and I’m glad I don’t because it allows me to say some sharp-tongued things.

I saw the footage when RNZ first put it up and had such a visceral reaction of shock I couldn’t read the story. Around the same time, farmers I follow on twitter were talking reasonably about the need to transition off winter cropping where it was causing problems, because common sense. Meanwhile, Federated Farmers have been going blah, blah, blah, the usual bullshit about them being the real victims here, with the blatant subtexts of: we will do what we want, and, we will change as slowly as we need to in order to keep making money from the industry because that is what is important.

Yesterday The Southland Times online reported that some farmers near Mossburn had objected to the conditions on their farms and stock being photographed, and seemed to think they could stop that,

Two environmentalists spent their Sunday holed up in a house in Northern Southland, while farmers held a barbecue at the end of their driveway, as a stoush over winter grazing in Southland escalated at the weekend.

One farmer told Stuff they set out to stop more photographs of stock being taken and the environmentalists were welcome to come out and talk them.

Police were at the Mossburn property on Sunday morning amid allegations of vehicles being rammed, intimidation and trespassing, but no charges have been laid.

It’s unclear if the farmers were blocking the drive or not, and police appear to not be doing their job properly. Former Southland Federated Farmers president Allan Baird was there going blah, blah, blah, we’re the real victims here, and you’re destroying our livelihood and the local economy. Allan Baird appears to think it’s ok to pour cow shit into rivers and has been convicted and fined for it.

I’ll hazard a guess that some of the Mossburn farmers would be doing the right thing if they weren’t being so badly served by their industry reps. Southland didn’t used to be full of industrial dairying, someone taught the farmers how to do that. Imagine how things would change if Fed Farmers went ecological.

It’s not like any of this is new. Problems with industrial dairying have been obvious in Southland for decades. I think time is up.

Here’s what we could be doing instead. This seven minute video showcases a Hawke’s Bay sheep and cattle farm that is using regenerative agriculture to produce food, restore the land, protect biodiversity and sequester carbon. If we want to talk about how to grow food, this is one way to do it that doesn’t fuck the planet.

It’s not perfect, and farmers intent on high stocking rates and maximum profit won’t be able to do this, but the benefits inherent in regenag are  broader, more stable and more resilient than much of what we see in Southland currently. The choices are there.

Want a Southland example? Mangapiri Downs in Western Southland has been an organic stud sheep, cattle and forestry farm for thirty years. This is what our landscapes could be like,

Post updated 10am.

47 comments on “Totally shit farming ”

  1. Robert Guyton 1

    Good morning weka. I'm asking questions of my council now, including requesting that this video be shown at Wednesday's meeting of council and commented upon by councillors, all of whom are aware or the increased focus on wintering practices this year and several of whom are in fact winter-feeding their own stock right now. I believe there may be protest action of some sort planned to involve the council more intimately with the issue, but it's early yet and we'll wait and see what transpires. That video footage is hugely concerning, particularly given the proximity of the churned mud and muddy surface water to streams, at least from what I can see there.

    • gsays 1.1

      Morena Robert, would you care to speculate how many of your fellow councillors would identify as sheep/beef farmers?

      I seem to recall Millan Ruka (Northland waterways advocate) expressing frustration at presenting damming video evidence to the council only for nothing to happen.

      Perhaps the regional councils are not the authority to get traction on this issue.

      S.P.C.A. or one of the ministries may be a better bet: MBIE or Agriculture.

      Once we get this sorted perhaps we can move to tree shelter belts next, in conjunction with our 1 billion trees aspiration.

      • weka 1.1.1

        Probably needs a large number of people in the room with placards and the media. On the steps outside too.

        The government has had the kind of response one would expect (set up a group to talk about it). Again, large numbers of people doing direct actions will make them take more notice. The ball is in the public's court.

    • Rosemary McDonald 1.2

      More power to your elbow there Mr. Guyton, but I fear you will be pushing shit up the proverbial with your fellow councilors.

      https://www.es.govt.nz/council/councillors/Pages/Meet-your-councillors.aspx

      In fact, I'd be asking around to see if any of them were seen beetling around the rohe with the barbie on the back of the ute.

      (I have donned gumboots and trespassed over the fence to haul the odd newborn calf from out the mud. I've come to the conclusion that most farmers and not overburdened with brains, and as a consequence tend to hire workers with even less cognitive ability. Why on earth would you organise your grazing rotation so the cows end up in the lowest lying land at calving time, which is timed for the wettest part of the year..'.Backbone of the country' ? Goddess help us all.)

      • Marcia 1.2.1

        O M G the height of cruelity . would they expect their Mrs to have their baby in the mud . Really what is this country coming to . Rosemary McDonald you are a gem . Telling farmers where they are going wrong will cause a bit of flack i am sure but if even half a dozen of them changed their practices it would be worth it . Halve the cow numbers and plant hemp to help the land repair it's self . So agree , Goddess help us ALL please .

    • weka 1.3

      All power to you for Wednesday Robert.

    • Thanks for paying attention, Weka and Robert. A better, sustainable agriculture model for growers is top priority to improve water quality.

  2. greywarshark 2

    Good of you to cover this. We need to separate out support for the farmers doing the right thing, and properly police those who are not meeting the reasonable standards we must have already. Action now, we have been talking about it and been fobbed off by Federated Farmers and the farmers who have no standards apart from profit and land-hunger.

  3. Robert Guyton 3

    Hi gsays

    7 of 12 councillors at Environment Southland farm livestock; some have have several farms. The Chairman is a sheep farmer; useful for mustering his flock at voting time smiley

  4. weka 4

    Fonterra says it is set to lose between $590 mln and $675 mln in the just-completed financial year after writing down the value of more of its assets

    The ailing giant dairy co-operative Fonterra is set to rack up a massive loss for the financial year just completed (end of July) and says it won't be paying a dividend.

    https://www.interest.co.nz/rural-news/101155/fonterra-says-it-set-lose-between-590-mln-and-675-mln-just-completed-financial

    • My last attempt at a contribution to this discussion somehow disappeared up its own cowpat so here we go again.

      I'm finding it increasingly harder to feel any sympathy for what you describe as the 'strip mining' farmer, and we should probably just let them go under if and when it all turns to shite – but not before ensuring that when the banks call in the loans and mortgagee sales start, the banks, big corporations and the multi-nationals are not the beneficiaries.

      Hopefully the government is considering the 'what ifs' and finding ways to protect those committed to the sustainable and who're able to show they've being trying to do the right thing. I'd suggest a starting point might be they'd be the ones that were opposed to the demutualisation of the co-op and who held concerns about handing over the control of their best interests to a few Masters of the Universe – many of whom never really ever had that spectacular a record (CEO's on $8m pa for example).

      When the rest of us are left with unswimable (and worse) rivers and who'll likely have to pick up many of the costs of cleanups whilst being expected to pay 'international prices' when times are good, but still don't notice much of a reduction when international prices go down – it looks a lot like a subsidy for shit thinking and the pursuit of greed over the needs of Mother Nature.

      I just heard some bloke farmer on the bizzznissss news bleating about having to worry about compliance costs (all those things like having to now pay the principle on loans; having to stop the arse end of a cow leaking into streams and rivers, and so on) – which given the ideology of the management he'd signed up to being a part of, really made my heart bleed (NOT). Jesus!, I've seen places in the 3rd World where there's been better long term thinking with consideration for the environment in which farming operates DESPITE a few Masters of the Universe trying on a big con or two.

      It might be that the only way there'll be a change in thinking is when a few of those 'strip miners' go belly up BUT, as I say – just as long as it doesn't benefit those who've been part of the big con.

  5. Muttonbird 5

    Hi Robert.

    Here's a link to the chief executive's statement on the matter of run-off through the Longbush Rural Kindergarten recently.

    He claims the farm has been issued with an abatement notice but what fine structure is in place at Environment Southland? I would have a $100K fine for this incident would stop the practice pretty quickly…

  6. marty mars 6

    Farming imo as it mostly is, is not sustainable and is a direct cause of misery whether that be pollution, cruelty or whatever. Farmers know this i think and the financial pressure along with the intolerance of communities to outdated practices and selfish behaviour contribute to mental health issues for this sector – if we add in the silencing and deliberate discouragement to seek help, we get real tragedy. We will need new people who actually are not profit driven to change things. The exploitative way is wrong.

    • marty mars 6.1

      I'll just add that I don't attribute 100% blame to actual farmers for this – they have been put in this position by our society and its values – the sad truth is that for every dirty farmer there are 10 dirty non farmers, for every cruel farmer there are 10 cruel non farmers . For my sins I have actually worked on farms, albeit dairy, within the last 10 years and when I did it it was a good reality check for my sentimental attitudes. As one of my bosses said when I started to become down about it, "mate, it's a factory, just outdoors". There is individual responsibility for sure and collectively we can all take some responsibility for the shit we are in. I think it can change and that will need new people – be good to create succession planning with city folk and get them out into the actual shit – maybe they could job swap with farmers lol

  7. cleangreen 7

    Yes Weka,

    I was 'town raised' and have now 13 years ago moved to the country to farm on a small block of 10Ha..

    It is a good life if you suppliment the feed but those pictures show some do not use supplimental feedout as we have always done.

    The picture you show are of what we call as simply 'dirty farming'.

    I would say because; it,shows where the ground is barren with no reserve land to graze on.

    It is so sad to see that some have been reduced to this.

    It is probably because of over-extended capital investments in the past.

    My car trailer is sitting in my house paddock with a stray Weka picking at some 'reject' citrus fruit I bought up from my last trip to Gisborne last week for 'provisions' so we live on a budget of cheap supplimental feedout with only buying maize and mineral blocks, and get trailers of reject vegettables and citrus.

    Farming should be a life of caring of animals first, – and an enjoyment of the life secondly.

    Anyway that's the way I see it.

    My Grandfather and his brother came to Wairoa in 2019 after one of them was severely wounded on 'flanders fields' in France during the first world war.

    Our Family had come from the 'West country' in England in 1842.

    Then left for NZ south Island gold fields of Clutha after being in the SA Adelaide after the gold boom days and settled in Canvastown (near Havelock) in the Peolorus Sounds and began fhe first dairy farming on the Clyde bank area lastly in Wairoa..

    Now our small hill farm is just over the Gisborne boundry from their 'Clyde Bank' farm in the Wairoa District, so I need to visit that farm some time.

    • cleangreen 7.1

      Sorry Grandad!!!

      I made a mistake above; – as I should have said; – ‘My Grandfather and his brother came to Wairoa in 1919 not 2019 I made a silly mistake there.

  8. Stuart Munro. 8

    There are some bad instances here, but I've spent a bit of time on farms and understand the point of some forms of winter grazing that don't make particularly pretty pictures. The swede is a pretty good fodder crop, it withstands cold weather (in fact it's improved by it), and once the tops are off them the field will turn to mud even without much in the way of rain. Being a root crop there is still a lot of feed in the field, and farmers like to get the most out of it in the same way they leave stock on land inclined to gorse or broom a bit longer, so that those less palatable plants get nibbled right down.

    I'm curious as to what is expected, for all that current practice seems pretty mean to the stock. Are root crops to be lifted for feeding? I expect many farmers don't have gear or a system for that. Or is it a shelter issue, NZ being unusual in how little shelter we provide for stock? I'll be interested to see what people come up with in the way of a solution.

    • Pat 8.1

      Curiously one of the current solutions is winter barns….often derided as 'industrial'…I fear that in the current climate (no pun intended) the ag sector is on a hiding to nothing…as would be any sector under such a microscope and with emotions running high.

      • Stuart Munro. 8.1.1

        I read something to the effect that shelter does great things for feed efficiency, which I guess means it would also reduce net methane emissions. A mobile shelter might be an option for low-lying farms – no harder to move than the irrigators that get lugged about.

        • Pat 8.1.1.1

          My observation is that winter feed lots are usually run pretty responsibly and the shelter issue is not confined to that practice….but as said no industry would look flash if it were examined closely.

          And then theres competing interests especially the price of product.

        • bwaghorn 8.1.1.2

          Any cow shelter would need a floor and full effluent disposal systems . Big cows shit alot.

          Cow barns would be the only way on soft wet soil types to stop major pugging . And yip they'll eat less and hold condition better out of the elements.

          On former ground giving them an extra feed when the weather roughs up can help. But I imagine Southland weather roughs up for days on end.

          • cleangreen 8.1.1.2.1

            BWaghorn,

            Yes we have put roofs over the sheep stockpens.

            We now have also built ‘carport roofs’ over other buildings.

            Now the sheep and their lambs shelter under when storms come calling, like last night as that storm was horeddus weather here.

            But we didn’t loose any roofing gladly.

      • weka 8.1.2

        Winter barns are a work around for industrial farming. The farms themselves are still a problem, they just mitigate that problem somewhat. As B points out, the shit still has to go somewhere.

        If the land cannot be managed sustainably with that many cows on it, then don't so that kind of farming. This is a no brainer unless one believes its valid to wreck the land for profit. There is no good reason to have industrial dairying in Southland except to make some people rich.

    • lprent 8.2

      I’ve worked on a farm that used swedes as art of the winter feed for sheep. That was nearly 40 years ago. Ash soil and lighter animals meant that it wasn’t a problem. We turned the field before letting stock on it for the shortish root feeds

      But it would be pretty obvious that farming practices are based on local conditions. This just reads like someone has been reading it out of a textbook without looking at local conditions.

      The problem here to me is that hard winter grazing of heavy animals in the wettest part of winter on boggy soil is a recipe for mud. With mud, you can’t turn the field and the cows will have a problem accessing the roots.

      The mud will increase silt runoff, destroy upper soil structure and make the replanting later and harder than almost every other practice.

      I may be missing something here but it seems to me that this is the type of farming practice that would only appeal to the types of farmjng clod who likes to spend their time sitting around on the back of a ute drinking beer. Ummm….

      /sarc

      • Stuart Munro. 8.2.1

        My accountant mate reckons there's been a huge loss of skill across the industry – folk with poor understanding of animals and animal welfare, when traditionally, because a lot of NZers grew up on or around farms they used to have some idea of what they were doing. He attributes the mycoplasma spread largely to this lack of what was once common sense.

        One thing that can’t be laid on farmers though, is that sheep aren’t nearly as profitable as they were, with synthetics crowding out wool, and the loss of access to English markets with the EU. So cows became relatively more profitable in spite of causing much more damage to the ground.

        We should have some ag institutes working on the problem, but the Key Kleptocracy, with its usual brilliance shut half of them down.

        • greywarshark 8.2.1.1

          Point – the synthetics are going to be going downno so can we encourage sheep farmers to operate on lower hills, crop the flats, and plant trees on the high part, some for basic wood, some for furniture and hardwood, some for feed for the critters, and some for permanent grabbing onto slippy land, with some flowering things in between for bees, and fruiting things here too for the boids. Good stuff, way to go. yes And I forgot to mention, grants to farmers to do the right thing, returnable on farm sale or diversion of ownership, but reducing by 10% each decade.

          • Stuart Munro. 8.2.1.1.1

            We'll have synthetics as long as we want them (they can use cellulose as a feedstock instead of oil), though the packaging will decline a bit given some sensible regulation. But in a world crying out for sustainability and authenticity NZ isn't even producing utilitarian things like harakeke denim – though we know it works .

            These farmers are last dinosaur types – non-adaptive. The council or government have a case against them in Rylands v Fletcher, and the SPCA can likely do them for calving in mud like that. Come to that, one drone flight, subtitled in Chinese and stuck on WeChat "Fonterra suppliers grazing their cows in mud" would have companies drop these suppliers like a hot potato – probably lose Fonterra half a billion in sales too.

            I agree about helping those who want to adapt though – maybe hemp or kudzu or bamboo as bioremediation units. I know they use white poplar in Europe but something with an end use would be preferable.

        • Blazer 8.2.1.2

          If sheep aren't profitable @ $35 a kilo for lamb…there's no hope.

      • New view 8.2.2

        Apart from the last paragraph of your comment I agree with you. There is still plenty of work required to farm with winter cropping but in these cases no common sense is being used. The crops being used like fodder beet can grow a massive amount of matter per hectare so farmers can pile a larger number of animals on than is possible with the traditional crops like rape and other brassicas . The problem is the weather. Good farming practice demands you shift the stock off when ground conditions are wet. These incompetent farmers haven’t allowed for alternative grazing when required, and for the most part get away with it because the stock still do ok most of the time even though it looks appalling. Which it is. If these farmers can’t use common sense they need to be fined as an incentive for a managerial rethink.

    • weka 8.3

      My view is that this is wholly a problem of industrial farming models. It's not like winter cropping is new, so what has changed? Stocking rates, land management, and a model that insists on wringing every last penny out of the land. The number of dairy conversions obviously. A catchment might sustain one smaller dairy farm that winter crops, but not ten that are overstocked.

      Murihiku is basically a large series of interconnected water catchments and wetlands. Industrial dairying should never have been allowed there.

      The winter cropping issue is ambulance at the bottom for the cliff stuff, and it's significant that this is what might get people to take notice. I actually feel angry with Southlanders as well as the farmers for letting it get to this point. NZ as a whole too. Everyone got upset when the dirty river stuff hit the headlines a few years ago, but that was decades in the making and many weren't paying attention to the people who were trying to stop it all those years.

      From a sustainability perspective, and by that I mean actual sustainability where the land is managed in ways that don't degrade it over long periods of time but enhance it, the only solution is to convert a lot of those farms away from dairy, and the ones that remain to use regenag models. We're a long way from that, so in the meantime we go for the low hanging fruit to try and stop the destruction from continuing. This isn't just a water or animal welfare issue, it's also a soil issue.

      What will most likely happen is that farmers will be encouraged off winter stocking, and the status quo will otherwise remain. This is far better than nothing, but it's still not addressing the core issue.

      Alison Dewes has apparently been doing the work on supporting farmers to work with better conventional techniques. These farmers are leading the way and are a good bridge between the industrial model and the regenag model.

  9. Obtrectator 9

    Once all that bare ground dries out, and an extreme-weather wind blows up … hello dustbowl.

    Oh, and dare I say that, at this rate, CAFOs are just around the corner?

    • greywarshark 9.1

      Not to detract from above, but elucidate. CAFOs –

      https://www.myfearlesskitchen.com/what-is-a-cafo/

      Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation.

      Then the other thing you mention that is one of the people's worries Ob – that bare ground dries out, and an extreme-weather wind blows up … hello dustbowl.

      It's interesting that they had dustbowls in the USA that were about the same time as the Great Depression. I think we know a bit more than then, but the wilful ignorance of those who could lead and persuade a better practice, is noticeable in its immensity. Perhaps your concern for improvement can tip the balance!

  10. greywarshark 11

    The cattle in the image – are they showing a hierarchy of behaviour, one lot has a chance at the hay, then the second lot that we see hanging back go forward? Normally they would get food and go off, lie down and chew it for a while, but where would they lie in those conditions? Farmers should spend their days with their herds I think.

  11. mike 12

    farmer may need a another tax payer bail out

  12. Ian 13

    So it's OK for activists to roam around farms in the middle of a Micro plasma Bovis outbreak ,tresspassing on private property , trying to take photos of cows and mud.I take my hat off to those gentlemen that kept an eye on those troublemakers and made sure they kept their noses clean. As for the local court jester,the Southland folk seem very tolerant of their resident clown.

    • Incognito 13.1

      Ian, if you go for that angle you need to weaponise your words more and militarise your mind. For example, don’t say “take photos of cows” but say “shoot pictures of target objects”; don’t say “roam around” but say “reconnaissance” or “spy”; don’t say “trespassing on private property” but say “entering or invading enemy territory”. Just a few handy tips for next time 😉

      • greywarshark 13.1.1

        Lol incognito – that's saying what he is thinking – we would bet ten chocolate fish on it.

  13. Pretty horrific first video,… it really was.

    The second was a breath of fresh air, ' all life is sacred, '… so in other words while they are here under our stewardship we care for them. The program in marginal guts and valleys with the planting of native species and even some exotic nut and fruit trees , the use of the practices Alan Savory has advocated , has shown it can be done. Possibly even adapted somewhat to the larger stations and hill country using slightly different modes.

    Really appreciated the article.

  14. David Mac 15

    The rise of cheap, clever, camera equipped drones and video sharing platforms are making it harder for the chronic exploiters to hide.

    I think we need to be wary that it may not be an epidemic, we've found ways to peek over in the gully behind the shed, down by the river etc.

    The farmers that give a damn, those that invest good time and money to give a damn, they want the rats ratted out too.

  15. Heather Tanguay 16

    All power to you Robert, these are shocking pictures for the Clean, Green image of New Zealand portrayed by the Fonterra adverts. I dislike the Fonterra adverts so much. For too long this disgusting practise has been allowed to continue and the pollution to waterways enhanced. The dire conditions for the cows is appalling.

  16. Grumpy 17

    Anyone wanting to see the future of environmentally visionary dairy farming would do worse than to look at Jon Sullivan’s setup in Harihari of all places. Total emphasis on stock welfare and the resulting return to show for it.

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