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Farming Future Lies In the Soil
Value or volume is the debate facing New Zealand farmers. Or, to put it another
way, are we better to produce smaller amounts of high value, high quality products,
or should we go for larger volumes of lower value products?
It's by no means a simple straightforward question. Those who favour high value
and high quality argue world markets have progressed beyond big dollops of
commodity-type produce. They also point to the increasing international concern,
particularly in European markets, about the integrity and provenance of produce,
and the environment in which it has been grown. And they maintain that in
this approach is the answer to the sustainability and reputation of New Zealand
agriculture and its place as a supplier of top quality primary products.
Those in the opposing camp counter by saying New Zealand has got where it is today
on the back of an abundant supply of grass that allows us to produce quantity at
very acceptable quality. Why ditch a winning strategy, they ask. We cannot change
overnight, and, by switching tack we run the risk of being caught in no man's land.
Across all of this lies another consideration. It's all very well to worry about
the long term; but that will not do much for us if we fail to survive in
the short term. So, it's a question of deciding between churning out as much as
possible in the short term, cashing in on the profits with no consideration for the
future, or developing systems that will be profitable -- albeit at slightly lower profit
levels -- for generations to come.
Both arguments have some validity.
International evidence suggests that consumers -- especially those in developed
markets -- are willing to pay a premium for food attributes such as safety, quality, the
manner in which it has been produced, and its impact on the environment.
New Zealand's parliamentary commissioner for the environment, Morgan Williams,
put it this way in his 2004 report Growing for Good: Intense farming, sustainability
and New Zealand's environment:
"Targeting these markets and emphasising these attributes of New Zealand food
provides a wide range of potential opportunities for the farming sector. Some
farming sectors have already responded to this challenge by targeting niche and
high-value markets, and increasing the premium on their products. This approach
holds real potential for increasing the value of farming output in a sustainable
"It is generally accepted that some consumers are willing to pay
a premium for food that is 'green' in origin. The labelling of such food
provides consumers with the capacity to identify and choose such food. The
willingness to pay varies from country to country and across different food products.
Some studies do support the argument that many consumers are willing to pay a
premium for eco-certified and labelled products."
At Fertilizer New Zealand we have taken the initiative and have a Biological range of
fertiliser products. To learn more call 0800 337 869 for further information.
Fertiliser & Spraying
Fertiliser & Spraying
Targeting nutrient loss
As more pressure goes on farmers to manage within nutrient limits, our $32 million research programme is
working on new and targeted approaches for nitrogen and phosphate applications.
The work we have underway will help farmers decide exactly where on the farm
would benefit most from nitrogen application, determined by different soils' response
to it. It is a more targeted approach which means less nitrogen for more grass. What
we want to do is increase nitrogen uptake efficiency from the usual 10:1 return to
15:1.'' --- Ballance Research and Development Manager, Warwick Catto.
The work is being done through the
Ballance Clearview Innovation
programme which includes projects
that will help farmers decide where on-farm
to apply nutrients for maximum benefit and
There is a definite shift towards regional
councils requiring farmers to work within
nutrient loss limits, says Ballance
Research and Development Manager,
The work we have underway will help
farmers decide exactly where on the farm
would benefit most from nitrogen
application, determined by different soils
response to it.
It is a more targeted approach which
means less nitrogen for more grass. What
we want to do is increase nitrogen uptake
efficiency from the usual 10:1 return to 15:1.
Warick says the work will also support
highly targeted phosphate use.
We know that for most farms, phosphate
losses come from only 20 per cent of the
land area. With phosphate risk mapping, we
can reduce those losses.
That will enable 80 per cent of the farm to
gain from targeted phosphate applications
and increase phosphate efficiency by 20
Ballance has contracts underway for some
$3 million of research under the Clearview
programme, including spring field trials for
nitrification inhibitors in the Waikato and
Lower South Island.
Also being tested is improved biological
controls for grass grubs which destroy
pasture, with the economic cost to the
pastoral sector estimated at some $90
The trials are testing an easier to use
formulation of Ballance s Bioshield, which
combines zeolite with a soil bacteria
Warick says feedback from the farming
community is that the programme is right
on the money, because everyone wants to
produce more, but with fewer
There s a lot of enthusiasm out there and
people are keen to see the results of the
We ve moved very quickly to get the
programme underway and we should see
the results from these first contracts flow
through in about 18 months.
He says the research will not only develop
more sustainable products, but should be
sustainable in itself.
As products come to market and generate
new revenue they will also generate new
funding for further research.
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