New Zealand - conflict in the countryside

Its over 15 years since I was last in New Zealand and the shift in agriculture is clear to see.Many of the hilly farms in the north and south are no longer sheep producers but have turned to dairy.On the Canterbury Plain cattle are also a dominant feature; with pivot irrigators ensuring the thin soils over gravel can keep producing grass.There is lots of fruit being grown too.Kiwis, cherries, apricots, plums destined for domestic and Chinese markets.There is lots of energy in the farming in New Zealand; it is dynamic, productive and exciting to be around.
But there are challenges too.It was back in 2002 that the dairy industry here hit upon bad press due to the impacts of livestock on water quality.Consensus is that the industry dragged it heals and took too long to respond and as a result the ‘dirty dairy’ label has been difficult to shift.
Lots of work has been done since then and progress is good.Through industry initiatives farmers have put in place Farm Environment Plans, which ass…

Trees, wolves & unintended consequences - Sweden June 2018

Sweden is a country of trees. 23 million hectares of them. Over half of the country’s total area. So its easy to assume biodiversity would be rich and large carnivores like wolves and bears would have plenty of space to themselves. Not so. With the negative press around the impact of farming on the environment it would also be easy to assume that the declining area of farmland is a good thing for biodiversity in Sweden.Also no true.
So what’s going on?The Swedish forestry industry is very successful.As a timber merchant friend of mine neatly put it the Swedes produce good wood and the world needs it.But spruce monoculture is taking its toll on the environment.It suits large herbivores very well.Roe deer & moose flourish in this habitat and so their predators flourish too.But the loss of farmland to more forest is causing loss of pollinator habitat, reduced plant diversity and declining farmland bird numbers.Traditional small livestock farms are struggling to survive and as they dis…

The Polder model – The Netherlands, May 2018

The Dutch cooperate. It’s in their genetic makeup.When a challenge presents itself, they naturally pull together to find a solution which can fit all.Ask the locals and they tell you they are unified by their fight against the sea; 26% of the country sits below sea level and only half of the Netherlands is higher than 1 metre above it.
So when asked to deliver improvements for the environment Dutch farmers did what comes naturally and set up collectives.There are around 40 farmer run collectives in the Netherlands, each lobbying central government directly for funding to pay for environmental measures on farms.The collectives are based on regional characteristics and historical groupings and tend to have targets for environmental delivery based around the provincial government’s nature management plan; something like the Local Nature Partnerships in the UK.
But will a farmer-led approach work?In the Netherlands, like in all the EU, the Common agricultural policy has encouraged farmers t…

The Oxford Real Farming Conference - January 2018

It is easy to live in an echo chamber in farming; a space where you only ever hear views of agreement or opinions close enough to your own that they are hard to disagree with.So when ponding which conference to attend I settled on the alternative option; the one I knew my father would disapprove of.But he, like very many farmers understands the importance of a ‘green Brexit’ and how feeding 65 million people in this country has contributed to the environmental damage we now need to put right.My initial impressions of the Oxford Real Farming Conference?On first day we, the conventional farmers of the world were called ‘the bad guys’ and ‘poisoners of the earth’.There were strong calls from the conference floor to label food produced using pesticides & inorganic fertilisers rather than labelling organic produce.One particular speaker suggested a black tractor and a skull and cross bones symbol. I felt really rather uncomfortable and wondered what I was doing there. It was not until I…