NZ – Final Thoughts

***WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS TRACES OF SWEEPING STATEMENTS***

Roughly where I went

Roughly where I went

So what have I learnt in the last two weeks? Certainly I know a lot more about the details of farming in New Zealand. But is it relevant to me how you grow onion seeds, why variable rate irrigation is better, or why all the farms here use dual tyres and not big singles? I don’t think so. I think Nuffield needs to be about more than that, it needs to change outlooks, not (only) specifics.  Here’s a ramble about what I think I am taking home.

Organic herbicide

Organic herbicide

There seems to be a fundamental difference in how a kiwi farmer answers the question “How do I make more money from my land”, compared to what we do in the UK.

  • The UK farmer will specialise into one area, grow as few different things as possible, so that they can get big machinery and make use of economies of scale.
  • The NZ farmer will try to make more efficient use of the actual land, even if it makes more work for themselves. This means trying to produce at all times of the year, and also results in less shiny machinery.

A perfect example of this would be the removal of livestock from many UK arable farms. I can see why it was done – more money, and more time to ski. But the NZ way seems to be a more complete cycle. I couldn’t believe how many grasses they have in their rotations. Sure, grass weeds are a problem, but it is one that they control. Compare this to the problems in the UK, where we are chasing out tails to control grass weeds, and losing sight of the big picture.

"The best dairy land in Canterbury"

“The best dairy land in Canterbury”

When I visited Craige MacKenzie he said “you guys are crazy. We are using the old research from the UK that pointed us to lower seed rates [for wheat], and when we did it yields went up by 4t/ha”. He considers high seed rates to be over 60kg/ha. I know we used to do this on our farm – and the yields did indeed rise. But now sometimes we are going on at over 200kg/ha; all for good reason, but at what cost?

It seems like we are only working reactively, when we should be proactive.

I can think of plenty more examples: heavy use of insecticides, herbicides that are very hard on the crops they are protecting, ploughing to remove compaction etc etc etc.

First meal I cooked for myself after 3 weeks of restaurants

First meal I cooked for myself after 3 weeks of restaurants

Pesticide resistance problems is another big one. I did touch on it briefly in a post a while ago, but some serious changes need to happen here. I can’t believe that big agronomy companies are now recommending multiple small doses of roundup. It’s literally as if resistance is trying to be selected for. Crazy! We will have to look into mixing herbicides for burndows. Low disturbance drills are critical here too.

I can’t say that my mind has been changed on the subject of no-till, but it has been exciting to see clear examples of the benefits it has, and to speak to the people making use of them. There are probably places in the UK where I could go and look at good soil in one field and bad in the next, but it has taken me a 14,000 mile trip to get there myself.

When built, this was the steepest land in the southern hemisphere with centre pivot irrigation

When built, this was the steepest land in the southern hemisphere with centre pivot irrigation

On the never ending subject of drills, if you ask me one day what my thoughts are, the next day they would be different. If someone pointed a gun at my head and said “buy a drill & tractor”, it would be a 750a. If a genie offered me whatever I wanted, I would have a CS.

Plenty of people that I have talked to have asked why we do not do XYZ in the UK. The answer is often that we do not see the benefit. But when we go deeper sometimes it is clear that no one really knows. An example of this would be starter fertilisers. It is possible to make a plausible case for or against them. But at the end of the day most people (me included) will just stick with what they “know”, even if it comes from experiments done over 50 years ago, in much different conditions. So we need more science, and science that is relevant to how to move the industry forward, not just how to get 1% more yield from a new fungicide. The risk is in saying “Something Must Be Done” and then waiting for “Someone” to do it. I don’t quite know the answer here. Who can do these trials, and does anyone other than a handful of BASE members (plus the other two) actually care?IMG_2584

And I will indulge myself in one specific idea I have come away with. Cover crop mixes are all the rage here now , we are growing lots of them. But I think I have really seen the value of plain old grass. Perhaps the kiwis could use a refresh in their thinking as well, and start using a bit more diversity, but when it comes to soil quality and improvement, roots are king. And nothing does roots like grass.

The view when I wrote this post

The view when I wrote this post

Trip stats:

  • Distance driven: 2,469km
  • Visits: 21
  • Sheep spotted: 1,000,000
  • Dairy cattle spotted: 1,000,001
  • Wagyu steaks eaten: 2
  • Good Japanese meals: 2
  • Bad Japanese meals: 2
  • Horrible cars driven: 1
  • Motel rooms flooded due to owner’s laundry: 1
  • Data used on NZ sim card: 935mb

I think that just about sums it up.

Thanks to all these people, plus the others I forgot to photograph:David Ward Helen & Peter Hobbs Jill & Jim Williams John Baker & Douglas Giles Karen & Mick Williams Mark Guscott Mark Scott Matt Wyeth Mike Porter Murray Lane & Geoff Scott Nathan Williams Scott Lawson Sharon & Hugh Ritchie 2 Simon Osborne Tim O'Brien

Day Four

Not much to report today. Had a quick visit in the morning to a Wagyu stud farm run by Brownrigg agriculture. They are a pretty large cropping and lamb finishing business, but there is a sideline in Wagyu, both breeding and finishing.

Spot the cows

Spot the cows

This particular unit breeds around 200 bulls a year which go either to their share farming partners, or another slightly related company called Firstlight foods. All of the meat they are producing is finished on grass, as there is not enough market in NZ for grain fed – and the Aussies can export it cheaper than the Kiwis can make it.

Terrible photo, but I thought there should be at least one of some animals. These are F1 crosses

Terrible photo, but I thought there should be at least one of some animals. These are 6 month old F1s, Kiwi Cross x Wagyu

Brownrigg will finish anything from a 100% fullblood animal down to an F1 cross (50%), whereas Firstlight only uses crosses. This is a pretty interesting area to me, as it is something I am currently doing in a very small way (Firstlight have 10-15,000 Wagyu at the moment, slightly more than me). The conventional way to cross a Wagyu is to use an Angus mother, and a lot of these animals are this mix. Wagyu is the number 1 breed for marbling, and Angus is the number 3. Number 2 is Jersey, and a Jersey x Wagyu cross will apparently provide very high and consistent marbling levels, but with a small carcass.

I would like some of these cattle dogs please

I would like some of these cattle dogs please

However, there is a breed used a lot in NZ dairy called the Kiwi Cross, which is Friesian x Jersey. When this is combined with Wagyu, the carcass size is increased, and there is less chance of getting yellow fat – which can result sometimes from the Jersey genetics. Most of these animals will be black/dark brown like a Wagyu, but occasionally there will be some white on the belly. If someone tries to sell you a Wagyu x Friesian cross and it has white above the belly, don’t buy; it’s a fraud! [apparently]

I asked if the genetics were for sale; “If you have a millions bucks you can have this bull” was the answer. I think they liked that one.

IMG_2545After leaving the farm, I stopped off at what can only be described as a shed full of tat. How can someone make a living selling old shoes and dinner sets from the ’70s? Maybe this is what would happen in Wales if subsidies were taken away?

Lake Taupo

Lake Taupo

This evening I am, coincidentally, staying just outside Cambridge. En route I passed through Taupo, and did my first ever skydive. WOW!

Tomorrow should be a really interesting day.