Better ways of farming

18 Jun 2012

One of the main sessions of Saturday afternoon featured the farming sector, which has often been perceived to be at loggerheads with conservationists.

Federated Farmers President Bruce Wills told the audience that farmers were aware of the need for sustainability but he added change takes time.

Three decades ago, he said, we had a society where farmers were being told to clear land and pour more fertiliser on their paddocks in a race to boost production. In hindsight, the pendulum swung too far in the direction of more production at all costs.

Now farmers realise a balance has to be found between the need to pay New Zealand’s bills and ensuring farming remains sustainable for future generations.

One dairy farmer who has taken a different route to most is Jeff Williams from Manawatu, who has reduced the need for fertiliser and cut the number of cows his property carries. His methods mean he produces less milk but he is more profitable because his costs are much lower. He calls the heavy use of fertiliser and squeezing as many animals as possible on every paddock  the “moron theory”.

Another farmer who  is looking for a different model is Dan Steele, the owner of Blue Duck Station on the Upper Whanganui River. He is combining his traditional beef and sheep farming with a tourism venture and conservation work, including extensive stoat trapping. He has a vision where businesses play an important role in driving conservation and where the environment rather than agriculture is seen as the backbone of New Zealand’s economy.

But he adds agriculture will always be important to New Zealand’s economy and, if he had his way, we would cap the number of livestock at current levels while increasing the income from each animal by improving quality and living up to our clean green marketing image.