Farming with nature

06 Jul 2012

Two farmers who are working hard to carry out their business in harmony with nature see agriculture as an important part of a truly sustainable New Zealand economy.

Jeff Williams is a Manawatu biological dairy farmer who has drastically cut the
use of fertilisers and other chemicals on his farm in the last four years.

He has also reduced the number of cows per hectare to around the level they were
30 years ago, but profitability is higher because of far lower costs.

“Farming today is carried out on the basis on what I call the moron theory. It’s all based on getting more cows in each paddock, and applying more fertilisers to maximise production,” Jeff told the conference.

By using more natural methods, soil and animal health has improved and the end
result is better quality food. He even has a flock of chickens he moves around
the farm to help fertilise the paddocks by breaking up the cow manure as they
hunt for insects.

Using these natural methods, New Zealand can build its reputation for quality food and be in a position to achieve higher prices, rather than continue to be forced to accept the world price for our bulk agricultural commodities, he says.

“When farmers get the foundations right – that’s the soil – then the sky is the limit.”

Dan Steele owns Blue Duck Station, a beef and cattle farm, at Owhango on the banks of the Whanganui River.

He describes himself as a hunter, conservationist and entrepreneur as well as a farmer.

“After travelling the world for a couple of years, I realised how important it is to protect what we have here in New Zealand,” Dan said.

He has established four tourist lodges on the property and has a network of 450 traps for stoats, rats, mice and hedgehogs to protect the whio, kiwi, bats and other native wildlife in the bush.

“I don’t believe agriculture is the backbone of New Zealand economy, the environment is the backbone of the New Zealand economy,” he said.

“Conservation in New Zealand has to be driven by business. Everything we feel proud of here is driven by our conservation image. “

He agreed with Jeff Williams that the route to prosperity is through increasing
the value of everything we do, rather than simply lifting production.

“I see value in capping the number of animals we have now, we need to get more
money out of every animal we have.”

Federated Farmers President Bruce Wills told the conference farming was
vital to New Zealand’s economy but needed to be sustainable to secure the
industry into the future.

The former banker, who took over as head of Federated Farmers last year, says he is making it one of his priorities to deal with environmental issues, along with taking a more collaborative approach to advocacy and communicating with urban New Zealand.

But he also emphasised his view that sustainability had to be balanced
against the need for farming to be