April 2017

Money is Essential

It is all very well for people to talk about farming in terms of lifestyle and it is a fact that farmers love their land and want to improve it for the next generation, but it is absolutely critical to make money along the way. Without the money everything grinds to a halt.

Currently there are two distinct paths that are being advocated for farmers by quite disparate groups. The first path is the traditional route for New Zealand and its ‘mantra’ is produce as much as you can by any means you can and as cheap as you can. This appears to be leading to production methods that are not quite so cheap but they certainly don’t let up on total production as the main aim. The second school of thought is to aim for the highest price and to get far more for what we are producing now. This is also not new but we have talked about value added for years without ever defining what that meant but certainly, most farmers saw that value being added beyond the farm gate; Either by the meat works or the dairy company, the vegetable processing plant or packing shed.

Now we are beginning to see opportunities of value being added on farm in personal brand names or brand names of smaller more trendy processors that can gain significant premiums for produce that we once took for granted. There are lots of them appearing now….Merino meat, Lewis Road Creamery, branded lettuce, pears, peaches tomatoes, and so on. On top of that is the overarching clean green brand that has caught on for the total New Zealand branded image.

Already our exported agricultural products are at the higher end of the commodity scale.  We no longer feed Britain as we once did and in fact no country relies exclusively on our products to feed their populace. Therefore we can forget our moral obligation to feed the world, even though many farmers feel that they are doing God’s work and feeding the starving millions. That has not been the case since the end of world War Two and now we fight to get access to markets. Many countries now see us as competitors to their local farmers who in most cases are cheaper than we are.

That being the case, and if we are already priced out of the bottom end of the market, it surely makes a whole heap of sense to aim for the highest price we can get. That it involves doing things differently and it is the point of my story. Small becomes good if it becomes exclusive. Being green stops being a pain and becomes profitable. Being clean stops being hard and becomes something that is sought after in congested, polluted countries and they are prepared to pay for it. Branding then becomes a standard which in a supermarket means sales, people trust a brand from a clean country with great farms and farmers.

In my own case I ensure that Fertilizer New Zealand is not just a name but a company that you can rely on to provide a high standard of nutrients that are good for the farmer and good for the environment. In other words I insist that we set a standard.


The Debate on Phosphate.

There have been ongoing discussions on phosphate, and which one works. The simple fact is they all have a place in the market and it depends on how it is being used and for what reason. In my view, some have got worked up about this and there is too much emotion from the various suppliers of phosphate that theirs is the best and no one should question their beliefs. Now everyone is entitled to their opinion, but when it became fanatical, it is taken to a completely different level. It is at the point now where our Universities can only debate one system and only one soil test is acceptable.

1. Olsen P test.  This is the most well-known test.  It measures the water soluble and available phosphate. This is always used when Super is applied.  The down side to this programme is that it will leach and it could have excess heavy metals like Cadmium. The upside is we do need to have some available phosphate to grow plants, but it doesn’t have to be ALL available on day one.

2. The Resin P test. This measures the reserves of phosphate in the soil.  This phosphate will hold in the soil but does not leach through.  The soil then releases this phosphate through biological and chemical processes, so that there is continuous release to the plant.

3. Locked up phosphate. There are a variety of tests for this.  This category of phosphate is almost always lost to the plant because it is tied up to iron or aluminium. Heavy applications of lime will also take acid phosphate products and turn them into reverted phosphate within weeks of application.

Superphosphate is readily available phosphate, so all will show up in an Olsen P test.

RPR has some available phosphate, ranging from 33% to 45%.  The rest is held in reserve and is released on a constant continuous basis.  This means if something happens like a weather event [rain storm, or even heavy irrigation] a fraction will be lost but not a lot.

For developing farm land the best option is to use a combination of both, which is what I have been advising on now for over 10 years.  This is called ‘Partly Acidulated RPR’.  This has been studied and practised in New Zealand now for many years.

Independent trial work has been conducted when the NZ Government provided funding for a full fertiliser trial.  This trial work was initiated because there was “much dispute” regarding the efficiency of Reactive Phosphate Rock [RPR] and the differing interpretations of field trial results.  The trial work conducted by MAF in the 1980’s showed that RPR was indeed as good as Superphosphate.  There were 19 sites spread over much of NZ and conducted over a six-year period. Only 12 sites were reported on as the others were deemed to be too good.  I have focused on three of the reported sites as I believe they show a picture to what you would find in your area. [ I can supply the trials data]. These three sites show that RPR grew the same, or more, dry matter as the Superphosphate. A quote from the report says “This Super was imported as the scientists believed the locally manufactured Super was too inconsistent to give an accurate result”. During the 1990’s I am informed that a fertiliser co-op also conducted its own trial work.  One of their reasons was to “test the validity of the MAF model for predicting the phosphorus and sulphur requirements of pasture”. As I understand, it was conducted over a period of six years.  The results showed that for the first two years Superphosphate performed the same as RPR.  However, in the remaining years super was marginally less effective than other fertilisers.  In other words, it grew less dry matter.

The conclusion to this is, that even in a pro Super farming culture there is compelling evidence that there are other ways to grow an equal amount of pasture without the pitfalls of pollution, or having the added burden of lifting cadmium levels in your soils, which is another unwanted pollutant.

There is also a separate paper released in 2011 which is called “RPR Revisited [2]: Long-term farmer experience helps define the role of RPR in grazed pastures”.  Question 7 asks of the farmers “What advice would you give to a farmer interested in switching to RPR”?  By far the most common response to this question was…Just give it a go – 61%, or give it time – 20%, or words to that effect. Most added a supportive comment to their answer.

The conclusion is, there are many benefits to using RPR. These include better soil health, a more nutrient rich sward of pasture and a stronger healthier animal. Therefore, the overall unit of phosphate in RPR will be a more effective option.

For further information on how this can be effective on your farm give us a call on 0800 337 869