December 2016

Like all farmers and farm suppliers I am feeling a lot happier with the projected milk price predictions from Fonterra which are now at $6.50 per kilogram. Hopefully our West Coast company can get close to that as well.

Almost three years of prices below the cost of production is enough for anyone and thankfully we are coming into Christmas feeling much better about things generally.
The old saying is true…If Momma ain’t happy then nobody gonna be happy!!!
Momma in this case is our farming friends far and wide and the cooperatives they own.

I have been liberal with my predictions over the years and two of them have now played out to the degree that I can talk about them. The first is the cost of production on our farms, be they cropping, sheep, beef, dairy or horticulture. It is essential that we keep our grass fed low cost production model where we possibly can. Downturns like we have just experienced are scary for all of us and again it has been the low-cost operations that have had more breathing space than others. Our leaders in the farming world are always keen to predict on the sunny side, shall we say, but bold predictions of a worldwide need for protein do not save us from sudden and drastic reversals…. Enough said on that.

The second issue that saddened me a few years ago was the wholesale slaughtering of new born calves. I am not squeamish about killing calves because everything we do is raising animals for food which means slaughter. I am talking about economics; we now see the cost of not rearing those calves on to full grown animals. The extremely high prices for store stock that our beef farmers should pay this year is a direct result of taking those young calves out of the production chain. My only wish on this is that some older heads in the ranks of farm leaders would speak up with a few sage words of warning when they see some of this unusual activity happening…. Enough said on that.

I cannot write without praising our dear friends in Kaikoura where I was born and raised. We cannot ever predict the unpredictable and to have seabeds rising five meters in an instant is the stuff of fiction. But it has happened and our hardy friends are living with the consequences of that and overcoming all odds. Our thoughts are with them.

It has been a tough year in the rural communities we serve but if we are careful and we don’t waste our resources we can have an extremely good life. We are always there to help, and by providing you with good conservative nutrient budgets and great products we feel that we are proudly playing our part in the communities we are an essential part of.

Have a great Christmas and enjoy some family time.

John Barnes

Managing Director.


Treat your microbes to a check-up

As farmers know so very well, they work with living soil. This knowledge comes naturally to most farmers – they have grown up with this dynamic environment at their fingertips, and they are well acquainted with the seasonal, monthly, even day-to-day and sometimes hour-to-hour changes.

Most of us know that soil is a living mass made up of millions of organisms that complement one other and, together, produce the living environment that is crucial to the existence of virtually every species on earth.

But fewer of us will have detailed knowledge of the microbes that populate healthy soils. Microscopic in size, they come by the billion – and their presence or absence is a sure indicator of the health, or the lack of health, of a soil.

Microbes rely on a delicate balance of soil tilth to live and survive. An ideal arrangement would be 5% humus, 45% mineral, 25% air and 25% water. A soil with this profile would be fairly easy to plough or till, it would be spongy to walk on, it would hold large amounts of rainfall with minimal erosion, and it would provide the air (oxygen) needed by aerobic micro-organisms.

To flourish, a microbe also depends on the plant life growing in the soil. The root-zone microbial types and populations are particularly plant-dependent. There is such a strong symbiotic relationship between plants and soil; you could argue that the plant exists to build soil rather than the soil being used to grow plants.

The term ‘micro-organisms’ covers a broad array of live organisms – including bacteria, actinomycetes, fungi, algae, protozoa and nematodes. The decomposers play a crucial role – they break down organic waste into usable nutrients, which are then chelated or locked into the resulting humus.

Some organisms partially break down organic waste, while others take the decomposition process a step further by consuming this broken-down material. Completely broken-down nutrients can be stored on clay and humus factions of soil, which can then be used by other plants. Other microbe by-products – such as vitamins, amino acids, enzymes, hormones and antibiotics – also help plant growth.

Within this environment, plants sprout and grow to their optimum limits per the available energy and nutrients they can absorb. But they seldom reach their full genetic potential because of the limits of agricultural systems, weather, and our lack of knowledge on how to tap into their full potential.

All this information has been researched and to some extent been documented over several years. There is a helpful website which can be viewed on The Microbe Zoo.

Many of these microbes have been identified, stored and studied by microbial soil scientists for a long time. In fact, when I have visited some of these labs the scientists could tell me how these little creatures work and what they do. When I asked them how many species of microbes there would be in a typical New Zealand soil, their estimate was between one million and two million. We do not know what they are, what they do and the implications to our land if they are not present. We are not even sure how many have been unintentionally made extinct by our common farming practices. What we do know is 200 of them have been named and to a point we know something about them. We can always learn more, for the more we know the better informed we become.

These microbes and other soil life which are required to both control pests and diseases are available to be bred up and applied to crops and pasture. Some of these have been used by Fertilizer NZ for over 15 years with great results. As new problems arise, further work is carried out to find new remedies for these situations. Our old chemical spray programs were about killing everything. Thankfully we are moving away from this idea to finding how we can save the good insects and take out the damaging ones. This can be achieved by finding predator microbes that will feed on the eggs or larvae of the undesirable pests. We started with the grass grub, which we all know has cost the New Zealand farmers millions of dollars per year. Since then we have been able to control other pests, but it is never going to be a quick fix. The soil life will need to be built up until the predators reach a population where they can control the pests.

To find out more give us a call on 0800 337 869.