February 2017

Maybe we should stop and listen

The farming sustainability argument rages on with accusations of dirty streams and rivers from environmental groups including Greenpeace and denials of any wrong doing from farmers who feel immensely aggrieved, and who can blame them.

I am getting increasingly concerned that not just our farmers and environmental groups but people in government and the scientists themselves are talking past each other.

Even more concerning is the fact that farmers were told that if they fenced streams and planted along drains and so on then the problem would go away. Overseer was wrongly switched from an information tool for farmers to a regulatory tool for central and local government to beat farmers over the head. All this, whilst Dairy NZ, our scientists and the two big fertiliser companies advocated increasing levels of superphosphate and nitrogen applications.

Some of the old scientists that were around when I was much younger would have yelled “enough with the screaming at each other, let’s stop and evaluate the true situation”. I am at that point now too. We are seeing an increasing number of changes to Overseer and now it is getting to the point of stupidity because nobody can fathom the results coming from this computer programme, and that is all it is at the end of the day. We are now seeing farm advisers advising on its quirks and foibles and warning farmers that they will penalise themselves for ever hereafter if they do not enter information in a certain way.

Federated Farmers have taken a long time but they have finally got there and are now calling for physical tests for leaching on farm. I agree and have said so for years now. The old scientists would be saying about time!!! I am so concerned at the varying readings coming out of Overseer that it will not be long before I must resort to conspiracy theories to explain them. The only way forward, in my opinion, and the only fair way to proceed is to have physical tests at exit points on each farm. Local bodies, and no doubt the Government, will throw their hands up in horror at this but if fines and penalties are going to be imposed upon farmers then the evidence must be impeccable in my view. That is only fair and just.

Along with that we need to look at doing things differently about types of fertiliser and programmes for the application of same. I simply fail to see how we can apply more of the same product and achieve a better result and it is here that I worry about the tinkering with the Overseer programme. Is it designed to help fix the problem or is it being adjusted to justify what is causing the problem? This is no longer an academic matter, it is serious, and farmers’ dollars are at stake in two ways; one is the cost of applying too much fertiliser and the other is the cost of being penalised for doing so.

Most importantly, and getting back to the old scientists, is the fact that soil is not some inert brown object; it is a living thing and is full of life, worms being the biggest creatures we can see. But there are millions of microbes and organisms in the soil and these are the conduit to delivering nutrients to our plants. If the teaming life in the soil is no longer there to convert the fertiliser into plant food, then it is no wonder that fertiliser goes straight through the various sub strata and enters our waterways. It was many years ago now that research into soil micro-organisms was halted because scientists were required to concentrate on projects that had an immediate payoff rather than those that would take longer but provide real solutions to our many problems.

In short, I am saying that the answers are available and they will not bring about a loss of production and they will not be ruinously costly, but quite the reverse. What they do require, however, is an open mind, some serious independent evaluation of scientific work that has been partly done but passed over, and most of all a genuine will to solve the problem of nutrient loss rather than just shouting at each other in a blame game.

Phone for an appointment and we can take you through the specifics of what I have broadly touched on in this brief article. Phone 0800 337 869.

John Barnes, Managing Director, Fertilizer New Zealand Ltd


Out and about

A neighbour [looking from a distance] commented that this was a great crop of Kale, the owner said no its swedes.

Crops this year have been a bit average due to the weather. In our opinion the powerhouse to any plant lays beneath the soil. It is all about soil life, and the root structure of the crop. The test is easy, dig a plant up and check the feeding roots. If the underground feeding system is in poor condition, then it is not too late to improve your crop by applying nutrients through the leaves. The scientific proof of this goes back as far as the 1950’s when H.B. Tukey from Michigan State University, USA, sprayed plants with radioactive potassium and phosphorus and then with a Geiger counter measured the absorption and movement of these elements within the plant. They found the nutrients moved at a rate of about 0.3 metres per hour to all parts of the plant. Actavize balances the nutrient status of the plant allowing crops to realise their potential. It also is known to lift Brix levels.

There have been some indications that some vineyards could be experiencing lower than expected Brix levels in their crops. The reason, it seems, is due to the lower sunshine hours. Talk to us about how these levels can be lifted.

How do foliar fertilisers provide nutrients to the leaf?

Leaves have an amazingly complex structure; they have a highly specialised structure. Amongst all the other things leaves do is they have pores between cell structures and stomata through which nutrient sprays can enter the plant. The transcuticular pores are on both the upper and lower surfaces of leaves and are open all the time, so foliar-applied nutrients primarily enter through these pores. Stomata are present in far greater numbers on the underneath side of leaves, and if they are open and the spray is directed to the underneath side, this can be a good entry point for the nutrients. (The uptake efficiency was 10 to 12 times better through the leaves than through the roots). Pasture grasses have stomata distributed on both sides of the leaf so there is not the same requirement for spraying on the underside of these leaves.

Is it only the leaves that absorb nutrients?

No. The original experiments of Tukey showed that buds, twigs, the trunk, flowers and fruit all absorbed nutrients.