July 2016

A Fair Go for Farmers

For years now we have been talking about added value products and capturing the margins up the chain to the retail level where they seem to be very much more stable. This is all about adding value to our primary produce. The meat companies have said it for years and Fonterra was formed on this promise. Wool, of course, has a very long history with many new companies being set up to get maximum value, most of which have failed miserably.

And yet here we are in 2016 suffering a down-turn in the commodity cycle again and most dramatically with milk, the one product market where the gurus said that they had it right. There may be some value added going on; company executives certainly tell us this is so but clearly they are not doing enough.

I find it very interesting that in Fonterra’s case they put a stop to the organic premium a few years ago but now they are reintroducing it at a level of plus or minus $4.00 above the expected price for other milk. We know a premium exists for organic meat and vegetables. How embarrassing is it when the thing that everybody has rubbished completely is now the one thing bringing in good money? Maybe our industry leaders are not quite as switched into modern consumer trends as we all thought.

Pure organics is one option but to some their rules are a bit extreme. This is not the only way; there are also other options which include sustainable options. I have certainly made absolutely sure that Fertiliser New Zealand sells products that are both sustainable and, if necessary, organic and these are the cornerstone of our products like RPR, making sure these products are mined, shipped and spread on the land in a way that is as natural and sustainable as possible. From the beginning I could see that we were going to face a consumer backlash the way we were going.

My advice is – if there is a premium available on a product let’s grab it right across the country and make this green and fertile land a producer of top shelf products. It is not hard and I am happy to show you how. We need to get away from doing the commodity stuff and increase growing our added value products and lifting profit. We are growing old waiting for the company executives to deliver the added value that they promised, so maybe we need to take ourselves up the value chain by growing both our market and profits independently.

John Barnes, Managing Director, Fertilizer New Zealand.

Our Heritage
We have a wonderful agricultural heritage which spans back over 150 years but we have made some errors and these need to be remedied. The biological life in our soils has been depleted to the point now where we have a problem controlling some of our pests, both in the soil and on the pasture or crops. While I believe there are times when we will need to use spray to control an outbreak of disease or pests, it is possible that there could be an alternative to keep the soil or plant healthy and all these options should be explored without prejudice. Unfortunately we tend to have a bias to only thinking about a chemical fix to all agricultural ailments. I, for one, remember using a biological mite control back in 1990 to control red mite. So this type of control system is not new.

Some have asked about the timing of introducing microbes to the soil. The short answer is almost any time. The long answer is this; we must understand the difference of biological farming and chemical farming.

Conventional/chemical farming is all about keeping a crop growing healthily. By that I mean we feed the crop/pasture with fertiliser at the right time at the right rate with the correct fertiliser product. This is a complex and precise operation, which our advisors have taken years to perfect. I have to say they have made a great job of it.

Then the crop needs to be monitored for insect and disease control. About the time (or before) there is a problem it will require a “treatment”, usually a spray to clear the problem. This keeps our scientists busy making sure that the rates and timing is correct and new chemicals are being developed to cure known and potential new problems. This is by no means a full description but merely a summary of this type of farming. All farmers know this system.

But the biological system is quite different. It relies on a completely different set of rules. There is still the anticipation that insects and diseases will be present in the pasture or crop, but the operators of this system will be considering how to combat them in a different way. The timing is not very important; what is important is that the correct predator microbes/fungi are in place to attack the infestations as they arrive. This type of operator must understand the problems and prepare the correct predators or deterrent to keep the problem away in advance. Here is a modern day example of a win/win situation.

Welcome to the Elephants and Bees Project

The Elephants and Bees Project is an innovative study using an in-depth understanding of elephant behaviour to reduce damage from crop-raiding elephants using their instinctive avoidance of African honey bees. The project explores the use of novel Beehive Fences as a natural elephant deterrent creating a social and economic boost to poverty-stricken rural communities through pollination services and the sustainable harvesting of “Elephant-Friendly Honey”.

Apparently the Elephants don’t like bees and will do anything to keep away from them. The farmers have set up a string of hives around their crops and the Elephants stay away. The farmers don’t have to shoot the Elephants and they get another income from the honey.

This type of farming is both innovative and rewarding.

So what do we do in the New Zealand farming sector? By applying our microbes to the soil they will then establish and create an environment which will be a natural barrier to many of the pests and diseases that are common in our farming practices. They will in many cases provide an increase in production. Our soils need to build up a resistance to these problems just as they have done for hundreds of years.

Vitalife is our core product which has been developed and refined since the late 1990’s. It contains microbes that provide greater efficiency to fertiliser programs to reduce common soil borne pests and create better bio diversity in the soil. This will break down thatch and dry matter on the surface of the soil and return it into the soil as carbon.

Here is one piece of trial work carried out independently.

Swede trial conducted at Woodlands near Invercargill during the winter of 2003 and analyzed by Southern Chemical Consultants Limited

Soil: Background traditionally sheep pasture but had been more recently leased out for market gardening and had been heavily compacted.

Swede crop was late sown (28.12.02) with a base fertiliser of 500kg/ha Serpentine Super and 2500kg/ha Lime. Half of the crop had a base dressing of VitaLife at a rate of 250kg/ha.

Aim: To ascertain if VitaLife would make any difference in yield. A random sample was taken and analysed in August 2003.

Control 13.104kg D.M. per ha
Treated 16.493kg D.M. per ha
Increase over control 3.389 D.M. tonnes/ha
X 18cents/kg D.M.
= $610/ha
Increase of 25.86%.

I would have considered this rate of application to be on the low side, but nevertheless the farmer got a good result.

This type of farming does require forward thinking, but the rewards are worth it. A healthy soil will produce a healthy crop/pasture, which will produce a healthy animal and in turn give better production. This is one of our aims to revive soil health. If you want to know more about this contact us at 0800 337 869 or email us at info@fertnz.co.nz.