To give farmers the means and motivation to invest, you need nutrient indicators married to a realistic time horizon says Willy Leferink. Then you’re talking about a virtuous cycle, he says

To give farmers the means and motivation to invest, you need nutrient indicators married to a realistic time horizon says Willy Leferink. Then you’re talking about a virtuous cycle, he says

By Willy Leferink*

With regional plans increasingly looking to place limits on nutrients like nitrogen, an innovative breakthrough in the process of being commercialised illustrates how science and innovation could vastly improve agriculture’s environmental footprint.

We seem to be locked into a high/low debate relating to farming and the environment.

To Federated Farmers that seems a linear way of looking at things because it denies the fantastic influence technology can and will play.

At Fieldays, I was privileged to be a judge and one of the technologies that took my eye was the PUER system, currently being validated by the University of Waikato.

This is no product endorsement but it can be loosely described as an effluent treatment plant for dairy farm washdown.  When you’ve got the herd awaiting milking you collect a heap of poo and urine. 

That’s currently washed into storage ponds and later recycled back to pasture as liquid fertiliser.  While this is done well in many circumstances there’s no margin for error.

Unlike councils, farmers cannot blame bad outcomes on a mechanical breakdown, weather or even carelessness.  Get it wrong and your talking Campbell Live, fines and possibly a criminal conviction.

What if, instead, you could treat that waste to a level where the liquids could be used for stock water or for dairy washdown again?  The leftover solids then used to fertilise pasture?

The system I saw may not be the only system in development but it is certainly one of the first to break cover. 

But we are seriously risking the development of these technologies if we race headlong into unrealistically hard nutrient limits.

Do that and it means farmers won’t have the means or motivation to invest.  The lack of investment means innovators won’t put the leg-work in so we enter a vicious cycle. We also run the risk of strangling hundreds of little communities who rely on the dairy dollar.

If instead you’ve got nutrient indicators married to a realistic time horizon then you’re talking about a virtuous cycle.  You see every kilogram of nitrogen leaching to groundwater is not only just bad for the environment, but it’s like farmers chucking $2 coins into a rubbish bin. 

While any innovation like this must be farm proven and is currently in the advanced pilot stage, it will demand significant investment from us to implement.

That the company behind PUER has been swamped since Fieldays shows how prepared farmers are to invest into things that will lower their farm environmental footprint

While this technology relates to just one aspect of our environmental footprint, it illustrates how others will eventually spread out from the milking platform and onto pasture. 

By working with science we will definitely get there so this system is merely the entrée.  Yet it is one that could build off the great work farmers are doing in catchments like Rotorua. 

It is also a solid reason why you should never say never..


Willy Leferink is Federated Farmers Dairy Chairperson.

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doable but not by big bang

Sizeable reductions within reach

  • Sector emissions could already be brought down significantly just through the wider use of existing best practices and technologies. Technologies and practices that contribute to reducing emissions already exist, but could be used more widely.
  • A 30 percent reduction of GHG emissions would be possible if producers in a given system, region and climatic zone adopted the technologies and practices currently used by their least emission intensive (emissions per unit of animal product) peers.
  • Substantial emission reductions can be achieved across all species, systems and regions.

Efficiency key to reducing emissions

  • Possible interventions to reduce emissions are mainly based on technologies and practices that improve production efficiency at animal and herd levels. They include better feeding practices, animal husbandry and health management.  
  • Manure management practices that ensure the recovery and recycling of nutrients and energy contained in manure, and energy savings and recycling along supply chains, are further mitigation options.

by way of further background

NZ milk tastes aweful, I'm in UK and it's delicious

same for butter and cheese.

Have you tried the UK water?  It has cocaine residue in it - no wonder everything from the UK tastes great!!

The reason it tastes so bad is it contains milk powder and valuable ingredients are stripped out of it. Milk containers should be labelled made from concentrate.

Willy L has it nailed.
Barns, robots and engineering solutions to emissions are the way forward.  Measure it, manage it, optimise it.  The Farming Big Data revolution has not yet started but soon....

Im not convinced but am open to persuasion. I don't like the cost structure for starters.

see page 7: the cost stacker
what do you think of his view of US dairy in the rest of the deck?

I heard David present your link Henry, at SIDE this week (South Island Dairy Event )  He also made the comment that now that dairy land in California is reaching $50,000US/ha dairy farmers are selling up in California and moving to Idaho.
A bigger problem to the NZ dairy industry will be if China decides to start buying PKE as a feed source from Malaysia etc.  A rumour doing the rounds is that within five years PKE may be unavailable to NZ.  Maize would be a substitute in some regions but given the tonnage of PKE imported there could be some interesting times coming up.

California is worth thinking about as some districts within dairy devops need be zero emission thanks to AB 32, hence the up-and-go strategy by some.
Digester development faces uncertain future in California
As elected officials, government agency representatives, engineers and dairy producers gathered to celebrate the latest opening of a dairy methane digester facility in Sacramento County, a cautionary note about construction of additional digesters in the state was sounded by Michael Marsh, CEO, Western United Resource Development (WURD).
“This may be one of the last digesters built in California because of conflicting regulations between AB32 (global warming legislation) and new regulations coming out of air districts with regard to emissions from the engine generator sets,” Marsh told the crowd gathered at the Cal-Denier Dairy in southern Sacramento County.
The air districts have set a standard for emissions from “these types of engines that have not been achieved by any engine manufacturer anywhere in the world,” pointed out Marsh. “Unfortunately air district regulations do not take that fact into consideration nor are they allowed to take into consideration the benefit derived from combustion of the methane from the digester projects.
And you are right, a life dependent on PKE is not sound (but then whats long term) and then even in US some call the high starch maize/grain go round as as the golden handcuffs and point to that environment moving genetics to a poorer resilience status in the space of 30 yrs.
the answer may not lie in the seaweed, but it sure starts in the soils.

I must say, Californina has done an amazing job of cleaning its air up. Even LA has a noticable improvement..

There have been groups of Chinese investors buying a lot of land in California, they appear more comfortable there.  I've seen some huge developments in Idaho and Utah. My bank has a group looking to invest 20 mil into a dairy venture but they appear fickle. Farmers are happy with land,dairy and cattle prices but need water
 The Chinese have purhased a lot of Almond farms.  Water in the central valley is at stress levels. The price used to be $40 an acre ft now its $80 an acre ft. There has been talk of farmers selling water and trying to get $1500 an acre ft. I drove down the Valley last week and there was noticible fallow land about. There is alot of activity drilling wells and my friend in the business is run off his feet. Banks now want lake water and at least one good bore before finance approval and prefer two good bores. Indians have one some importants cases regarding min water flows in rivers which will have a big impact.
The hay business to China is humming along. I have a meeting in Sacramento in August and will be more knowledgeable after that, i will report back.
 I'm now home for the next month. Its amazing how much wine China buys off us.

Why do consumers want cows to be barned when due to consumer pressure chooks and pigs are being forced outdoors?  One of our big offshore marketing advantages is being able to say that cows spend their days outside in fresh air on grass.  There is a contrary view appearing between the environmentalists who want the northern hemisphere type dairy system where cows are barned, calves reared in stalls etc and the animal welfare brigade who want animals to live a 'natural' life .
If barns are the panacea to all things dairy why is it at every meeting I attend where these are raised, Councils are saying they DON'T see them as the 'one size fits all' solution?  They realise that in order for farmers to pay for these systems, they need to intensify even more to ramp up production to pay for it all.  This in turn creates even more effluent.
 It is also accepted that it requires a very different management system - not one that everyone used to feeding cows on grass, can simply switch to.  There are some inherent animal health issues that can quickly develop if the management isn't up to scratch.

No, "unrealistically hard nutrient limits. Do that and it means farmers won’t have the means or motivation to invest."
It means farmers paid too much for farms assuming they could get away with not paying to pollute, that era has ended.

Farmers have the perfect motivation to invest - do it or go out of business.
Nats need to pull their heads out of the cow pats and legislate for improved freshwater based on good science.
Council's have had to invest in improved wastewater schemes at meg bucks costs, and higher opex, to deliver better environmental outcomes, so now do farmers! Just do it!!

There are many councils who still do not have adequate wastewater schemes.  Think Queenstown breaching its consent conditions this summer and having to put 'no swimimg' signs up in Lake Wakatipu, some Auckland beaches the same, etc.  They may have spent dollars improving their systems but they all have a 'get out of jail free' card in that they can pollute at will due to mechanical breakdown (farmers can't), flood and or high water situations (farmers can't).  So yes, they have improved but they can and do, still legally pollute waterways.

A company called Natural systems were doing some of this years ago, but stalled in getting traction. Maybe they were to far ahead. They used the washdown water to produce ethanol to power the milk cooler or whatever. They still have working units in place as I understand.

some 30 years ago
AgLink FPP 425
From 1984, from memory the Rogernomics reforms stopped development work in the area.

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