Allan Barber likes what Federated Farmers is focusing on for the rural sector. The importance of bees and the core role science plays are key issues he says

Allan Barber likes what Federated Farmers is focusing on for the rural sector. The importance of bees and the core role science plays are key issues he says

By Allan Barber

Among the vast array of press releases I receive from Federated Farmers, two in particular struck me as very relevant to our future, possibly more than the interminable pre-Election debates between politicians.

After all this second category bidding for our attention and our votes is either trying hard to avoid rocking the boat by stating any new vision (the government) or making promises they don’t have to worry about keeping (most of the rest).

The first press release concerned the importance of bees and the second was a plea by Feds’ president William Rolleston for an increase in science investment of $600 million over three years.

These topics may be seen as at opposite ends of the spectrum from the perspective of impact and importance.

But just looking at bees for a moment, the humble bee is responsible for pollinating the plants and crops which allow the growth of all agricultural production.

Two thirds of our food sources would disappear without pollination, leaving a diet of fish, starch, grains and seaweed.

We probably all know in vague terms what would happen without bees without actually envisaging the reality.

Federated Farmers Bee Chair John Hartnell lists several ways we can contribute to the continued life and health of bees which are worth stating because they are common sense – avoid spraying and irrigating during the day when bees are flying, locate hives away from irrigation and in a sunny spot, and plant bee friendly plants in urban areas.

The decline in the bee population in recent years suggests these practices, especially agricultural sprays and irrigation, are not being observed as rigorously as they need to be if bees’ survival is to be assured.

Rolleston’s speech was the focus of the launch of Federated Farmers’ Election Manifesto at Lincoln University on Wednesday. He cites the importance of science in underpinning agricultural production which contributed nearly three quarters of New Zealand’s merchandise exports last year.

While there are many initiatives in agricultural research, $100 million of it estimated to be invested by farmers through the PGP programme and through individual industry sector organisations, New Zealand only invests 1.2% of GDP in R&D, significantly less than other first world countries..

According to the speech, “The formation of the Centres of Research Excellence (CoREs) have also increased collaboration between institutions and in some areas are contributing to vital strategic capability for the primary sector.

That is why the potential loss of funding for the three CoREs targeting biosecurity, food innovation and reproduction, would be a strategic blow to New Zealand ... Institutions like the Bioprotection Centre, Gravida and the Riddett Institute are fundamental to the success and advancement of our primary industries as well as our economy.”

Loss of research funding by these institutions is the reason for the additional investment Feds are calling for.

Rolleston concluded by drawing attention to the disproportionately small number of students graduating with a degree, diploma or certificate in the primary industries disciplines compared with such disciplines as sports and recreation, journalism and communication. But by 2025 it is estimated two thirds of primary industry roles will require a tertiary qualification.

Federated Farmers deserve credit for highlighting these topics for public awareness.

I wish them success in getting politicians and the public to recognise their importance to our future prosperity.


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Allan Barber is a commentator on agribusiness, especially the meat industry, and lives in the Matakana Wine Country where he runs a boutique B&B with his wife. You can contact him by email at or read his blog here ». This article first appeared in Farmers Weekly and is here with permission.

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 These topics may be seen as at opposite ends of the spectrum from the perspective of impact and importance.
They are perfect to illustrate the belief systems behind NZ's approach to agriculture.
1. Do not under any circumstances take a systems approach to the industry - that would require a high level of understanding so break it into discrete components.
2. Ignore the real elephants in the room - debt, increasing costs of production and poor agricultural economics (no understanding of the concepts of marginal or diminishing returns).
3. Use indirect subsidies to increase production.

which part of NZ colin.  BEcause those are certain the bullet points I read in all the papers and magazines .  "buy more technology to farm better - its science".  Once calculated that if I had all the time saving gears and all the production increse stuff in one days magazines the cows would be finsihed milking 10 minutes before leaving the paddock, and giving over 80% of their bodyweight each day in milk.

Here is a good one for you on pasture renewal from the Pasture Renewal Charitable Trust (their sponsors include seed companies and stock and station agents):
Complete with supporting analysis from BERL (showing the benefits of pasture renewal but forgetting to include any costs):
If the link doesn't work Google: "pasture renewal" berl

Yeah all.  Back when I was sharemilking and still had someone helping out occasionally.  It was particularly bad issue for "make 10% more milk" "save time, save money"  ads.  I just find all those ads and story just depress me these days since I can't use any of it - and many of the articles are of installed gear before season starts or a little way in, before problems can show up. Just unbelievably depressing.  So I dump them without cracking the covers normally.

Where I am has bad Giant Buttercup problem.  Sprayed it out a few times but it just keeps coming back.   However found out this year,  the "subterrain clover" we'd used about 3 years ago (5 now), is actually an annual!  no-one mentioned this, and that would explain why it's dying back and not competing with the buttercup!

Also put in some tetraploid annual last year after the drought to make up for the dry and the grassgrub damage.  4 grazings a year later give 3800 litre, vs 4 grazing 3100 litres on local perenial varieties.  I'll have to do more research into the care and maintenance of that grass (like it's nutrient requirements). but that's a significant jump.  Seed was broadcast on with magspreader, and had slugbait broadcast on too, 45 day withhold for protective coatings.
No sprayout (cover was light after drought), no only fertilisers was 10kg of Urea in water solution with preside as a spray to control the buttercup.  Because of the drought damage, didn't really miss the extra rounds grazing time anyway.

I should look at doing more, and feedpads but just too tired and depressed.  I've saved the links for reading next year.

Only read those links to understand how bad some of the advice given to NZ agriculture can be. 

Thanks for the warning Colin !

I'm already feeling down enough with bad advice and bad science and public ignorance, that would seriously be bad for my health since I thought you were reccomending it...

There were a few red flags - a bunch of seed companies get BERL to produce analysis to show doubling (dairy) or quadrupling (sheep and beef) rates of pasture renewal would increase production and be good for GDP - but without mentioning the costs to producers.

Colin, Federated Farmers Bee industry group advocates on behalf of bee keepers in New Zealand to remain viable in the face of industry challenges.
There is a growing awareness globally (and concern) about the state of bees and their importance to the food chain.  The points you raise are not part of the brief of this article.
Farmers are well aware of your point #2.  However farming is a complete system, not a series of compartments and while the issues in #2 maybe valid they are only part of the whole story of farming - nature and it's impacts are just as valid.  As bees are part of the system, they are important to farming and equally so to viticulture and horticulture.  

If there are not enough bees, where do the future grains come from?

No point doing research if economy won't allow spending for implimentation.
Personally I can't see any reason someone would want to get degrees in ag in this day and age - better to get good paying degree, with prospects of good pay nice workplace environment, positive community and social support and time off.

CO, I am not sure what point you are trying to make but back in 2003/04 I was working at Ruakura (Lincoln Ventures, Supply Chain Systems) and our neighbour was NZ's bee research unit. This was at the time the varroa bee mite was working its way down the North Island. I knew then how important bees were to agriculture (but from a background in horticulture).
The stupidity of our research funding decisions appalled me then:
And still does now. The following is a very good interview with Professor Collins but the explanation of what is wrong with NZ's scientific research starts at 35:30.
I remain with questions as to whether Federated Farmers and its PR machine are part of the solution or part of the problem.

As usual the biggest problem is a solution that is either incorrect or applied wrongly - it often causes damage, makes people think smething constructive is being done, and wastes resources in the process.  Question is what are FF trying to do?

- -
Re:  funding.  Not surprising.  total fits what I've seenof NZ and NZ funding.  You get funding to start, so they can say they're doing something, and you can get funding to be in the media.  Actual results are chancy and are usually thrown at the industry to force them to support things, the man behind the tree can take all the chances, and we can put taxes on to something else.   as usual it's the kind of behaviour which is total opposite to business sense (where you fund to get results, not score presentation points)

We are, in Christchurch, creating an online system called Apiary Manager for commercial Bee Keepers to manage their Apiaries (globally).
Money is tight so the project has fallen back to "spare time" even though we have some large commerical Bee Keepers wating; but thats the state of R&D investment in NZ...
If someone wants to take a piece of the project in return form some serious investment then please advise (go via bernard probably as he knows who I am or post here and I will contact you for a chat).
We had hope to launch around 1August before the kitty ran dry so its not that far off for a MVP.

Been in the same boat for 20 years.  

That's why I was tense over Davids mention of "creative opportunity" in NZ.  R&D and capital investment (ie under-capitalisation) is such a endemic problem in NZ ... most are worried about "income inequality" and WFF or some other nonsense of the day when there just isn't funding to go around.

My project was digital enctyption of I-frames that would come out just over 50% larger than a wireframe,  and encyptions on B and P frames that should bring size down by 50%. on the fly.  I funded someone into training to help with it, and with utilising channel splitting in wider bands, giving large trellis encryption over the medium, using the channels as signal pathways, also utilising streaming techniques, delayed checking, with binomal based resend of faulty packets (side effect of the treliis decode).  By utilising multiple compression dictionaries selectable on Chaotic analysis (since we were transmitting compressed/encrpted data).  the ISO model being connectionless, at a time when connection based communications were significant majority.   By applying Chaos principles/expectations to the data stream we should also be able to put a few percent more signal into the band for video and power transmission.

But every step of the way, plenty of demands for tax and interest but never any money to go around.  How are people supposed to get stuff underway in such environments?  So I'm pretty much giving up, tired to the farm until my death, my old man was tied to it for almost all his life which is why he can't be bothered implimenting modern upgrades at 70+yrs old. why bother... the government party will provide everything, plenty of money to eat...

I feel for you mate.
Don't forget how much time you actually spend chasing funding.
Its no wonder people go elsewhere to start tech businesses.