Keith Woodford discusses how new thinking is required to make dairy sustainable

Keith Woodford discusses how new thinking is required to make dairy sustainable

By Keith Woodford*

The big challenge for New Zealand dairy is how it can become sustainable in the coming decades. This sustainability includes both financial and environmental sustainability. And it needs to occur in the context of both scepticism and some antipathy from within the urban community.

One of the challenges for our new Government is to come to terms with the extent to which dairy and indeed the broader pastoral industries provide a key pillar that underpins the export economy. Without a vibrant export economy, there is no practical way we can address poverty and inequality within Zealand. However, that is not the way that many New Zealanders currently see it.  And therein lies the challenge.

I live in an urban community, and my assessment is that most urban people think we do have too many cows.  When I ask what alternatives they recommend, the responses are typically naïve.

A typical response seems to be that we should be developing more plant-based industries, but there is seldom any understanding of the climatic, soil, topographic and market limitations thereof. 

We do have some outstanding horticultural success stories, with kiwifruit, wine and pip fruit being standouts. Hopefully, these and some others can continue to grow, but all face constraints relating to very specific soil and climate requirements.

The ‘big three’ plant-based industries have succeeded because they have focused on consumer markets as the starting point for industry development.  Through a range of strategies and product positioning, aligned with specific bio-physical resources, they have created a competitive advantage.   It has been a way of thinking with which the pastoral industries still struggle.

If dairy is to prosper then it has to have a social licence to operate. That licence includes both environmental and animal welfare components. Each needs to be addressed separately, but both then come together into overall farming systems.

The current level of debate around environmental sustainability is woeful. Most people are firmly in one or other tribal camp. The leaders of the tribes shout out messages across the void. Those messages resonate with their followers but seldom move the debate forward as the other side hears the noise but not the message.

A starting point with dairy environmental sustainability is to recognise that there are at least four important measures. These are bacteria levels in water (with E coli as a key indicator), phosphorus runoff, sedimentation, and nitrogen leaching.

The dairy industry has made huge progress with the first three of these but not the fourth.  The ongoing successes with the first three need to be acknowledged by the wider community.

The key stumbling block to future dairy environmental sustainability is nitrogen leaching.  There has to be increasing recognition, which scientists understand but the industry has not yet come to terms with, that the fundamental problem is the concentration of nitrogen in the cow urine patch.

During much of the year, this concentration of urine is not a big concern, as plants take up the nitrogen without major leaching. But urine deposited in the second half of autumn is not taken up by plants before winter leaching occurs. And nitrogen added in winter itself largely goes down through the soil and into underground water, only to emerge again downstream.

The only solution is to recognise that cows need to be off-paddock during the second half of autumn and throughput much of winter. Anything else is tinkering. Cows can still graze in the paddocks for a few hours per day, but the ruminating and resting need to occur in an environment where the urine can be collected and spread back to the fields in the following spring and summer. 

Aligned to this, the cow must have somewhere soft to lie off-paddock. Also, although cows do not mind the cold, they do not like lying in the wet. So there has to be a roof.

For many farmers, the above statements will be like the supposed red rag to a bull.  It looks like a lot more cost, and where are the extra returns going to come from?   

My own conclusions are that there are economic solutions. However, I do accept that in a heavily indebted industry, where the debt has been structured around assumptions of ongoing capital gain, that many farmers lack the headroom for capital investments. This is where Government will need to come in with concessionary finance for sustainability investment, funded perhaps at their own cost of borrowing.

If farmers and the Government cannot work through these issues, then dairy farming will indeed not recover its social licence. And that is in no-one’s interests.

I am becoming increasingly confident that dairy composting barns can provide a key pathway to pastoral dairy sustainability. Although increasingly common overseas, I have so far only found one farm in New Zealand where the principles are understood and applied successfully.  I think there are likely to be up to three more operating successfully, but I have yet to visit them. There is no great secret to it, but it is a different way of thinking.

The key elements of dairy composting are a moderately high-pitched roof (at least 18 degrees), plus roof venting, at least 600 mm of suitable bedding material, appropriate stocking for the specific environment, and twice daily tilling. Water troughs should be outside the composting area but feed troughs should be inside.   The compost should last for 12 months in the shed and must stay warm and dry. Break the fundamental rules and it will not work.

The key benefits of a composting barn, apart from preventing nitrogen leaching, are better feed utilisation, less damage to pastures, less winter feed required, and considerably higher per head production. The sheds can also provide summer shade. The cows love this system.

Happy cows in a NZ dairy composting barn

With any new system there will be some challenges. Aspects of what Americans and Europeans do with their composting systems will need to be tweaked for New Zealand conditions and there will be variations within different New Zealand environments. So that is where we need an R&D program to monitor and customise the system for New Zealand conditions. This is something I am currently trying to facilitate. Bedding materials and fine tuning of compost management are key ‘work-ons’.

Composting barns are not the only solution and free-stall barns also have their proponents, particularly in the South Island.  But for our hybrid New Zealand grazing systems, the compost barns will have lower capital cost while providing superior cow comfort and cleanliness.

One of the challenges for dairying is that as soon as one issue is addressed, the anti-dairy warriors find other reasons why we should get rid of dairying. Greenhouse gases (from cows doing what comes naturally to them) is one such issue. And there is also supposedly a looming threat from synthetic milk.

Both greenhouse gas issues and synthetic milk are big issues which are indeed too big to deal with here. They are topics for another day.  Suffice to say I don’t think either issue needs to destroy the dairy industry. There are strategies to deal with both.

In contrast, our dairy industry is genuinely threatened by its failure to get on with the long conversion process required to produce A2 milk that is free of A1 beta-casein. Many of the big farmers with multiple herds are actively converting, but the small farmers, with poorer information sources, are at risk of being blindsided. They have not and will not see the tsunami coming. I have written about that many times, and will do so again.

A key bottom line of relevance to all New Zealanders is that our agricultural resources favour pastoral farming. It is not by accident that animal farming lies at the heart of New Zealand agriculture, and that agriculture lies at the heart of the New Zealand export economy.  There are no easy alternatives. Those who hope for the demise of dairy should think carefully. 

In contrast, for most plant-based industries and also for manufacturing industries, and as a small isolated country in the South Pacific, we lack global competitive advantage.   So, we do need to keep a focus, but not our only focus, on pastoral farming.  But that does not mean that we can prosper by doing things the way we have been doing for the last thirty or so years. As Bob Dylan once wrote and sang, ‘the times they are a-changin’.

Tilling in a NZ dairy composting barn

*Keith Woodford is an independent consultant who holds honorary positions as Professor of Agri-Food Systems at Lincoln University and Senior Research Fellow at the Contemporary China Research Centre at Victoria University.  His articles are archived at You can contact him directly here.

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Great article Keith. Happy A2 cows and no nitrogen leaching, brilliant.

There will always be some nitrogen leaching in whatever system is used. When urine from barns etc collected and then is irrigated on ground it still contains nitrogen - or the compost created from composting barns is spread it too contains nitrogen. The difference is that instead of getting a concentrated dose at the time a cow pees, it gets to be irrigated/spread out over a wider area.

Yes but because nitrogen is lower concentration and applied during growing seasons- instead of nitrogen leaching the nitrogen is used for plant growth.

How much lower concentration Brendon?
Some regional councils cap the amount that can be spread via effluent so if farmers are working to their cap, they may have to export their effluent off farm. Southland RC (ES) for example allows 150kgN/ha from effluent, in the EU it is 170kgN/ha. Again ES only allows, currently, solids (compost) to be spread at no more than a 5mm depth and not between May - 30 September. So could it not be a case of extra N via stored effluent being added to effluent via the normal operational farming effluent, plus solids = a higher concentration of N going on over a smaller number of days? Keith does allude to the exporting off farm of effluent. In the EU they ship it out to other countries. It is something that has to be taken in to consideration.

Dairy farming should pay their full costs & begin transitioning to those. (ie nitrogen mitigation, carbon emissions)
Its easier to transition that be faced with massive cost changes in one go.
This is likely to see some reduction in dairy farming over the long term.
As with synthetic meat & fish, synthetic milk is a systemic risk to NZ exports. We will no longer have a competitive advantage (+ face transport costs & wont have economies of scale if we made sythetics ourselves) & our exports in these areas will likely fall. How quickly or slowly will depend on how many other markets open up for our dairy products to offset the loses in developed countries where synthetics are likely to establish themselves first.
It may well be over the very long term that the NZ dollar has to depreciate until we find other areas of natural competitive advantage or its reduces the price of our natural dairy products (with nitrogen & carbon mitigation costs) to be competitive with the synthetics.

Farmers do bear the full costs of nitrogen mitigation now that they undertake. Unlike in the EU and many other Western countries, NZ farmers do not get environmental subsidies.

Given urban areas have 18.5 times higher nitrogen in their waterways than national park waterways and pastoral waterways has only 9 times, do you consider it fair that urban authorities should also have to bear the full costs of mitigation? Afterall the majority of the population live near urban waterways. ;-) Refer to MfE website - Our Freshwater 2017 Report.

18.5x higher huh? Maybe that's because almost all of our cities are downstream from rural hinterlands?

The city I live in already dedicates $200m+ per annum to improving wastewater and stormwater treatment, but it's a long way to go due to our previous 20th century habit of joining household sewers with stormwater pipes [facepalm].

The fact is that we face negative externalities from dairy farming that FF look to government to help address. I want successful farmers and export industries in NZ, but if we need a "correction" or contraction in the number of *unsustainable* dairy farms, then so be it.

Rightly or wrongly we've been preaching the mantra of user pays / laissez faire economics for decades now so let's be honest and apply that same approach to all sectors of the economy, not just manufacturing etc.

Is your second paragraph some sort of lame excuse/apology for doing SFA about a problem and pointing a finger over here.
Want to get rid of subsidies, cut WWF and accom supplement, the two biggest.

Read the report - it is the contamination that comes off the urban areas. e.g. People forget when they fertilise their lawns, gardens, golf courses etc that cumulatively it amounts to a high amount of fertiliser going in to our natural environment from a very small area - the waterways simply can't take it. They choose to ignore that when they empty their swimming pools etc that all those chemicals/salt in the water will affect the waterways. Again a single pool may not make much difference but it is the cumulative affect.

The issue for urban areas is their long run consents to pollute - 30+ years doesn't make them review their systems and plan for upgrades. The longest dairy consent in our region is 10years, with 5years being common, so every 5/10 years farmers are having to meet new regulations. We don't have the luxury of being able to run a system that is a dinosaur. Recently there were submissions against an Invercargill City Council consent application for a renewal of a 35year consent to contaminate rivers in 7 different places with sewage. Due to the submissions against they were given 15years. It is now under appeal as the appellants want it brought back to 5years. I agree that it needs to the same approach to all sectors - and that includes same approach to prosecution which I admire Otago Regional Council for - they are prosecuting Queesntown Lakes District Council for a massive contamination of the Shotover river.

edit - reply is to Larry not redcows

Urban areas are only 0.7% of the land area. Farming uses 54.8% so the magnitude of the farming impact is about 40 times larger.

So it's ok for urban areas to have toxic waterways and not be held accountable?

The Report I refer to released in April 2017 shows that over 90% of the length of our rivers meet ammonical nitrogen standards and just under 90% meet nitrate nitrogen. We all pollute - so I will practice good management practice on farm to reduce environmental effects and what are you going to demand of your council to do?

kiwimm ... and your food / power / stuff / fuel / steel / plastics / STUFF etc etc ... comes from where exactly? Its not the wider environment by chance ?.... Burning fossil fuels creates jobs (and food) - yes, including yours.

Yes, a good article, until this quip;

Those who hope for the demise of dairy should think carefully.

For all those NZers interested in sustainability, I doubt there is one among them that seeks the end/demise of dairying in this country. Those promoting fewer cows, if that is what is needed (in the absence of remedies such as that you have proposed) is hardly promoting the "demise" of dairy.

Very important that the emotive language is kept to a minimum - no matter which quarter the commentary comes from.

There are indeed many who beileve that the dairy industry belongs to the past but not the future. Just yesterday I was partt of a panel on Radio NZ where such views were espoused. And veganism as a philosophy is also explicit on that. I run into these perspectives all the time. So I don't think there is anything inflammatory about drawing people's attention to the full implicatons of such perspectives. I cannot find any emotive words in what I wrote.
Keith W

Is this the RNZ panel segment from yesterday?

Will have a listen.

There are basically two camps in this sustainability debate although these camps encompass a wide range of views. To simplify things, one camp advocates for status quo in terms cow numbers with technological add ons and minor modifications to achieve sustainability while the other camp advocates for a reduction in cow numbers to a environmental carrying capacity level. I agree with you, some people on the reduction side of the debate advocate for the complete removal dairying but is this extreme a fair representation of the argument counter to your own. Most people would agree that removing dairying altogether is extreme and completely unreasonable. So why use an extreme and an unreasonable extreme at that to characterise the opposing view? Should you not trust in the merits of your argument rather than resorting to this type of what i would call manipulation?

Once alternatives to meat and dairy production are bedded in, it will indeed, spell the end of farming as we know it. There is nothing surer and people such as yourself need to understand that and start thinking about what can replace it.
It is looking more likely that plant production is going to be the next big thing, although, there may still be some demand and possibly growing demand for wool (and not just just sheep's wool). The human race has a lot of thinking to do about its place in this world, and the place of other beings. We are just on the cusp of understanding how other species lives work for them, we are either going to continue on our merry way to making much of the world's species extinct, or we will wake up in time to realise that we do not own this planet and we cannot take more than our share from it.
Factory farming at the very least will become a thing of the past, and the sooner the better, it does nothing to acknowledge the natural life of the animals we farm, they are just commodities and only count as long as they return us money, pig farming is particularly vile.
People are increasingly thinking about what they are doing with conscience being in the foreground of their thought, you will not be able to stop that.

How do you know what people are thinking?

Kate, there is most definitely a contingent that want dairy farming gone. It's hard to know the actual number but they're very loud and active on social media, especially among the young-urban-green voting demographic.

As usual brilliant informative Keith Woodford
You know the Netherlands is a world leader in exporting tomatoes
Yet they do it with 36 sq miles of glass houses with heating from underground bores
They have a university working with agriculture like Massey in NZ but turbo charged
This & a firm branded pre packaged ready for consumer dairy products lines & a move away from bulk bags
of dried milk powder for export would solve the problem
From increased profits comes ability to be even more clean n green

if the cows are going to be inside wouldn't you be better moving to a lower cost country?

Lets just try less cows and less inputs and see where we end up.

Lets just try less cows and less inputs and see where we end up.

Simple and effective. It can only be the debt that is holding us back.

Kate, talking to my bank manager today and he was still going on a bout cost increases. So I think we were better off before we went ballistic on production, barns require 'cut and carry' , tractors mixers etc, and it's expensive.

Twenty years ago when I went to field days, farmer of the year discussion groups it was all about Techno Systems, cell grazing cattle, more cropping, intensification or converting to dairy.

Lately its been a farmer from Marlborough called Doug Avery and the talk is of depression and farmer suicides. Somehow I wonder if theres causal link.

We are talking here about hybrid systems - grazing farms where we get the cows off the paddocks when they need to be off the paddocks. On most farms, the supplementary feeding is for those periods of the year when the grass growth is inadequate. Less cows and less inputs sounds like the old systems of the past which were also low production both per hectare and per cow. Those systems also led to lots of leaching but it is only recently that we became much better aware of what was occurring..But I do agree: implementing systems with less cows but compensating higher production per cow can bring about lower leaching. The Lincoln University Dairy Farm is one such example of this. But it can only be a partial solution. Part of the reason it works so well at Lincoln is that irrigation makes the grass growth very reliable, and deficits can be predicted and therefore managed. Also, off-farm wintering to runoffs exports much of the problem to somewhere else. But the bottom line is that throughout New Zaland there is no overall solution to the leaching without getting cows off-paddock for much of winter. And there lies the challenge.
As for that 'lower cost country', do you have a country in mind?

Just another step closer to year round intensive battery dairy farming. What are they likely to be fed on as well? PKE? Forget it, the world is trying to reduce the use of palm products so that a few other species can have somewhere to live.

Where do we end up? There are free stalls barns going into tropical SE Asia with a fraction of the labour cost and the ability to crop maize 3x per annum. Fair chance NZ dairy will go the same way as uber sustainable selective rimu heli logging - banned for green virtue signalling only to be replaced by clear felled third world hardwoods.

Imported SE Asian milk. Yum. But at least we won't have filthy rivers.

"Up to 95 per cent of plastic polluting the world's oceans pours in from just ten rivers, according to new research.

The top 10 rivers - eight of which are in Asia - accounted for so much plastic because of the mismanagement of waste."

What happens when you take all the farm animals out of the US on a GHG basis? Not much really - especially given the scale of feedlots in the US. Fracking and subsequent conversion from gas to coal for power generation has had a far greater effect on GHG emission there.

"US agriculture was modeled to determine impacts of removing farmed animals on food supply adequacy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The modeled system without animals increased total food production (23%), altered foods available for domestic consumption, and decreased agricultural US GHGs (28%), but only reduced total US GHG by 2.6 percentage units.

Compared with systems with animals, diets formulated for the US population in the plants-only systems had greater excess of dietary energy and resulted in a greater number of deficiencies in essential nutrients. The results give insights into why decisions on modifications to agricultural systems must be made based on a description of direct and indirect effects of change and on a dietary, rather than an individual nutrient, basis."

"However, I do accept that in a heavily indebted industry, where the debt has been structured around assumptions of ongoing capital gain, that many farmers lack the headroom for capital investments. This is where Government will need to come in with concessionary finance for sustainability investment, funded perhaps at their own cost of borrowing."
So basically your quite happy for the Government to subsidise/remove the risk associated with gambling on capital gain return only.
So long as we reward this behaviour we will continue to get squewd market signals and some will be required to keep others afloat. Let em sink and stop the lunacy.
Otherwise a good article and I'm certainly warming to the barn idea it's really just another step in improving what we do and we must take steps continuously.

Totally agree

There are many who would share your perspective of 'Let em sink'. But that is not going to solve our dairy sustainability issues. I put forward the notion that concessional finance at the Government's cost of borrowing could be a way forward. The banks would need to on-lend it at that rate. The real addititional transaction costs for their existing clients would be very low, and it would be in the interests of the banks to provide these services. The cost to society would be close to zero as long as the concessional rate was indeed the Government's borrowing rate. And there would be both sustainability and economic activity benefits to society as a whole. But will all of this actually happen? Probably not. And in that case will we solve the sustainabiitiy issues? Also probably not.

Surely low interest rates are the essential cause of the high farm prices and high debt levels. Lowering interest rates just pulls the cap rate down so a given cash flow has a greater capital value.

I recently went to a OAD discussion group. Perhaps as Andrew and Kate suggested above that is more the road to sustainability than adding more debt and infrastructure. Certainly this property went from a hard stressful headache inducing place to a sustainable manageable plea sent environment where the owners now have time to take fencing and planting of sensitive areas a few steps farther than Fonterra envisage. The cows and pastures looked a picture and other than the nitrogen leaching aspect which I simply don't know it covers the areas you talked about.

The farms don't go away... Allowing the "creative destruction" process of capitalism is the best way to clean out and recapitalize the industry.... recapitalise downwards to a sustainable level.
I know that sounds very ...very harsh.

Ultra cheap loans...etc...etc... will only capitalize into existing land values , and we will go down the road toward a , kinda, zombie farming economy. ( lessons of Japan )
Just look around and see what ultra low interest rates have done...??? Did everyone pay down debt..??
No... everyone borrowed and bought.

My father was a farmer.. part of his philosophy of "sustainability" was paying down debt, and allowing for the ups and downs of mother nature, by understocking his farm... just a little.
he came from Holland.... so appreciated the year round nature of NZ pastoral farming.
he never bought into the idea of intensive capital investment to get that marginal cost of production.

Good article Keith.

Sounds like the catch phrase is going to be perception.

Welll not only could we promote all milk free of the A1 protein at a later date, but also that's its free of Glyphosate as GE modified Soy plants are sprayed with it to control competition (I can't wait until people start telling that to vegans at dinner parties or over the office water cooler)

For decades we have been told our low cost advantage has been eroding. Perhaps it has already, when total farm debt servicing is added. It seems logical that our advantage has to come from perception (such as non GE, A2, TB free, traceability , QA systems, environmentally compatibility, and cows having a low stress life that resembles buyers perceptions, not necessarily the realities of permanent outdoor non factory farming.

I find it interesting that there is still a strong anti PKE opinion out there, even when amounts fed on a per cow basis will be dropping. Critics have obiviously not been in the situation of nil or close to nil grass growth and cows losing weight every day, with up to 4 months of the season to go. There was a time when there was no feed such as PKE to ease the stress on both cows and farmers. In such situations lower stocking rates only give a few extra days until you hit such a point.

It was only in the 1990's that the Otago Regional Council surveyed all the soils in our area in terms of seeing how suitable they were to irrigate. Ironically, the best soils identified (Paparoa) are now not only in dairying but also a in a special zone where nitrates are limited to just 20kgN/ha/yr. There was no idea back then in the 1990's about the science of N leeching., so in relative terms it's a new concept to grasp and identify suitable ways to mitigate. We had such high hopes for EcoN, the nitrate inhibitor.

Great to hear Glyphosate free mentioned, it seems to be a massive health issue that is just coming to light.

The impression is it causes harm in many ways and is potentially a carcinogen (if you kill the test mice at 6 weeks you find nothing, just don't follow them for 2 years). Not only that, it is a potent anti-bacterial agent that may be responsible for widespread degredation of gut bacteria, leading to population wide leaky gut syndrome which overwhelms the immune system and is the hidden enabler of many modern ill health issues (diabetes, cancer and a huge list where the immune system has been unable to cope). Recently there has even been the suggestion that it is implicated in encouraging resistance to antibiotics.

As the science develops this could be another tobacco industry type expose, only one that affects everyone on the planet. Or it might be a false alarm, but that seems unlikely at this stage.

Perhaps might do some coverage of the issue sometime, it is a major story developing. A random search threw up this;

A worrying three-quarters of the German population have in fact been contaminated by the controversial herbicide, according to a study carried out by the Heinrich Böll Foundation. The report analysed glyphosate residue in urine and it concluded that 75% of the target group displayed levels that were five times higher than the legal limit of drinking water. A third of the population even showed levels that were between ten and 42 times higher than what is normally permissible.

Yes glyphosate use is a real concern. I hear that it is now being sprayed on both wheat and potato crops to achieve an even ripening. I also hear that is sprayed on silage crops prior to harvesting as it improves the energy content of the silage or some such. Its seems that it is all through the food chain these days. No just being used for weed control anymore. Apparently the spraying of wheat and potato crops has been industry lead and MPI weren't even aware of it. A bit scary being that they are in charge of food safety and all.

Many people have no idea what goes into/onto their food. But they want it perfect and cheap.
Using glysophate to achieve even ripening has been going on for years if not decades. I am aware of it used on silage where the paddock is going to be regrassed etc. Spray it, 4 days later cut it, make your silage/balage and as the grass has taken up the glysophate it kills off residual an then you dig it under etc. It increases dry matter. However, I personally don't know anyone that does it. Hard to imagine no one in MPI knew about it but as you said.....

Roger perhaps read a bit more widely. Glyphosate is latest in the watermelons endless stream of impending doom. Gotta keep that green scare lobby industry ticking over. “One effect of the changes to the draft, reviewed by Reuters in a comparison with the published report, was the removal of multiple scientists’ conclusions that their studies had found no link between glyphosate and cancer in laboratory animals.

In one instance, a fresh statistical analysis was inserted - effectively reversing the original finding of a study being reviewed by IARC.

In another, a sentence in the draft referenced a pathology report ordered by experts at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It noted the report “firmly” and “unanimously” agreed that the “compound” – glyphosate – had not caused abnormal growths in the mice being studied. In the final published IARC monograph, this sentence had been deleted.

Reuters found 10 significant changes that were made between the draft chapter on animal studies and the published version of IARC’s glyphosate assessment. In each case, a negative conclusion about glyphosate leading to tumors was either deleted or replaced with a neutral or positive one. Reuters was unable to determine who made the changes.”

Facts just aren't what they used to be are they? It seems to be that a fact is merely a consensus point these days, entirely dependent on the observers' designation, perhaps that has always been the case.

The case Reuters highlights is agenda driven fraud perpetrated by a UN agency. The term consensus is only pulled out when the evidence is weak or there are known flaws in the theory. In this case fraud was resorted to to push the big green agenda.

Expect a lot more tech answers.
Nothing wrong with treating the stock like stud livestock. So things will get intensive like that.

Imagine no transfer of stock to other properties, and a full wash down on entry & exit of the dairy! young stock/wintering & the nature of share milking has changed.
Working conditions should be better.

Its not just debt, but some deep commercial agreements and enterprises have interests in seeing no change.

No OIO, I don't see foreign investors saving the day either!

Keith what is your opinion of sheep milk farming? Would that be a sustainable option for some farmers? Should NZ be investing more research, genetics, breeding etc into this option?


As one of these urban dwellers,perhaps I could join the coversation. I have only ever been on a handful of farms in my lifetime-mostly in Scotland and here in retirement for the last 15 years.I would put myself in the sceptical,rather than the actively hostile camp.
I don't understand the model. Surely,any business built not on an acceptable return on capital,but on an expectation of continuing capital gains,has a serious long-term viability issue? What other business operates on this basis?
NZ is an increasingly urban society and the city/country divide will grow,making it ever harder for farmers to put over their case. Even Fonterra now acknowledges that public trust has been severely eroded and that "their social licence to operate is under serious threat".
I think the risk from synthetic protein is likely to be more serious than is currently acknowledged. As you will know,Impossible Foods has just completed a US$75m capital raising and there are other companies in this market. Rabobank has just issued a report on this.
I don't foresee the death of the industry,but I have little doubt that the dairy herd will have to shrink. Climate change will play a part in this.I assume that the number of small family operations will continue to shrink and that where conditions allow,more land will move to other types of production.

Keith - the enviromental issues facing dairy here don't seem to be as much of an issue in some other countries. For example I was recently in Tasmania in Oz and when I spoke to some farmers there they were horrified at some of the stories coming out of NZ. Things like fencing off waterways, daily media going off at unhealthy rivers and the like were unheard of yet when you look at their farms they were the typical shitholes that townies always see.
Why the difference in environmental attention especially as Australia has always seemed to be world leaders in caring for the environment.

Yes, I'd like to see NZ dairy farming's environmental performance benchmarked against international standards for comparison.

The media would never report it Doris ;-)

I remember hearing Andrew Hoggard speaking after the World Dairy Conference last year. He said the Dutch farmers were very familiar with the narrative of NZ farmers as environmental terrorists, and were surprised how far along the path of environmental regulation and mitigation we were in NZ.

Keith - you are overlooking the fact any "sustainable" system and a system based around debt growth (ie a capitalist system) can not coexist. Its really quite simple. (even ignoring the obvious fact that all industrial ag relies on non sustainable fossil fuel inputs ....)
(Consumer) DEBT across the board hides the true cost of production of all commodities - including Milk... the debt system requires growth while the natural system has clear limits. If there is any fall in NEW debt uptake, commodity prices fall ...
As the debt system hits natures limits, interest rates trend to zero to allow fake growth ... to keep commodities viable. But its only a temporary fix.

I think you may be being a bit too reductionist there. Yes, I completely agree that the current system of financialism is seriously flawed, based as it appears to be on the twin pillars of ever expanding debt and what looks suspiciously like an ever war policy. However, isn't the whole essence of democracy basically an evolving process of continual adaptation to the issues of the times? To me a democratic society consists of a fluid competition between different interest groups, constantly adapting to the excesses and problems of the times.

The distinction between a democratic society with it's chaotic processes of adaptation and the state sponsored deadness of a non democratic state is extreme. Witness the explosion of joy in Zimbabwe at the prospect of escaping from a murderous regime.

I was really making the point that the debt load is baked into the industrial Ag cake ... and the debt system only does forward ... whereas we actually need a retreat in terms of our environmental footprint. The two are incompatible. The debt demands have well overshot any sense of sustainable, populations have overshot any sense of sustainable etc...
Capitalism is (or has been) the most efficient system of leveraging resources and it has historically adapted ... but ALWAYS with a growth requirement. It gives no regard to eco limits. The economy (and therefore resource use) must grow.

Re democracy, Democracy is purely a luxury of times of surplus ... as resource shortages rear their head, democracy will be consigned to the dustbin.

But, but, but, I thought Darwin said that the adaptable are more likely to survive...

Large supply vs weak demand

Reinz underlined that there were “a large number of dairy farms on the market in Waikato and Southland in particular, reasonable stocks in Northland”.

However, enquiry levels had been “poor”, and actual sales “low” at “five sold in October throughout New Zealand”.

The month had seen “one very strong sale” made at a price of close to NZ$70,000 per hectare in Waikato, with three sales at “lower to modest levels” in Southland.

There was “no recordable activity in the other main dairy areas of Taranaki, Manawatu and Canterbury”.