New Zealand has just been through a parliamentary election and elections breed dichotomies like still water breeds mosquitoes. We saw the town/country, farmer/environmentalist, economic growth/environment dichotomies in play. If you are the champion of one side, dichotomous thinking encourages you to be the enemy of the other side.
One of the biggest issues was around water quality with the focus on dairy farming. Its clear that we have too many cows in many catchments. The negative impacts are outlined in this Greenpeace report. But does this mean we will see the slaughter of dairy cows as one politician wanting to fuel fear declared? (There is some irony in this, because all cows get slaughtered eventually – so the more you have, the more slaughter you get).
So can we break the dichotomy? Can we have fewer cows and still have profitable farms and a better environment? Part of the answer must lie in diversification.
Miraka is a Māori owned dairy processing business in the Mokai Valley in the central North Island. As a Māori business, principles of kaitiakitanga (guardians of the land) and tikanga guide the business. The factory is run on geothermal power and milk waste is processed through a giant worm farm. Miraka is one enterprise of the Tuaropaki Trust. In addition to dairying, the geothermal power is used to heat greenhouses and the trust has several other enterprises.
This September 2017 audio from Radio NZ features Kim Hill interviewing CEO Richard Wyeth.
Miraka has maintained good payouts to farmers and is driving up the value chain reducing the need for intensification. There is diversification in the parent trust, but individual dairy, horticulture and pastoral farming units appear to “stick to their knitting”, essentially monocultural.
Simply reducing stocking rates may not be the answer. The Lincoln University demonstration farm has managed to reduce nitrate leaching by 30% by reducing stocking numbers, but extracting more production from the remaining cows.
We are in the early days of exploring diversifying income streams from the land. Where are those farmers that work the land to optimise returns by nurturing the diverse niches that the land inevitably provides – the lean steeper country, the riparian margins, the manuka groves and the totara remnants? Farm foresters utilise steeper country for tree planting. Riparian plantings that protect waterways from sediment runoff and capture some nutrients also offer the opportunity for crop diversification – notably, bananas in some Northland sites. Manuka groves supply income from honey and support bee populations for important pollination work. The Northland Totara Working Group is promoting the sustainable management of the totara groves that pepper Northland farms. One benefit is timber production. Examples abound – but where are those that integrate options in a way that optimises the health of the land and its ability to produce sustainably?
Posts that follow this one will hopefully surface examples of farms exemplifying income diversification and kaitiakitanga. Congratulations to Miraka for pointing the way.