GrassFed in the city

Modern Farm Girls talking Food, Family, and Farming in New Zealand

Living on fresh air.

November 7, 2018


When I read “The price of meat” in our local paper the other week, I wondered about dignifying it with response.  Sometimes, you are better to ignore nonsense, and concentrate on what you do, and doing it well.  However, I find I sleep better once I said what needs to be said.

Those of you that know me will notice the lack of swearing and general grumpiness in my response – I was writing for a newspaper audience and didn’t want to offend anyone.  I’d also have liked to put in links to different research but I had a word (and time) limit.

But this is what is important:

There is a small but fervent group of people that want to see the end of farming animals, and they certainly won’t let facts get in the way of their mission, nor do they stop to fully comprehend the implications to our health, the environment, our communities, and our economy.  Its important to consistently point out when their facts and messages are wrong.

 

Christine Rose article

 

 

I should be finishing my end of year accounts, getting ready for shearing, and grubbing thistles, however Chrstine Rose’s column (31st October) warrants rebuff.

As a politician, Christine should well know that pasture based farming in New Zealand simply doesn’t align with overseas reports based on completely different production systems.

All food has environmental impact, so unless you can live on fresh air, what you eat will affect something, somewhere.  Currently in NZ we are transitioning from the most profitable use of land, into a model where we better match land capability with growing the right food on it (and make a profit).  Climate change, water, biodiversity and soil is important to us and our customers, and it’s an exciting time to be in the food sector.

If Christine was truly worried about the environment, she would have mentioned the overwhelming environmental impact of rice, whose methane production is over 10% of agricultural emissions and comes with a host of other impacts, and the almond industry in California, which has devastated the water quality in that State.  Instead, she focuses on meat, and not even how we produce meat in NZ. 

NZ beef and lamb greenhouse gas emissions have reduced by 30% since 1990, whilst still producing the same amount of meat, and doubling its export value.  That’s something she could have mentioned in her column.

Our pasture-based production systems mean that almost no other country in the world can produce meat with such a low energy footprint.  Even taking into account shipping, the footprint of producing lamb in NZ and sending it to the UK is less than the footprint of producing that lamb in Britain.  She could have mentioned that too!

NZ’s actual greenhouse emissions are tiny compared to most nations.

Global_emissions_by_country_1990-2008 Greenhouse Gas

 

The information in the study Christine refers to, ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow’ was retracted by the scientists that wrote it, when they realised that they had miscalculated and underestimated transport’s contribution to greenhouse gases.  Energy remains the biggest threat to limiting climate change, yet our super power countries seem unwilling to solve it.

Christine also applauds vegetarians and vegans for reducing the suffering of animals.  My sheep and cattle have a great life with all their health and well-being needs met, as they do on my neighbours.  Better than the health and wellbeing of many humans, and certainly better than the life and death of a wild animal.  Don’t forget that hundreds of thousands of mice, frogs, rabbits, and other animals die to produce your veges, fruit, and bread too.  Food production results in death.  By all means, go and reduce the suffering of wild animals, however, I’ve got mine sorted, thanks.

And if its health that Christine was most worried about, then getting rid of the processed crap (including processed meat) in your diet and amping up your vegetables is where it’s at.  Quality animal protein on top of a plate full of fresh vegetables – fantastic for your energy levels and your mental health.

The sheep and beef farmers that I work with are certainly focused on a sector that produces protein that is good for the environment, good for the animals, and good for you.

Nicky

 

 

When I was growing up, Greenpeace were my hero. The name Rainbow Warrior puffed out my chest with pride – they stood up to those big nasty nuclear nations and paid an awful price. It was David vs Goliath. Greenpeace stood up for the planet, and by proxy, a young, enchanted me.

But somewhere along the line Greenpeace has changed. The heavy sales tactics criticised in the media a couple of weeks ago were yet another symptom that this organisation is personal agenda driven, fundraising driven, and certainly an organisation that won’t let all the facts get in the way of more easily digested hashtags.

I always feel reluctant to weigh into the #toomanycows debate. I’m not a dairy farmer, I’m not a fresh water, soil, bio-diversity or carbon scientist. But I do care about fairness and balance of perspective. I am the one that will gently but firmly explain to someone why its not weird at all for a man to marry another man, and why even though girls can do everything, they still don’t have equality on so many levels. So this is why I feel aggrieved on behalf of dairy farmers that Greenpeace seems to care far more about building their financial support base than about outcomes. And that they care more that every ‘win’ for the environment must be accredited to Greenpeace’s hard work, as opposed to what the win actually means for the environment. It’s bullshit.

My gut feel on dairy farming? I think we are probably milking cows in places and on soils where we shouldn’t. I think we have converted sheep and beef farms to dairy that have come at too higher an environmental cost. But the dairy sector and government (local and central) realise this too. The fix to this though is complex and will take time, and involves so many more factors than Greenpeace seems to have the ability to grasp, or even acknowledge that the dairy sector and government is really well onto it.

‘Peak Cow’ has been and gone. If we see many more dairy farms in New Zealand, it will be in the low double digits, single digits even. Greenpeace knows this, yet is still campaigning in a way that once the media picks up on the dairy trends, they’ll really want people to think it was all down to their anti-dairy campaigning. Yay for you Greenpeace, you guys take all the credit….

What got me first with Greenpeace was posts slating farming about an algal bloom at lake Taupo, only a matter of months after they had stood up at the Beef and Lamb New Zealand conference and saluted farmers in the Lake Taupo water catchment for their early leadership (which dates back decades) on water quality and protecting our biggest lake. And then this week it was Greenpeaces’ response to the Government’s Budget – not focussing on the positive environmental initiatives coming out of it, for DOC, for freshwater, for bio-diversity. But focussed on the fact that the Government had not brought agriculture into the emissions trading scheme. “Still subsidising agriculture to the tune of $800 million” the headline cried. What’s the shorthand for what I felt – FFS.

Let’s start with the basics. Any country’s government is one big subsidy anyway. We subsidise our sick, our elderly, our children, our endangered birds, our poor, our book-readers, our artists, our drivers – everyone in effect, through our taxation system. Through a set of complex mechanisms, we decide what is a public good, what is a private good, what share of what we collectively pay for, and what percentage of costs do we want individuals to bear. We are all subsidised, whether we like it or not. This is great, I want to live in a society where we recognise the public good in healthy, educated, productive communities.

Off track here, but in England, the generous subsidies that food producers receive result from the government decision that protection of farmer’s land from development, and enhancement of bo-diversity, soil and water is a PUBLIC benefit, and that farmers simply could not be profitable if they had to bear the full weight of improving the natural environment on their farmland. In fact, Greenpeace shared an article about this last year, which begs the question – does Greenpeace agree with the subsidies in Great Britain, or not?

Because it seems to disgust Greenpeace that, because we have’t quite been able to work out how to best measure the net carbon footprint of our farmers (will we count the carbon sequestered in our shelter belts? in our native bush? in our soils?), we haven’t YET incorporated agriculture into the carbon emissions scheme.

Agriculture will be incorporated. The government knows this, farmers know this, Greenpeace knows this too. They just don’t say, because it doesn’t fit with their campaign. We just need to work out the best way to do it. Together.

My own personal experience with Greenpeace has been a discussion with one of the anti-dairy campaign team. She was lovely and cheerful, but unapologetic that the anti-dairy campaign would continue until dairy in NZ was knocked flat, and that sheep and beef would be the next target. She was unapologetic that families and communities could be devastated in the process, and unconcerned about the ‘truthfullnesss’ of any campaign tactics they would use in the process. Success was not outcome based. The success of the campaign was NOT based on improved water quality, it was NOT based on better soil, or bio-diversity. The success of the campaign was down to getting rid of cows.

So a number of ‘why farmers suck’ posts this week from Greenpeace, but guess what they didn’t post?

Beef and Lamb New Zealand released their Environment Strategy and Implementation plan. A clear, concise, positive document focussing on what matters – Our water, our soil, our bio-diversity and our net carbon emissions. The plan was clear, and started with understanding environmental outcomes on individual New Zealand sheep and beef farms and tailoring better environmental outcomes from there. Because no farms’ output is the same. For example, on our farm, our water quality is great, so perhaps our first focus should be on initiatives that enhance bio-diversity?

Did Greenpeace celebrate the release of this strategy? No! Any mention? No! And I can’t help but this that if they do acknowledge it, it will have a crappy little ‘but’ (unless they read this and try and double down on me).

#toomanycows may be a simple, sexy little catch-phrase that is easy for Greenpeace to sell. But it’s important to remember that hashtags don’t alway tell the complexity of facts. Remember, it can be far harder to explain a complex truth than tell a simple lie.

So let’s just put positivity, perspective and working together ahead of garnering donations and ‘likes’. Greenpeace, be my hero once again.

Do you think that by eating less NZ red meat you are doing the environment a favour?

You’re. So. Wrong.

You are not doing the environment a favour by eating almonds, or eating rice. The greenhouse gases resulting from the production of rice are huge (greater than that of grassfed sheep and beef), and in California (where 80% of the world’s almonds are grown), water quality is pretty crappy.

So you lovely, healthy, ‘informed’ eaters – Don’t stop buying meat. Buy better meat.

Don’t read studies that use statistics from countries that farm in a completely different way to how we do in NZ. Don’t fall for pretty, sexy, infographics on Facebook that miss out or ignore really important science. And don’t be holier than thou lecturing someone about meat as you buy another coffee, book a plane ticket, and check texts on your unsustainably manufactured cellphone.

Talk to farmers instead (like me and Clare 😁), tell them what you want to know about growing meat in New Zealand. We REALLY care what you think.

Natural environments around the world are declining – because we eat, because we wear clothes, because we buy phones, go on planes, because we live. All 6 or 7 billion of us (I lose count) are contributing to this decline. Some contribute more than others. Some are more able to mitigate their contribution. But not buying NZ grassfed meat? That’s a dichotomy – NZ sheep and beef farmers are exactly the kind of food producers that need your input, and your support. Don’t stop buying meat. Buy better meat.

Because, unless our farmers are making making a profit, there’s no money to fence off more bush, protect more streams, to do even more pest control on their farms. By ditching NZ grown meat for imported food, you are not doing a thing to improve environmental outcomes in New Zealand, you are really just shifting your impact out of sight.

Here in New Zealand, we know we can grow quality protein that is healthy for people and healthy for the environment. We’re not there yet, but some of the work to improve environmental impact has already been done 👏🏽 (though its pretty hard to get some people to acknowledge that), and some of that work is coming.

It’s like New Zealanders’ use of plastic – we’ve started the good work in reducing the environmental impact of plastic, but we all know within our households there’s plenty more ways we can reduce its presence.

I’ve just finished reading NZ Beef and Lamb’s Environment Strategy and Implementation Plan and its great – a fit for purpose plan for our farmers: cleaner water, a carbon neutral sector, thriving biodiversity and healthy soils. Thank you to BLNZ leadership for a firm direction that our farmers WILL be part of the solution, and not part of the problem.

Well, here we are, five days into the news that SHOCK HORROR, Prime Minister Jacinda Adern, a working NZ woman, is going to have a baby.

Is anyone actually, apart from the media, got their knickers in a twist? Didn’t think so.

Jacinda, I may not have voted for you, but when I heard your news I felt damn optimistic about living in a country that supports the self-determination of women right from the very top. That’s getting organisational culture right!

For 900 odd years, Kiwi girls in New Zealand have got on with the job of doing what they need to do. Our country won’t fall over while she’s on Maternity leave, and having a baby (for the most part!) doesn’t mean you lose your head, or are rendered incapable of thinking through decisions.

The men in my circle (strong, tough men) also took the news in their stride – “Not much different to you when you had your babies Nic” said one. But I won’t be the only modern farm girl that’s ended up out in a storm delivering lambs 4 weeks after delivering her own baby, or done the GST the day she gets home from the birthing unit (pretty much because I’m a disorganised twit). Many of us have stories of what we had to fit in alongside becoming a mother, amongst the tiredness and the tears. Because of course there will plenty of tiredness, and tears. But by God I do not doubt for a minute that Jacinda Adern is any less capable of combining motherhood and work than any other amazing New Zealand woman.

I know with certainty that I am a better person for being a mother, and I’m sure you will be too. Congratulations Jacinda.

Dear Alicia,

I’d like to start by saying that you are an icon of my generation. I could almost quote your performance in Clueless word for word.

However, I’d just like to point out that your recent endorsement of PETA in the ‘rather go naked than wear wool’ campaign is, in fact, reminiscent of the IQ level of Cher Horowitz.

Before you form your fingers into the classic W shape and mouth ‘Whatever’ please consider the following facts:

  • Synthetic materials and the production of them are causing major problems both socially and environmentally. Many ‘vegan-leathers’ don’t take the environment into account. Synthetic leather is usually made from PVC or polyurethane plastic (PU), both of which have been linked to carcinogenic substances. This puts the wearers and the makers of these fabrics at risk. Beyond the production line, even washing these fabrics can cause harm. When we wash synthetic materials they release plastic microfibres into the ocean, damaging marine habitats.
  • I’m not sure where PETA got the idea that shearers can punch sheep in the face but if you ever did punch a sheep in the face you wouldn’t be able to work for some time as your hand would be in a cast. A sheep’s skull is built like an armoured car – have you ever seen nature documentaries where rams are butting heads together?  So, I’m sure you will understand that our fragile human hand is no match.
  • Sheep need their wool removed for their wellbeing. Flies can lay eggs in their wool which turn into maggots and then a sheep can look like this. I think you would agree that this is cruel!
  • Admittedly sheep can get cut during shearing –it’s a bit like when you cut your legs shaving. No sheep I have ever seen has died from it.
  • Shearers are amazing! Do you know it takes them less than 2 minutes to shear a sheep?  (The world record is world record is 37.9 seconds).  I think you would agree I wouldn’t mind getting rid of body hair in that amount of time versus the hour long waxing sessions!
  • Just to end on a high note – you look fabulous and I’d probably go naked too if I were you but please just inform yourself a bit more before donating yourself to a cause – and not just sporadically.

    Regards,
    A female farmer and wool wearer.

It is always great catching up with friends and having friends stay on the farm.  My daughter Keelin loves showing visitors the dogs (her dogs), the sheep and cattle and her prized guinea pigs!  This autumn my husband and I hosted a long time friend from Canada and his Chinese partner.  We were also treated to a special visit from a hedgehog wrapped in a bow!  It must have got tangled up in some of the discarded Christmas wrappings but our Chinese visitor thought it might have been a present!  We told her that unfortunately it wasn’t and rescued the poor thing by cutting it off.

Coco (as we were told to call her because our kiwi tongues could in no way attempt to pronounce her real name) was delightful and open to trying new things and learning about other countries.  She also shared the good and the bad things about her home.  While she is very proud of her culture and history she remarked about food – she always checked if we had washed vegetables and fruit as in China it is dangerous to eat anything without washing it.  She also explained that they were used to not believing what they see is exactly what they are getting.  And that is not just with pre-packaged goods.  Even fruit that can look amazing does not have the nutrients or flavour of fruit that we may have as it is grown under lights and with heavy use of chemicals.

The global media has been in a spin and my other profession – communications has taken some hits as the Trump administration, by way of U.S. Counsellor, Kellyanne Conway’s Freudian slip, by use of the term alternative facts.

Unfortunately, alternative facts are rife in our food chain.

Vegetarian food producers are able to use dairy and meat terminology when selling products and the terms organic and sustainable are used without much policing around what they mean.  And don’t get me started on what the no sugar added phrasing can actually mean in reality.

Then there are counterfeit foods that claim to be something that they aren’t. More Manuka honey is actually sold in the UK and China than we actually export.

There is a discussion about brand protection and traceability that is being had and should be.  My concern as a farmer’s wife and a learner farmer myself is that this world of fakes and falsehoods is causing people to be afraid and treat all food producers with suspicion.  Documentaries such as Cowspiracy have directed this fear toward meat producers which has meant that sustainable grass fed farmers have been put in the same category as massive feed lot industrial meat producers.  Unfortunately, this mindset has spread to urban dwellers in New Zealand and has started an unhelpful and unhealthy attitude towards farming in New Zealand.

Nothing is perfect and can always be improved.  For things to improve however we all need to come to the table and have an open minded discussion – I hope that this blog is one forum for intelligent, informed and respectful conversation.

When I was five I met my Grandmother for the first time.

She was a strong, straight up and no nonsense woman and  I didn’t think she was like other grandmothers from what I had heard.

One day,  my parents were out and I was slightly nervous that I was in the house with her alone.  She called me into the kitchen and I reluctantly put the Barbies aside to go to her.  She was making apple pie.  She pulled up a chair and started to show me how to carefully roll out pastry.  She then showed me the circle we had made and pointed out where I lived (on this imaginary planet) and where she lived and how it was light on one side of the globe when it was dark on hers and how the seasons were different as the side of the circle moved farther away from the sun.

When I think of this moment years later, I think of the lesson I learnt that day about and through food—  it is more than just what we eat—  it is an opportunity to connect, learn and create.

It is this passion for creating that I see farmers put into growing their food every day.  As it is election season and it seems the rural and urban divide has been widened by our political parties I hope that we can connect and understand each other’s perspectives as it is our ability to produce food for our global family that is at risk.