I let you see the parts of me that weren’t that pretty. (Pink, 2012)
I could take great photos and talk to you about the parts of farming that are sexy and beautiful. Because so much of what we do is sexy, beautiful, and very real – raising content and healthy animals, beautiful streams and forests, sunrises and sunsets, and kids growing up connected to the land and how their food is produced.
But I can’t do that, because that would be a bit…. bullshit. We can’t just focus on what’s so great about farming without acknowledging what’s not.
So what’s not amazing at the moment on farm?
We are currently in a drought. It’s the tale end of drought – we had some nice showers yesterday, and the forecast is for more to come. This will be some much needed moisture to get the pasture growing again, before the soil becomes too cold, and growth will once again slow, then stop.
But right now it sucks. It sucks because
a) The grass stopped growing months ago. And what had grown quickly sizzled up in the heat. Buying in feed – whether hay or silage or grain from other farms is always an option, but quickly becomes unprofitable. Selling as much as possible is also an option – but it’s you phoning the stock agent along with everyone else.
b) Water. Streams, damns and aquifers that farmers pump water out of to fill up their water troughs have dried up. Not all farms, some farms have excellent water supply. But water is perhaps that hardest part about being in a drought. For us, our infrastructure (the water system of pipes that takes water around our farm) is old and needing a significant investment (just like lots of our local government Councils!), and in the heat of the summer, it’s pulling apart at joins, it’s cracking and breaking. When you hear of a farmer talking about ‘chasing water’ – this is what they are fixing. Once you are losing water from a broken pipe, it becomes a domino effect to try and get the system up and running again.
I think this is a great example of why moving agricultural farms to horticultural farms is not simple, nor effective (on top of soil and contour issues). An avocado tree requires more 6 x more water a day than a sheep does.
c) Its stressful. Our strategy here has been to consistently make decisions about what we can do to reduce the impact on our animals, our business, and ourselves. What we didn’t realise until just recently was that we hadn’t done enough to reduce the impact on our family. Like many family businesses, the conversations around work don’t always start at 8am and end at 5pm, and we have become much more aware that we need to draw a line and stop talking about work, particularly the stressful parts, and focus on our kids and each other.
Funnily enough, our bank balance is healthy during a drought – we’ve sold more lambs and cattle than we would normally in a non-drought year, and we haven’t bought any more animals in return. Where the financial impacts of a drought hit hard is in the coming months – having less stock numbers on, trying to restock our farms when the market is climbing, and prices are high. That’s why farmers get frustrated when the government announces relief packages to drought affected regions, and people think its some kind of handout. Its not – for the most part, it gets some funding to non-profits such as the Rural Support Trust, so that they can get support and counselling to farmers that are struggling – help them make decisions and sometimes, to stop them topping themselves. So I always wish the ‘why should farmers get a handout’ guys would shut. the. hell. up.
The biggest opportunity during an adverse event such as a drought is to reflect on the experience, and think about what we can do to make us more resilient going forward. Dan and I are pleased with some of the early decisions we made, and feel that we are pretty pragmatic and resilient to the stresses of adverse events like this, but we recognise that we need some major investment in our water infrastructure – more dams to collect the excess water in wet winters, a new system to distribute water around our farm.
Its started raining again while I’ve been writing this. So I guess I’ll have some sexy, beautiful farming photos to post again shortly 🙂
So, it would be one thing to just post all the pretty pictures of farming. Spiderwebs on a sunny frosty winter morning. A purple sunset over the hay paddock. A set of happy healthy quadruplit romney lambs (incidentally, there’s not much cuter). I promise to take lots of these pictures this year – there is much gorgeousness in farming.
But what would be the point in only talking about the good bits? I can’t help but think that if food producers want to bring consumers closer to their food, then its time we share more about our farming lives – the good, the bad, and sadly sometimes, the ugly.
We’ve got rye-grass staggers in a mob of weaner bull calves at the moment. These are young bulls, about 6 months old. The drought has resulted an endophyte fungus at the base of our pasture which basically poisons young stock. It’s causing our cattle to stagger – they have lost co-ordination, and easily fall over. Its horrible, and you don’t want to go near them in case they feel under pressure – you definitely don’t want to try and move them into another paddock. And we’ve had two die 😦 . It sucks alot.
So what do we do? We have bought in some grain meal for them for a couple of weeks, and are feeding hay as roughage. Its not our ideal, we like to run a grass (pasture) only system. However animal health is more important, and a concentrated feed, alongside not trying to move them, is the best thing we can do for them right now, and doesn’t make me think our farm is any less pasture based than what we were last week. Maybe a bit like a family that tries to avoid junk food as much as possible, but then has a week where they end up with takeways twice – it’s ok.
Our kids are home from school due to the COVID-19 rahui. And our 14 year old in particular is relishing in the opportunty to make himself an indespensible part of our team. So far, we have a quad bike trailer rebuilt, and old motorbike being put back together, and a heap of loose fencing tightened and repaired. A win for everybody so far, but I’ve no idea how I’m going to get him to the kitchen table for 9am online schooling in two weeks time.
We have been saturated with Covid-19 this week. And how could that be anything less? My thoughts are with everybody who is experiencing hardship and anxiety.
My thoughts are with those who have lost their jobs. With the solo parents navigating sourcing food and keeping their children safe. For the essential workers still keeping on in the face of some very scary scenarios. For the children whos one safe place was school. And that safe place has been taken away from them.
(My thoughts are not with twats that have so far been unable to stay home for even a few days, or the people annoyed they can’t buy online and continue their addiction to consuming crap they don’t need – what a great time to get that sorted!).
There’s so much I can’t fix right now, beyond looking after my family, and helping out people in our communities that will struggle in the coming weeks and months.
As our farmwork continues through the end of this drought (hopefully!) and our preparations for winter, I think we’ll give GrassFed in the City a bit of a reboot. There’s not a lot of other news going at the moment – so maybe its an opportunity to catch up with non-farmers, and talk about what we do on farm, and why we do it.
Stay calm. Stay kind. Stay safe.
So, yesterday we had our first trolling. A vegan activist chased me around the internet for the afternoon, making uninvited and aggressive comments on a couple of pages she discovered that I follow.
I am a member of a small and interesting facebook group of farmers and vegans (Australian based). It is full of robust discussion, mis-information correcting (on both sides of the animal debate), and the occasional awfulness when someone forgets that farmers are people too – and are just as compassionate and environmentally aware as anyone else.
I am a member of that page, not because I want to persuade a vegan activist to start eating meat, but because if there is someone in that group that is feeling conflicted – maybe they’ve stopped eating meat and their health has declined, or they’ve been hanging out with activists and not finding it a very nice environment to be in – that they have an exposure to farmers through the page and can see that they actually have far more in common with food growers than what they realise – whether that’s around the health of their family, the impacts of growing food on the environment, or contributing positively to society.
So if there’s any other activists lurking here that would like to have a go at me, I’d like to remind you of a couple of things:
1) Have a look at the below picture. You may see a young woman, or an old woman. Whichever you see, you are right. It’s a gentle reminder that we can both be looking at the same set of information, yet see two different pictures. Never invalidate someone else’s perspective – they may be just as right as you are 🙂
2) Farmers are people who grow food. Like teaching, or care-giving, or policing, its not a path to riches, but when things are going well, it is a fulfilling vocation where you feel you are making a difference. Often farmers grow animals as well as vegetables or fruit, and are well versed as to how both play an important part in our food systems and food security
3) There are three key components to choosing whether animal protein has a place in your diet or not – nutritional benefits, environmental impact, and personal ethics. There is science that supports both the inclusion and exclusion of animal protein, and we can always find science that supports our individual biases. Getting into lengthy ‘link trading’ is fruitless (excuse the pun). Talking about what works for you, is fine.
And always remember – its easy to be nasty when you are sitting behind a keyboard – but that’s not what the world needs more of. ✌🏾👍🏼❤️🥰
What’s in YOUR trolley?
I often get asked if I am concerned about studies linking high consumption of red meat with diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
Nup. Not at all.
From memory, 5 out of 30,000 vegetarians will get bowel cancer. 6 out of 30,000 meat eaters will get bowel cancer.
I’m pretty confident that its not the vegetables or the meat in our grocery trolleys causing dietary related disease, its the other crap – if you consume soft drinks, takeaways, muesli bars, or ‘healthy’ sweetened yogurt, I don’t think that its meat you should be considering leaving out of your diet.
Hands down, red meat is one of the most nutritionally dense, bang for buck foods you can get.
That said, as a farmer, I’m not the right person to offer dietary advice! There’s plenty of crazy-good dietitians and nutritionists in NZ that do just that. Scientists like Professor Grant Schofield, Dr Caryn Zinn, Mikki Williden, Cliff Harvey (both PHDs too, I just never hear them call themselves Dr…), who publically review the multitude of research papers that are published every year. If you aren’t following these guys on social media, you should.
The latest research is the result of several systematic reviews by an independant panel of scientists that found that there is a “low to very low” certainy of evidence to suggest any negative health outcomes assocaited with meat consumption. The group recommends continuing rather than reducing consumption of meat.
(Full report attached)
Go forth and be NUTRIVORES good people.
Dani Darke is a King Country Farmer and Writer is recently had the following article published in Country-Wide (re-published with permission from Dani).
One Billion Trees – the end of the sheep and beef industry as we know it? Or the opportunity to transform our farms for the future?
I don’t think there is currently any bigger issue facing our industry. The ‘One Billion Trees’ (1BT) fund has collided with global demand for carbon stores to offset the burning of fossil fuels, and the harsh reality of what it means for rural communities is now starting to show.
At one end of the scale the 1BT fund has the likes of you and I planting up a steeper paddock, riparian areas, perhaps 15% of the farm to offset methane emissions. At other end is the large-scale buy up of productive farm land solely to plant trees. Since November 2018, 48% of farm sales on the East Coast have been to forestry. In Gisborne alone ~3,000ha; Wairoa ~10,000ha; The King Country ~4,000ha and Masterton ~100,000 SU have been replaced by trees. Many of these sales are going to international buyers who apply to the OIO under the ‘special forestry test’ where applicants are not required to show a benefit in relation to jobs. Locally Air New Zealand and others recently created an investment company Dryland Carbon, to buy land and grow forests.
It’s worth noting that New Zealand is one of the few developed countries allowing emissions to be offset by forestry. Most others (including the EU) deliberately decided not to go down this route as they foresaw major companies planting huge swaths of land and not addressing the core issue i.e. their C02 emissions. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the environment Simon Upton, modelled our current policies and predicts 5.4m ha of grassland will need to be planted by 2075 to offset New Zealand’s GHG emissions i.e. almost half the North Island. There is only 5.3m ha of non-dairy grassland in the country, so if current draconian policy goes ahead that is the end of sheep and beef farming in NZ.
The idea is this: in order to reduce warming, emissions are capped as per Kyoto/Paris agreements, then markets (i.e. the ETS) are used to allocate emission ‘credits’ among the emitters. Ideally market forces drive industry in the direction of less carbon intensive approaches. If you’re a textile or a steel producer, do you invest significant amounts of money into high-tech, low emissions solutions? Do you wait and see where the carbon price levels out and trade away your carbon liability? Or do you use your capital to buy land and plant trees like Air NZ? Incredibly only the first option actually reduces warming.
What is the effect of this afforestation? What happens when this land is tied up in a jobless, cash dead zone of trees for 30 years, and no longer daily exporting meat + wool? Carbon credits will be traded – but what if the owner of the forest is an offshore investment fund? The money won’t be circling around our rural towns, and bolstering school rolls. Technology will develop to reduce emissions but, in the meantime, what has happened to our rural communities? There is no appeal in a country full of trees, no life, no communities, no buzz of variety that a diverse landscape brings.
As farmers we need to work now to protect our industry. Halting climate change means regulating the transport and energy industries, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. We need to lobby the government to adopt the conclusions of the Upton report, particularly his call to stop CO2 emitters off-setting with trees. Let’s plant our less productive land, but make sure those carbon credits are used for essential things that we will still need in a zero carbon world, like fuel for an air ambulance.
It is imperative and only fair that trees grown on farmers properties are used to offset their own methane emissions. Maybe in the future the family farm looks like a 400ha block with 15% in manuka for honey and carbon credits, 20% in pines for carbon credits and logs, and 65% of your best land growing premium lamb + beef, with those emissions offset by the forestry. Creating a mosaic of land use where farming fits the land, our farms will grow and transform into sustainable profitable enterprises, with strong capital value. A diverse mix of uses provides multi employment opportunities which support vibrant communities – jobs that are available every day not just on a 30 year rotation. If we can make this work we can build resilience into our communities, and our connection to the land won’t be lost.
I urge you to sit up and take notice of this, we need to understand the value proposition, so if someone rocks up the drive in a shiny suit wanting to steal your farm to offset, you can tell them with confidence to ‘bugger off’ unless they have plenty and plenty of $$$.