2019 – a very eventful year for agriculture and the environment is coming
Without a doubt, 2018 has been the year in which the ability of self-interest groups to bury the truth about deterioration in water quality and gaseous emissions was destroyed, and not before time.
Now at least we can have open and rational discussions about the root causes of these effects, and what can be done to minimise them, without just pinning all the responsibility to achieve this on New Zealand farmers.
As in any industry for that matter, there are a small proportion of farmers who do not take their ethical or environmental responsibilities seriously . As in other industries, the great majority care very much.
The uncaring minority must be heavily penalised for sure.But even more importantly, the caring majority must be given the tools to do the job they want to do. They must be given cost-effective innovative technologies and advice on how to manage nutrient losses, and they must be able to source fertiliser types that are far less susceptible to being lost to waterways than are the traditional superphosphate and granular urea.
This is why I made the decision to get back into the fertiliser importing and distribution business. From my assessment, all the existing independent companies were small, and operate in small areas of the country only. None were in a position to supply true RPR at competitive prices throughout the country. Perhaps most importantly, none have the knowledge and determination to face up to the duopoly over the massive issue of phosphate and N pollution from soluble fertilisers. They are not attacked by the ‘Big 2’ because they pose no threat to them; in fact their mere existence is used as a positive by the ‘Big 2’ to ‘prove’ to the Commerce Commission that there is competition in the fertiliser industry.
Quinfert, the fertiliser division of Quin Environmentals, has brought the first real change to the fertiliser industry since Sumitomo broke their promise to me and sold Summit-Quinphos to Ballance in 2008. Look where that went.But now, Quinfert is once again providing both RPR and blends of it with high-analysis soluble P (QSR) from one end of New Zealand to the other. And the extremely efficient ONEsystem (wetted, urease-inhibitor treated prilled urea) is now increasingly being recognised as being twice as effective as granular urea. Literally only half the quantity of N is needed, simply because the atrocious level of N losses to the environment from traditional granular urea are minimised. These initiatives haven’t made me very popular with the fertiliser industry, but nothing new there!
Many people say to me how crazy they think it is that the ‘Big 2’, who sell over 95% of the fertiliser used in New Zealand, and resist any significant innovation in fertiliser nutrient types, are actually cooperatives owned by the farmers themselves. They say ‘well farmers deserve the hassle they are getting when companies they own are, in the view of many, responsible for 80-90% of the environmental problems’.
While I can understand the frustration, it is a simplistic criticism. Farmers have their own businesses – their farms – to run. They cannot be expected to be fertiliser and environmental experts. No one blamed the private shareholders in VW for the diesel fuel economy scams that were introduced by a small group of engineers and executives with the blessing of top management. These people were incapable of seeing beyond the simplistic bottom line, and displayed a total lack of ethics and the environmental responsibility.
It does disappoint me however that the farmer directors on the boards of the big companies are not demanding a great deal more information and ethical justification from management. If current management simply do not have the ability to face reality and act accordingly, they need to go, now.
The management of Ballance and Ravensdown needs to be taken over by visionaries who can take their staff with them down the triple-bottom-line path, before it is too late and their farmer shareholders are crushed with ever-increasing and expensive on-farm mitigations that in most cases could be avoided simply be changing the forms of N and P we are using.
Personally, I think New Zealand is set for some momentous changes in many areas and industries over the next 2 years, changes that will require great leadership and wisdom. Will that leadership and wisdom express itself? That is the question.
I wish you all a very successful 2019.
Bert F. Quin
Updated 30 December 2018