Last week’s damning report on the environment might, might, just be the wake-up call the NZ dairy industry in general, and Fonterra in particular, needs. The days of resting on the laurels of the effective ‘fencing off waterways’ campaign are gone. Nitrate leaching and nitrous oxide greenhouse gas emissions are not stopped by fences!
Riparian strips can reach saturation level with P, and can then have little further benefit unless they are regularly harvested or replenished.
The first priority is for Fonterra to admit that the single biggest problem is nitrate leaching and nitrous oxide GHG emissions from cow urine patches. The solution to this – Spikey® – was presented to Fonterra a couple of months ago. The response has been underwhelming, to say the least. Fortunately, the wider industry is extremely enthusiastic (see update in News and Opinion).
A couple of years ago, with the milksolids payout at the giddying heights of $8/kg, Fonterra executives – especially those imported from the Netherlands – were openly saying that NZ should be housing all its cows and importing much more feed. I am quite certain that the NZ dairy industry, once it is back on its feet a bit more, will realise that the slump in dairy product prices was the best thing that could have happened for New Zealand. It has re-focused attention on just what NZ dairy farming should be all about. This is growing and grazing high quality pasture as cheaply as possible, managing this pasture with consummate skill, and keeping bought-in feed to a maximum of 15%.
The Irish saw where the market for premium dairy products is going while we were too busy importing PKE. They are focused on increasing dairy production by 50% through grazing, with a maximum of 20% bought-in feed. This ‘IRISH BRAND’ is going down a treat in the affluent value-added, trace-back markets in the USA. The Paddies told me they watched with a combination of amazement and glee about the path Fonterra was pushing the New Zealand industry down. Tatua has shown just what can be done. Certainly, Fonterra has been hamstrung to some degree by being legally bound to take all milk offered to it, but where were the signals to its shareholders to cut back when they were needed. Some of the biggest-hit dairy farmers were those who made commitments to large quantities of bought-in feed at the same time that Fonterra had ample evidence that a downtown in prices was under way.
Fonterra is obviously belatedly putting real effort into building bridges to its shareholders – sponsoring the new ‘farm-jobs’ phone app is one small but effective example. But far more ‘vision from the top’ needs to be displayed, and I’m not talking about the view from the top of a cow home!