I spent 3 weeks visiting research institutions in several EU countries in September/October. I observed massive differences in dairy farming both within and between EU countries, and in how limits on nitrate leaching were being monitored and enforced.
In interviews of NZ politicians, industry leaders and even scientists who have visited the EU, often without anywhere going near an actual farm, you see frequent references to ‘EU Directives’ limiting N fertiliser use and leaching and so on. If you dig a bit deeper, as I did, you see how toothless these ‘Directives’ actually are. Individual EU countries are free to map out their own ‘goals’ and ‘time-frames’ that can be endlessly extended, as long as some real or contrived ‘progress’ towards meeting the Directives can be shown to the bureaucrats in Brussels.
Admittedly, some EU countries, notably Ireland and Denmark, took the Directives very seriously, and set rigid controls on how much N (and P) could be used by farmers. In both countries, water quality was greatly improved as a result, to the point where fertiliser inputs are now being relaxed a bit. So it can be done if there is a will. Other countries like Germany have essentially no effective limits or monitoring. The most ridiculous situation is The Netherlands, where cow, beef cattle, pig and chicken numbers have grown so high with housing and bought in feed that the only way Holland can show any ‘progress’ to Brussels regarding reducing nitrate is by exporting about half their animal excreta! The eastern region of Germany (the old East Germany) takes most of it. I asked the Dutch why they don’t just accept reality and do a farming JV with Germany to farm half their animals there, rather than just send the excreta to them. The answer I got, verbatim, was that ‘this would mean sharing more of their profit with the Germans, and they don’t want to do that’. European Union indeed.
Most of Europe houses cows for most of the year, even where this is not climatically necessary. Ireland wants to greatly increase their use of grazing. The Irish see massive premium-market opportunities for their grazed dairy produce in the USA. They are astounded how the Dutch executives of Fonterra have hijacked the New Zealand grazed pasture system, pushing the growth of cow homes, bought-in PKE etc, and ever-larger farms and herd numbers.
I am very sure that NZ will look back on the commodity crash of 2014 in a couple of years with great thanks that it happened; it brought us to our senses and refocused attention on what NZ dairy farming is all about; high quality, well-managed grazed pastures with minimal (<15%) bought-in feed.