But we're still basically just growing plants to feed animals, so improving the productivity of farm land should be our #1 priority. All that cool technology could be used any pastoral farming systems.
We can and should recognise two alternative pathways for New Zealand agriculture. Neither can be completely defined, because the R&D is ongoing for each, as it should be. But the broad directions of each are nevertheless clear enough. They differ in two dimensions:
- how we kill off undesirable organisms, and
- how we feed desirable organisms.
To feed desirable organisms, the conventional system advises the use of N sourced from fossil fuels, soluble P mined and dragged halfway around the world and, K which is also drawn from finite resources.
In my humble opinion this approach is foolish and doomed. Our farming philosophy reflects the other option and is the complete opposite of the status quo. To kill off weeds and pests, we nurture their natural competitors and sometimes also use mechanical methods - photos of Darren's awesome gorse mulcher will be posted in due course. We re-grass 10-20ha chunk each year planting a diverse mix of (often modern) varieties including plenty of legumes (for nitrogen) and deep rooting herbs (for drought resistance). We ignore the conventional advice by not spraying out the old grass and using un-treated seeds, which works fine.
To feed desirable organisms we design our own brews. This is a fairly sophisticated system involving regular testing of soil mineralisation, pasture composition and soil biology - we use the test results to design custom brews for feeding the soil & plants (our foliar system is here). It is definitely working for us, but it's all based on ad-hoc reading around and talking to people. We lack guidance from solid peer-reviewed science, as do the increasingly large number of other kiwi farmers heading down this route.
Which brings me to the point. Why do New Zealand's public research funds primarily go to corporates? Specifically, why is co-funding from industry required to get almost any public research money? The co-funders are just getting subsidised to create saleable intellectual property rights, while genuine public good research is crowded out. This biases our agricultural innovation toward private profits earned under the conventional system. Its madness, and not just in my opinion....
@smalltorquer @robhosking Public research investment ought go where there's really large excess of public benefit over private.
— Eric Crampton (@EricCrampton) February 17, 2015
Many other farmers support our view that we need to invest in science that explores public good methods to
- extract nitrogen from the atmosphere rather than fossil fuels;
- understand how to profitably farm the bacteria and fungi in our soil so that they unlock and harvest nutrients for plants; and
- control pests and weeds by fostering their competitors rather than killing them.