Tuesday, 29 September 2015

My picks for DairyNZ Directors

Regular readers will know my views on DairyNZ's agronomy work, which seems remarkably aligned with the interests of input suppliers selling fertiliser, seeds and all of that "crop protection" stuff. Still, that's the mainstream model so I guess you'd expect it to dominate the research agenda. What really annoys me is the exclusion of work on alternative methods, especially ours.

Kudos to DairyNZ though: they've provided a forum to ask questions of director candidates. this was our question:
Despite the critical role of soil in pasture-based dairying, DairyNZ has no research efforts looking at how to harness/farm the biological life in soils. If elected, would you advocate for such research? Why or why not?
The answers helped us to pick who we'll vote for. They can be divided into 4 groups.

Denial
Michael Spaans (a sitting director) says that "biological life in soils specifically has had limited funding as research and theory historically has indicated there is no compelling evidence there are significant gains to be made for farmers in this area."

Nice one Michael: you are the first to be eliminated and now we're really sorry we voted for you last time. By pretending that this topic has already been investigated and found wanting you get the anti-science award, which is to be squashed by a cartoon foot.

Ask Someone Else
Kevin Ferris says "biological life in soils research should be done, under the umbrella of soil science, if DairyNZ is not doing it then another research provider should be doing it."

Murray Jamieson reckons "the best outcome will be achieved by working in collaboration across the industry i.e. with organisations like AgResearch and Massey and Lincoln Universities".

Greg Maughan "would not advocate for it if elected unless there was a compelling argument that the space was not being taken up by others and that the benefit of spending levy money was beneficial to a large number of farmers. I don’t believe DairyNZ should duplicate work that is being done or could be done by others.

Kevin Old wants to ensure that "limited research resources are both targeted at the most essential areas and are not duplicated in other institutions such as universities and CRIs who are also working in these areas."

All these guys (yes, they're all guys) are trying to pass the buck. They're pretending to care while actually hoping this topic will go away.

Business Case Required
Ben Allomes (a sitting director) is looking for "the best value to the industry. All projects, regardless of what area, are assessed on their value to the industry before they are approved or declined."

Elaine Cook "would need to see a business case for this R&D that identifies all the direct benefits (not just financial) to the NZ dairy farmer and wider industry."

Grant Wills "would support management to weigh up the economic and environmental significance of research in this area just as is being done on all other projects."

It's true that research funding needs a business case, but that case will always be speculative and risky because the discovery of new facts is the aim of all scientific research. DairyNZ should be exploring whole new paradigms because they might be better, and they should keep exploring them until they're convinced they won't be better. This is how innovation happens. 

Support
Steve Hines says "Yes I would. The commercialisation of science has created an environment that limits our researchers’ time to seeking funds rather than answers and breakthrough technologies. Soil science has suffered as a result; we must focus more on the foundation block that our dairy systems are built upon."

Michelle Wilson "would certainly be asking the question regarding what DairyNZ  intent is in regards to research of biological life in soils. I would be advocating for this research as I believe it is an essential part of our environmental stewardship. As dairy farmers we have a responsibility to maintain the land for future generations, without relevant research we are unable to make the best decisions in how we care for New Zealand soils."

Well done Steve & Michelle: you get our votes and hopefully many others.

Since there are 3 slots available, we'll also pick Elaine Cook as the best of the rest on the grounds that she explicitly recognises broad categories of benefit and is less defensive and deferential than the others in her category.

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