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Farmers need to evolve new systems

Farmers need to evolve new systems

Friday 13 February, 2015

New Zealand farmers face a new evolutionary pressure - farming within nutrient limits - and together with scientists and industry bodies, they will need to evolve new farming systems in response to this challenge, a University of Waikato economist told the Australian Agricultural & Resource Economics Society's conference in Rotorua this week.

Associate Professor Graeme Doole, an economist who specialises in the connections between agriculture and the environment and acts as an advisor to the government on water issues, says the economic impact of nutrient limits that are now being developed and implemented around the country will be significant for farmers.

"It is something that the industry has to deal with because generally around 75 to 90 percent of Nitrogen eaten by cows is lost in urine," he says.

"The impacts on water quality from the growth of dairy farming will need to be addressed - and there will have to be a correction to the farming systems that have evolved over the past 200 years. Farmers have successfully developed efficient and highly productive systems of farming. The issue now is that they will need to evolve these systems to reduce their impact on the environment," he says.

The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management will bring about freshwater quality limits that will require farmers to have systems that can reduce their nutrient leaching and loss of sediment and microbes.

"It is not just about Nitrogen. We have a multi-factor pollution issue and it's also about managing Phosphorus, e-coli and sediment impacts on our waterways. We've got to move away from this Nitrogen fixation," he says.

Dr Doole is confident that mitigation measures will be developed that can be cost-effective for farmers to implement. "To get a lower Nitrogen farming system, we will have to be creative and farming will have to evolve and look at growing their use of different kinds of feeds like lucerne and maize silage," he says.

"There are packages of cost-effective measures to deal with Phosphorus in particular. Riparian planting, strategic use of wetlands for hill country farmers and creating buffer zones for waterways can deliver big gains. Dealing with Nitrogen will be a lot harder for farming businesses. That's why it's important we ensure that economic analysis properly informs the policy making process, so the community as well as the farmers realise the costs of the options that we'll have to consider," he says.

"It's going to be really tough to find measures for reducing Nitrogen leaching that keep farmers profitable," he says. "Farmers in the Lake Taupo area especially are showing the way, as they have been farming within nutrient limits for some years now."


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