Barrie Ridler: Bay could become wonderful environment

By Barrie Ridler

Barrie Ridler  says "dryland" farming systems are low cost yet productive, profitable, logical and therefore sustainable.
Barrie Ridler says "dryland" farming systems are low cost yet productive, profitable, logical and therefore sustainable.

With regard to Gren Christie's letter to the Editor (September 12) it is appropriate to examine alternative options that can reduce environmental damage yet improve farm profits.

One such option was presented to HBRC in 2012 but was overlooked because a large dam dominated HBRC's thinking and spending at that time.

The alternative option was to create a local centre of knowledge that would assemble and promote research, learning and local experience in applying "dryland" farming systems.

Such systems are low cost yet productive, profitable, logical and therefore sustainable.

They will not collapse if dry East Coast weather conditions mean little water is available for long periods.

The environmental and economic impact of such agriculture is positive as evidenced by the April 2017 Field Day at the Mangarara Eco Lodge farm of Greg and Rachel Hart near Elsthorpe.

Others in the region have also been promoting similar farming concepts but always against the head-wind of the flawed "higher production equals more profit" dictum. Local knowledge proves sustainable farming will improve soil structure and favour pasture species more suited to the environment.

The big plus from these systems is reduced use of fertilisers (especially nitrogen), better soil nutrient and water retention and huge reductions in the amount of water required from rivers and aquifers. This combination reverses the current decline in water quality and soil erosion while enhancing profits and the visual quality of each farm.

More visitors will be attracted back to the recreational delights that clear rivers, undisturbed bush areas, multiple-use land areas and thriving local communities can provide.

As suggested by Gren, an innovative Centre of Excellence based in the region could become an attraction for New Zealand and overseas researchers and students. The centre will partner with EIT, Massey University and similar knowledge hubs in New Zealand and overseas to create a new, more vibrant era of local educational opportunities that are better suited to the future, rather than to the past.

New Zealand innovations (no till drill, software which includes integrated pest management, resource allocation optimisation, online learning packages) would be promoted as a part of an overall research and development programme and provide a career path in an environment that all will be proud of.

This new systems-orientated agribusiness retains young people in the area and encourages expansion of local industries and communities with an emphasis on knowledge, learning and innovation.

The world commodity market is becoming too competitive for a country such as New Zealand to rely on commodity level prices to sustain even the current standard of living.

The closed mind-set that looks only for "more production" to solve this problem ignores the negative economic and environmental impact that comes from overuse of critical resources beyond a certain point. This outdated dogma has created the current problems and must not be allowed to dictate the future.

Production economics defines the point where profit from adding inputs becomes a loss.

This topic would be an integral part of research and teaching, integrated with environmental management, natural resource systems and practical illustrations of sustainable systems planning and implementation on contributing farms and processing facilities.

The current situation occurs due to an apparent ignorance of the associations, inter-relationships and vibrancy that are critical to any balanced system.

Change must be encouraged and allowed room to flourish within the wonderful environment that the Hawke's Bay region really could become.

Barrie Ridler is an agricultural consultant who lives in Poraiti. He has research and lecturing experience from 11 years at Massey University. He has also managed and supervised dairy farms and was the owner/operator of a sheep and beef farm in the King Country for 17 years. Views expressed here are the writer's opinion and not the newspaper's. Email: editor@hbtoday.co.nz

- Hawkes Bay Today

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