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Webinar with Dr Christine Jones

Hey folks, my friend and globally renown soil scientist Dr Christine Jones is hosting a public webinar on Sunday the 23rd of August. The “Fundamentals of Soils” masterclass is a fund-raiser for the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op.

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Dr Christine Jones on a previous New Zealand visit

The format will be a 45 minute introduction covering how the use of plant diversity and biostimulants in place of monocultures and high-analysis fertilisers enable soils to function at their best. Slides will be followed by 45 mins of Q&A. All questions submitted during the webinar will be answered, if not during the class, then after.

In addition to explaining how plants extract beneficial genetic material from the soil microbiome in biologically active soils she will also be discussing the activation of nif genes (for free-living N-fixing) through quorum sensing. This enables plants growing in healthy, biodiverse soils to obtain all the N they need in the absence of legumes (or high-analysis fertiliser).

The Masterclass will go to air on Sunday August 23rd, 11am eastern Australian time. That will be 1pm here in Aotearoa.

People not able to participate at that time can pre-register and access the recording later …. as many times as they like. However, the MasterClass will not be accessible once registrations have closed. Sorry, I’ve already taken one spot…..see you there.

Here is the link …

https://event.webinarjam.com/register/59/44o42sg6

The cost is $35.

Here’s the Facebook link ………….

https://www.facebook.com/events/719494305274248/

 

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Some of the crowd last time Christine was here.

2020 Mid Winter Update

 

Welcome to the 2020 mid winter update. Saying it’s been a funny year so far is probably the understatement of this century.

Thanks to our timely lock down we in New Zealand now look out upon the chaos that is developing in the wider world due to Covid-19 with dismay and horror. The kiwi classic “we don’t know how lucky we are” couldn’t be more true. And I think to some extent we were lucky, as there was a small percentage of our population that just didn’t want to follow the guidance the government was giving, which is still apparent with the many escapes from quarantine we have seen. It’s that kind of selfishness and greed globally that got us to this position in the first place, and only acerbating the problem globally now.

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Sociologist and team leader Aron Coste (sitting) at work in Ecuador.

The global shake up has certainly made for an interesting work environment. Zoom, Skype and other tools of connection have become a new normal in a world of limited travel. Currently I have the pleasure of contributing to a rural and regional development project in Ecuador. These tools and other technology aids have helped me provide support externally and have given a unique perspective to “looking in from the outside” to see what options and ideas can be developed in country – without actually being able to be on the ground in the current global environment.

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Senor Andres Moreira-Alcivar in a coffee drying tent

Ecuador has such a wide variety of environments and working across the zones and agricultural production systems, from the coast, rain forest and up into the Andes, is testing, stimulating and invigorating. There are not many places in the world were you can deal with a small dairy farm that is milking cows on pasture that is higher above sea level than New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Mt Cook.

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Ecuadorian dairy farm at 4200 metres above sea level

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Even with the sometimes limited cellular and internet connectivity in rural parts of Ecuador, the ability to directly talk, share video and documents through platforms such as WhatsApp have given the opportunity to be their almost first hand. As they say, pictures are worth a thousand words. Technology even helps with my very very rusty Spanish. This is a long term project that I’m excited to be involved with and I do look forward to a time when I can be on the ground.

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Everybody pitches in

I have also had the pleasure to be included in a book being written by a former United Nations Food and Agriculture head of sustainability. This ties into work I did with the UN FAO on alternate food production systems, organics and work on desertification almost 10 years ago. It’s quite humbling to be one of twelve people identified as being able to contribute to the world wide discussion on the future of agriculture, and to be alongside such people as Allan Savory in the book.

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Aron and friends
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Andres’ son Ramone, and the ever present machete

 

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A local hazard, the coral snake.

 

It will be interesting to see what the “new normal” is when the world passes through Covid, which it will. It remains to be seen whether we will benefit as a country by coming through relatively unscathed (so far, touchwood), or will find that we have missed the message from the trauma that mother nature has given, that is to sort ourselves out.

Either way, please stay safe out there, and be kind to others.

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Ecuador’s Pacific coast

All photos courtesy/copyright of Aron Coste.

Welcome to 2020

Welcome to 2020!! It goes without saying now that the world is coming to face the harsh realities of a global pandemic that is COVID-19. I hope you are all following the protocols that are out there and are doing your best to stay safe, no matter where you are. Currently I get a chance to update the website and catch up on writing a blog as we have gone into a self imposed isolation thanks to a case of COVID-19 at one of my kids schools. Purely precautionary…thanks 2019 ūüė¶

Organic Farm Systems has had a few large changes over the busy summer months, primarily a move to Dunedin as a new operating base. You will also note a new email address for contact.

Before COVID-19 started to cause the cancellation of major events, I was able to attend the Regenerative Soil Solution Conference 2020 at Lincoln University, run by the Organic Dairy and Pastoral Group of New Zealand. Nearly 250 people attended over the two day conference.

We heard from many excellent and engaging speakers, including Dr Walter Jehne, Dr Mike Joy, Dr Jack Heinemann, and farmer practitioners such as Hamish Bielski and Simon Osborne. We also visited a couple of interesting properties and ate lots of fantastic foods, with a beer or 7 thrown in for good measure.

As part of the retiring Organic Dairy and Pastoral Group executive I was able to provide some on the ground support for those who flew in from the North Island. (see below)

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New Zealand’s latest version of a certified self contained campervan?¬†

Overall it was a great conference and well done to the organising committee. On the way home I was able to go inland and traveled through the picturesque Mackenzie basin, an area that could well do with some regenerative farming practice.

Undoubtedly it will be an interesting year globally, but good luck to all, keep your spirits up and Covid 19 out. Cheers, Glenn.

Spring, into Action…

Welcome to the Spring Update from Organic Farm Systems.

This week has seen the UN General Assembly meeting in New York and one of the primary things that world leaders will be discussing is the climate crisis. Many of you will have seen Greta Thunberg speak and rebuke world leaders for inaction. I wholeheartedly agree with her sentiments.

At home we have seen a number of submission rounds from the Government on climate change and water quality. Some of you reading this will have been involved on advisory panels for this. This has caused the usual wailing and gnashing of teeth from the usual rural suspects.

This is all related. Let me ask you this question.

What is the most important and profitable thing that’s farmed in NZ?

 

I’ll give you a clue.

It is hardy, long lived, often quite stubborn, but can be easily led, trained and herded.

It is both very profitable to fleece and milk.

 

Answer.

The Kiwi Farmer.

 

The average kiwi farmer is bearing the brunt of the criticism around the environmental impacts to both our water quality and climate change in the press, and with plenty of justification.

Farmers are being urged to stand up and fight against many of the proposals being put forward by government. The “rural support” entities and political opposition will undoubtedly suggest the government is destroying farming etc etc.

But farmers really aren’t to blame. Those who are milking and fleecing them are…

Farmers are only doing what they have been taught or told to do by so called “rural service” entities.

These are the companies, groups and people who make the most money from farmers and the rural sector, and they will protect their patch and profits first and foremost.

Lets name and shame some.

Ravensdown, Ballance, Fonterra, Dairy NZ, Beef and Lamb NZ, Federated Farmers, Silver Fern Farms, Alliance Group, Farmlands, PGG Wrightson, the Banks, various rural political parties, universities….I could go on, but there’s only so many hours in a day…..

These entities all have self interest and self preservation in common and first and foremost in their minds. Management in many of these entities still collect a salary or wage, entirely unrelated to how well the individual farmer is doing. You’ll also notice that a number that I’ve named above are groups who in theory are meant to work for the benefit of stakeholders.

One thing they have in common is the drive for more production. One thing most farmers haven’t worked out, and that you’ll never hear from these guys, is there is no link between production and profit. ¬†But when as a “rural service” entity your viability is based on volume, production at any cost is promoted. This intensity has been a fundamental driver of the environmental damage we see, particularly from the dairy industry.

Nobody will tell you a small family farm is still the most profitable. Get big or get out. Borrow more, use more. I don’t see rural communities getting bigger or more services…housing crisis? How about a population displacement crisis.

Change has needed to come. For 15 years we have been talking about this, with most farmers, encouraged by these “rural service” entities, fighting and arguing all the way, only paying lip service, making token gestures, or proffering mitigation technology band aids, rather than being proactive.

In fact in a number of cases, these token gestures and mitigation band aids have been used to fleece more money out of the farmers pockets, even when they have been shown to be the wrong path.

But now push is coming to shove. Farmers will loose the social license to farm, and these “rural entities” loose their license to print money. Expect a massive fight that farmers can only but be the looser in.

This is indeed a sad prospect. Farmers could have been at the forefront of saving and regenerating our environment, and should be a key part of the social make up of our country, and be cherished by our entire population. But I think now its too late…

The government needs to and will act for the needs of the greater population and social outcome. The government is looking to act in a number of different areas.

The three suggested actions that I believe government should take, and would have the greatest impact, both on environment mitigation and for farmers to regain the social licence to farm would be:

  • For the government to fully fund and reboot AgResearch and other research institutes for independent science and research.

Currently these “rural entities” fund a majority of AgResearch’s and others budgets under there current models. The science and best practice promoted from these institutions can know longer be trusted to be impartial or in the farmer or countries best interests.

  • The disestablishment of the Levy Bodies.

Funding for these bodies primarily comes from a volume of production based funding model, and therefore it is in their self interest to promote production based farming systems, and to support and be supported by the other “rural entities”.

  • Government legislation to ban the use of synthetic fertilisers and “cides”*.

This will really get most farmers jumping up and down. But it is the use of these items that can be directly related to environmental damage or by the unsustainable intensification they cause. Farming systems that do not use these items can rapidly go from environmentally damaging to environmentally regenerative.

Fact: You do not need these things to farm.

We have unfortunately come to a point, whilst some farmers have moved in this direction, that the rest need to be forced in this direction. You can see that many “rural entities” will be against this, as this is what they sell.

*The term “cides”, if you are unfamiliar with it, refers to herbicides, fungicides, insecticides etc.

How does this all relate back to Greta Thunberg? 

As she has pointed out, the future planet is gravely under threat, as are the future generations of humankind.

Why? Because past and current generations and many of their various political leaders have put the profit of industrial scale capitalism before democratic social and environmental outcomes. Our current government is now looking to address these environmental and social issues.

Lets be quite clear on this – Capitalism and social democracy are not the same thing…One thing we can be certain on is that the rich have been getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, and more numerous. One should note that rural debt is higher than ever.¬†10% of the world’s population controls 84% of its wealth. 0.003% of the worlds population (about 220,000 people) control 10% of global wealth. ¬†Trickle down theory is best referred to as trickle down fantasy. Industrial scale capitalist greed has gotten us to this place.

The capitalist production at all costs model is now at an end. The world needs balancing environmentally and socially, and here in New Zealand farmers have been getting a lot of the blame. They needed to get on board.

The question is, have kiwi farmers over the last 50 years let themselves be put into this position? I’d say, yes they have.

 

 

 

 

Autumn 2019 Update

Welcome to the first blog post for this year. It’s been a busy time in the south since xmas with many visitors to this part of the world.

Firstly we have had a visit from Ian Mitchell-Innes who spoke with a number of groups which hosted some field days. Ian is a knowledgeable speaker on holistic management from South Africa, and tours the world to pass on what he has learnt.

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Ian Mitchell-Innes drew a large crowd during a number of events in Otago. (Ian’s in the middle!)

Following hot on the heels of Ian we had a study tour group from the United States in the form of the Organic Valley/CROPP Co-operative. They toured both North and South Island looking at local organic farming practices and of course the scenery. I was lucky enough to be invited to be one of the host guides for the South Island section along with Bryan Clearwater of Clearwater Organics.

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Tour group arrives at Crawford’s dairy farm.

Tour members came from various parts of the U.S. and was made up of farmers and staff members of the Co-op.

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Allan Richardson discuss’ a multi-species crop with the US Tour Group.
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Quintin Hazelett introduces his property from a roadside viewpoint. (partly obscured, get out of the way Dan!)
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Tour group at Bluff, South Island.
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Foveaux Straight lives up to its fearsome reputation by putting on a billiard table flat day for the visitors. Next stop the South Pole.

Fresh Bluff oysters (a rare delicacy) and a cold beer finished of a typically warm and calm busy first day in Otago and Southland. Visits to both dairy and sheep and beef properties were supplemented with a fine organic dinner with the Southern Organic Group and Open Country organic suppliers and staff. The next day moved us through the lower south and onto Queenstown, after visiting the renown Riverton Environment Centre and food forest of Robert and Robyn Guyton.

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Brunch in a genuine Mongolian Yurt in the middle of the food forest.

We then progressed to Tim and Helen Gow’s property at Blackmount. Tim and Helen are some of New Zealand’s very early organic pioneers and have been long time practitioners of sabbatical fallowing, a very ancient practice for soil and pasture management.

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Tim speaking to tour group and Southern Organic Group members who provided 4×4 transport for the day.

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A slow bus trip finally took us to Queenstown where the group had dinner with a view. Thanks to everybody involved that helped this be a successful tour, and thank you for inviting me to be a part of this adventure.

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Queenstown from the top of the Gondola.

Last but not least saw a visit from friend and globally renown soil scientist Dr Christine Jones, who is on tour with AgriSea NZ. It was good to have a catch up and also to see so many new younger faces coming to learn about regenerative farming practice.

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Dr Christine Jones speaking to farmers at Hedgehope, Southland, hosted by AgriSea NZ.

If you’d like to keep up to date with what events are happening around the country or would like to learn more about organic and regenerative agriculture, drop me a line.