New Zealand Tree Crops Association

Editor's Reply

During a seminar at NZTCA Conference 2009, a member of the audience described the deplorable condition of animals of an 'organic' neighbour in a derogative way, implying that organic methods were the cause of the ill and malnourished stock.

Unfortunately I am not a quick thinker, but after consideration, I would like to reply to this member, whoever he was, and others who have a similar negative impression of 'organic' methods.

A farmer by definition is one who looks after animals for the purposes of production. The different methods of doing this fall loosely into three categories. Using my own names to escape pre-conceived notions, let's call them Industrial, 20th century and Natural.

The Industrial farmer houses his animals in an optimum growing environment (ie chicken shed) and brings in the required nutriments (grain, etc) to feed those animals.

The 20th Century fanner free-ranges his animals over pasture, and brings in the required nutrients (in the form of fertilisers) to feed that pasture - and hence those animals.

The Natural farmer puts nutrients into the soil, and lets the nutrients flow from there, through the feed, into the animal. I think that, as a natural fanner learns more, and as his ecosystem gains balance, he acknowledges the soil has its own cycle which needs minimal interference - after all, mother nature has invested millions of years in research and development, we can trust she has pretty much got it right - and all we should need to do is mitigate the human factor.

There are pros and cons for all farming methods, but any 'farmer' with substandard animal health is not a farmer at all.

I myself farm 'naturally', and have a range of extremely healthy, spoilt animals. I am sure I could also find some conventional, 20th Century farmers with poor-quality stock.

Whichever method a farmer uses, if it does not maximise production (read animal health), it is his/her knowledge and occupation one should question - not the methodology.

I once read that the 20th Century farming 'revolution' started because WWII stopped. Excess ammonium nitrate (previously used for bomb manufacture) and nerve gas needed a market. A few tweaks and some marketing and we have fertiliser and pesticides!

Conspiracy theories aside, when a 20th Century farmer calls in a fertiliser rep to test and recommend a fertiliser program for his soil - what's he going to say? Brew up some comfrey tea and wait a few years??

It is in his interest to a) sell fertiliser, b) show immediate results and, c) create a soil that requires ongoing inputs of his product. Leaching, the long-term viability of the land, and anything beyond the immediate traceable health of the stock, are not his concern.

Any good farmer will understand his stock, and hence his pasture, and hence his soil, so he can manage them for maximum profit. I would venture to say that 'natural' farmers are just more sceptical about the marketing blurbs they are fed by fertiliser companies, and look for answers in the methods that nature has tested over the past millennium or two.

And an important point is the difference between being sceptical of marketing and utilising science. Science deepens understanding and enhances knowledge, and is complementary to natural farming at too many levels to list.

Natural farmers are not long-haired hippies too lazy or too cheap to fertilise. In my experience they never have been, but it seems to be misconception that has outlasted the 60s.

Those I know who have chosen to use minimal sprays/BioAg/biodynamic/ organic/PMS or any other non-artificial-input method, are educated people who ask questions and observe nature at a biological level - and are too polite to be derogative about others who have yet to see the way, or realise the futility of doing so.

I know NZTCA is not about sprays vs organics. But NZTCA is about asking questions, pushing boundaries, new methods and new ideas; and I only wish I was quick enough to have given the following reply to the interjector at conference:

"Don't let one non-farming neighbour prejudice you with his organic claims. Ask some questions and do some research for yourself.

"Not only is natural farming interesting, complex, challenging and rewarding on many levels, but with the current market trends it is also financially lucrative."

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