In recent days, since Hawke’s Bay’s localised ‘rain bomb’ event, I’ve seen numerous commentators — always after expressing heartfelt sympathy with those who have been hammered by flood and slip damage — note that the pastoral lands lost were treeless. Land with trees was protected and undamaged.
These commentators cover the spectrum politically from Councillor Ewan McGregor to columnist Bruce Bissett.
Hmmm. Planting trees. Hardly a new, unproven or radical concept. Yet farmers neglect to.
Now, consider what is arguably a much larger farming challenge … shifting to farming practices that are more nurturing of the soil and produce food that is higher quality (in terms of nutrients and taste) and more valuable in the market.
The same phenomenon … farmers who can look at a neighbor’s farm, doing better, on the other side of the fence, can’t bring themselves to reconsider their approach.
BayBuzz’s featured writer on farming, soil expert Phyllis Tichinin, has been writing for us on the direction of farming in Hawke’s Bay, including two articles in recent editions of BayBuzz Digest.
In What is New Zealand farming coming to? she answers her own question this way:
“Hopefully, we’re coming to a farming style that takes advantage of our great climate, heightens our knack for innovating and regenerates our soils while producing maximum quality of agricultural product.
It’s no longer a quantity game. We’re too small and far from our key markets to produce average food. There’s no way we can expect to contribute meaningfully to ‘feeding the world’ and we should drop that illusion forthwith. We need to produce what the premier markets of Asia, Europe and US want or the cost of transport (as petroleum prices soar) will sink us.
Instead of ‘get big or get out,’ I think it’s going to be ‘produce flavour and nutrient density or get out.’ We’ve been talking big and riding on our laurels about our NZ quality produce, but the international goal posts have shifted. How can we catch the flavour wave, stay on top AND enhance environmental resilience and productivity? Is it even possible?
I believe it is …”
But, Phyllis continues …
“We’re losing soil tilth – soil with the proper structure and nutrients to grow healthy crops. We’re losing soil full stop. Our fertiliser and crop protection inputs and costs have risen in comparison to yield, and what we produce doesn’t taste or store as well as it used to. To add the final blow, our markets are complaining about the quality.”
Digging into the food quality issue, Phyllis followed up with Nutrient density and farming, what’s the connection?
Here she’s making a simple point about a complex process … how we grow our food is critical to sustainability, nutritional value and taste … all of which equates to growing a premium product. Something she thinks smart Hawke’s Bay farmers should be interested in doing. And she comments:
“Our increasingly savvy premium consumers are aware of most of these implications of nutrient dense food and are willing to pay top dollar for true quality. In Hawke’s Bay we are creating on the ground examples of better soils, greater yields, less need for chemical inputs and better flavour ( see sidebar) Now more of us just need to be producing it to warrant our title of ‘fruit bowl’ to the nation and the world.”
She gives three examples of smart farming (out of many, but not enough) in Hawke’s Bay — JB Bostock (cropping manager, Gareth Holder), Shiloh Orchards (Roger Curtis), and Tuki Vineyard (Jo Perry Purchas).
BayBuzz has asked Phyllis to pour it on. We plan to bombard our readers in future articles with examples of smart farming in Hawke’s Bay. Maybe we can have some impact on even the slow learners.