I’m committed to a Hawke’s Bay that possesses the purest water, the best health statistics, the most contented citizens and a worldwide reputation for awesome food grown on biologically humming soils.
My vision for the region in twenty years is of an economy thriving around the intertwining agricultural threads of international food tourism, locavore ethics and producing food of phenomenal flavour at a stunning premium.
Basically, the same view that we have of ourselves right now.
We do enjoy a plethora of prize winning olive oils, gourmet citrus products, world class wines. We purchase and consume these at our lovely farmers’ markets. And we advertise ourselves as the fresh, tasty, innovative food capital of New Zealand.
Where the gaps appear is in how we are doing the growing and the effects on our soil, water and health. It’s hard to reconcile the shiny vision above with the fact that our rivers are un-swimmable and periodically toxic, our aquifers and soils are contaminated with pesticide residues, and we have some of the worst health in the country. There is a better way and it is easily within our grasp.
Biological farming is a performance-based approach to agriculture. Done well it creates humus in soils and grows produce of greater nutritional density. These two huge achievements are, quite simply, the basis of civilisation. Without humus our soils don’t hold water or nutrients and they erode easily, taking priceless topsoil and its minerals out to sea. Without high vitamin and mineral nutrient density in our foods we will continue our slide into autoimmune disease, cancer, depression, violent behaviour and children who can’t learn.
There are several very positive spinoffs from this farming to create humus and nutrient density – less fertiliser is required, fewer pesticides are needed and less water is used to grow more product of better quality. When you think about it, that’s exactly what is needed to reverse pollution, improve health and put farmers on a more profitable footing. It’s a mega win-win.
And it is not only possible, it is happening here, happening now.
Milk production on biologically fertilised farms in Southern Hawke’s Bay has risen markedly and soil drainage issues have disappeared. Biological apples from Hastings are being marketed to Saudi Arabia on the basis of their stellar flavour. Wines from a low-input biological vineyard in Havelock North are taking out national awards. Sheep farmers are using less drench, having healthier sheep and noticing that their sheep don’t pong like they used to.
Pastoral farmers around the Bay are reporting grass thatch disappearing, root depth doubling and sugar content rocketing upwards. Thin, wind-ravaged soils in Mangleton can now be cropped without having them blow away. Massive amounts of stable carbon are being sequestered, soils are being regenerated and farmers are experiencing a resurgence of hope. This is linked to their new understanding of how soil can perform when soil microbes are nurtured and their welfare given top priority. And the icing on the cake?
Biologically grown produce flat out tastes better and lasts longer. Done properly, biological farming not only uses markedly less petrochemicals, it directly reduces greenhouse gases by building up complex carbon stores in the soil. Above all, it contributes to human health by providing dense food of higher mineral and vitamin content. This food provides for better nerve connections, clearer thinking, more even temperaments and better social outcomes.
All of this underlies the vision of Hawke’s Bay people being nourished by stellar foods grown on their region’s biologically active, low chemical input soils with a fraction of the water. Isn’t this the pinnacle of achievement for agriculture and society?
And there is a market for it
For forty centuries, longer than any other civilisation by far, the Chinese grew amazing amounts of produce in a manner that created richer and richer soils. And they did it without large scale irrigation.
Having rejected their traditional, humus-creating growing systems 30 years ago for the chemical agriculture model, the Chinese elite are now eager to spend their way out of the environmental hell they have created for themselves. Synlait markets its powdered baby formula, ‘Pure Canterbury’, to well-off Chinese parents who don’t dare feed their children milk grown in their country. Chinese tourists take home suitcases full of preserved NZ foods. They marvel at the novelty of being able to buy fruit directly from an orchard or to see fruit hanging on trees that they feel safe to eat directly. Imagine our profit and satisfaction at being able to truly provide tourists and our own with the best food in the world – safest, tastiest and most environment enhancing.
All this is at our fingertips. It doesn’t require heaps of expensive research – it’s happening successfully now. It doesn’t require new equipment or hard to source exotic products. It doesn’t require new varieties. In fact, the older crop varieties tend to be less dependent on fertilisers and sprays and they have better flavour. Steering clear of genetically modified seeds and animals would be wise given consumer resistance.
And we don’t need more water to make this a reality. For every 1% rise in soil carbon a hectare of land will hold an additional 550,000 litres of water. As soil humus content increases, water demand decreases. This applies to pasture as well as intensive cropping and begs the question, “Do we really need those big expensive dams?”
According to technology anthropologist Jared Diamond, history is full of examples of civilisations intensifying their agriculture, building large scale water projects and destroying themselves. Babylon and the Mayans are prime examples. Present day Egypt and California are rapidly heading there. Their dams are silting up and losing capacity and their soils are salting up and dying.
The projected financial benefits never seem to take these predictable costs into account…until it’s too late and by then the people who profited by the increased land value have cashed in and flown, the bureaucrats who advocated have been duly advanced and died, the elective representatives went to their graves congratulating themselves on having been responsible for a short-lived economic boom and we’re stuck with servicing a debt burden for an environmental boondoggle that destroys soils, rivers, oceans and societies. Is it worth it?
We can easily achieve our vision without large scale water projects. We could use the money for restoring the quality of our rivers instead of further degrading them. We don’t need extra water, we need farmers who think and act caringly and we need representatives of true vision who can resist the allure of having dams and causeways named after themselves and who wisely say, “Let’s be true environmental visionaries. Let’s learn the hard lessons of the past. Let’s embrace more naturally productive methods of farming. Let’s create the reality of a robust environment and durable economy based on exemplary soils and food quality. Let us enjoy these fruits and share them and the vision with others from around the world in our own backyard.”