Top priorities in Hastings District Council’s Planning for a Sustainable Future are “protecting the productive capacity of the Heretaunga Plains soils” and “maintaining healthy soils.”

Council’s strategy for achieving those objectives is by “developing a new District Scheme, having greater interaction with stake holder groups on land use issues, and by forming a partnership with the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council on the control and influence of agricultural practices.”

Given Hastings District’s rapacious consumption of rural land for housing subdivision in the last few years, and Council’s taking of 30 hectares of prime Plains land for a sports park, it’s easy to be skeptical of their sincerity, and assume they are simply jumping on the sustainability band wagon with fancy slogans, but no real resolve.

Let’s hope they are serious about sustainable soil management, because enormous opportunity is at hand.

Research on organic apple and kiwifruit orchards in Bay of Plenty and Hawke’s Bay has established that they store enough carbon in the soil to trade in the carbon markets.
Massey University PhD researcher Girija Page summarised her thesis as follows.

“I found that the organic orchard systems were sustainable in terms of energy use and most of the environmental impacts they had on the soil, water and atmosphere. In fact, they were a carbon sink, so they could potentially trade carbon credits under the Kyoto Protocol.”

The potential for creating carbon credits embraces all farming where the soil is enriched rather than degraded.

Last year a group of Australian pastoral farmers received carbon credits for the soil growth they achieved, and sold them on the Chicago Carbon Exchange. They had increased soil carbon by 0.2%  per year for the past decade.

If 0.2% annual increase in soil carbon where achieved over all of New Zealand’s 13 million hectares of grassland alone, it would more than offset the C02 emission for the entire country. It’s time to wake up and smell the grass … and money … which is, after all, the most trusted motivator in our culture.

Carbon is created in soil simply by increasing the organic matter present, and the opportunity before us is to double profit from natural (organic) farming practices, and the carbon markets.

The devastating effects of chemical agriculture on soil health have been known for years. The alternative organic/biodynamic/biological farming methods are proven to enhance soil health by increasing the carbon content, and in turn the biota mass of the soil.

There are more organisms in a teaspoon of soil than there are human beings on the planet!

Soil micro-organisms play an extensive role in the decomposition of organic matter and production of humus, cycling of nutrients and energy and elemental fixation, soil metabolism, and the production of compounds that cause soil aggregates to form. Many are in symbiotic relationships with plants and animals serving as nitrogen fixers and gut microbes. They function as an indispensable part of the food web. Our evolution as humans is intrinsically connected to the food web, and damage to the core of the web, which is the soil, inevitably damages us.

The organic producers and biological farming specialists in Hawke’s Bay have always known this.

Local leaders

When the Hastings District Council partners with the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council on the “control and influence of agricultural practices,” let’s hope they consult with the right people, and invite on board those local folk with proven experience in improving soil quality.

Hastings resident, Peter Proctor, should be top of the list. His work in India, which has seen tens of thousands of farmers change from chemical farming to biodynamics, is recognised internationally. As he told, One Old Man and a Pile of Cow Dung filmmaker Barbara Sumner Burstyn, India is suffering from incredible soil damage courtesy of the 1970’s “green revolution,” when pesticides and herbicides were introduced en masse to the continent. “This was supposed to alleviate world hunger,” Proctor explains, “Instead the massive chemical inputs destroyed millennia of balanced mixed cropping, soil and water tables, communities and individuals alike.”

In supporting natural biological farming to India, Proctor said, “the people get it immediately. They need no convincing. They are living with the corporate destruction of their natural world everyday. But try convincing New Zealanders that we’re causing irreparable damage to our ecosystems and our young people, and you meet a lot of resistance.”

Another local man, Nick Pattison, is at the forefront of assisting farmers improving their soil quality. In partnership with BioAg, Australia, Nick is importing liquid biological cultures which feed the soil micro-organisms. Their approach – “farm the soil – feed the soil: the soil feeds the plants” – has met with outstanding success over the full scope of farming operations: orcharding, dairying, viticulture, and market gardening.

Another local whose expertise is widely respected is Nicole Masters of Integrity Soils, as is Phyllis Tichinin.

In Hawke’s Bay, we also have the benefit of long-term biological growers with proven success. Clyde Potter’s Epicurian Supplies is a model of organic vegetable production. John Bostock is at the forefront of large-scale organic production and marketing, and Kingsley Tobin’s awarding-winning wines from Kingsley Estate have proven the viability of organic viticulture.

And there are many other food producers in Hawke’s Bay following biologically sound farming practices who can provide the models for changing from chemically reliant agriculture to more natural methods.

If the political direction of our elected representatives can follow the experience and enthusiasm of our biological farming experts, Hawke’s Bay could be a world leader in clean, green farming practices.

If our politicians are looking for a vision, they need search no further than the land beneath their feet. 

The timing is auspicious. Girija Page’s PhD was presented in May, Council’s are now consulting on their 10 year plans, and from 23-25 June, Napier will host the New Zealand  Soil Carbon Conference.

“Conservatively, the global carbon trading market is going to be worth $3 trillion. To put that into perspective, $3 trillion is roughly the size of the combined markets for oil, natural gas, electricity and coal today”

Even if partly true, this mind boggling claim by Peter Fusaro, recognized “thought leader” on energy and environmental markets, features in the Conference agenda, and should capture the attention of the business community and the politicians. If they can be convinced to join a bold initiative of encouraging best practice in soil management in Hawke’s Bay, the benefits could be far reaching.

Carbon credits aside, the premium for organic produce is well embedded, a “clean and green” reality would be very attractive to tourists, and the health benefits to the community living in an atmosphere free from pesticides and herbicides would be considerable.

War against nature

Of course the agro-chemical industry is so firmly entrenched in both mindset and practice that it could be a long and difficult struggle. But the crude science of reducing nutrients to NPK, and employing the attitude and language of warfare to fighting and combating weeds, pests, and diseases has had its day.

Today’s agro-chemical industry emerged from the munitions industry after WW2, so perhaps it’s not surprising it wages war against Nature. But the double standard we apply to Nature is shameful.

The health sector in all its voices, from our GP to the ads on TV, remind us to avoid consuming nasty chemicals, whether they be in socially acceptable alcohol and junk food, pariah cigarette smoking, illegal recreational substances, or pills prescribed by the doctor. Too many chemicals and we get sick.

Yet we wage chemical warfare against Nature and poison our food chain. Surely a vegetable, a fruit tree, and a cow are subject to the same laws of health and well-being as humans.

Those who lived in Hawke’s Bay during the 60’s and 70’s will remember the extraordinary sight of massive flocks of seagulls descending on freshly ploughed fields to gorge on earthworms exposed by the plough. We don’t see that today. The gulls are still around. It is the worms that have gone, along with a few-billion-per-teaspoon-of-soil microbes.

All over the world, years of mono-cropping, use of chemical fertilizers, and chemical pest and disease control, have depleted the soil biota, and an essential function in the food web has been by-passed.

Many of the diseases blighting lives and over burdening health systems can be attributed to poor nutritional levels in the food we consume. Humans are complex chemical organisms that have co-evolved in symbiotic relationship with the soil-based food web on which our survival depends.

We need to ingest sufficient quantities of a vast range of vitamins, nutrients and trace elements to feed the chemical processes which fuel body and brain functions. All come from the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breath. Imbalance can result in disease, hence the importance of looking after the quality of our air, water, and earth.

The opportunity to become clean and green is here and now. With the incentive of carbon credits, leadership from our politicians, and the expertise and determination of the biological farming community, Hawke’s Bay could be a leader in sustainable agriculture. We could showcase to the world the practicality and benefits of Farming Carbon.

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1 Comment

  1. Aha … so a greater use of non confineable aerosols in fruit production (sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide) can increase carbon credits?

    Of interest is that the predominant sprays in this new populist ,clean, green, sustainable, 'organic' movement result in acid rain, albeit no or minimal pesticide residue on fruit … so they must be entirely healthy. It should be noted however that, like those sprays that had their genesis in WW2 munitions, so did lime sulfur (the predominant 'organic' spray) … in mustard gas … and not being confineable within property, this marks one of the biggest departures from previous orchard practice that there has ever been.

    Environmentally safe … burning eyes (conjunctivitis), burned trachea, respiratory problems, racing pulses, arrythmias … there is so much research available concerning acid rain that to ignore it is simply irresponsible.

    I am afraid that the pip fruit industry is no different from any other industry, it is profit driven, it's conscience is profit mediated and nowadays without 'stickers' in the sprays the dispersion of these chemicals is maximal … and it would be expected that this would be reflected in Hawkes Bay health statistics … were they not the worst of any region in New Zealand?

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