Excerpt from Wednesday’s National Business Review:

“Billions of dollars could be added to farmers’ profits if they focused more on pasture renewal, a new study reveals.

The Pasture Renewal Charitable Trust this week suggested a switch in focus from animal improvements to pasture development was required to increase farm productivity.

The trust commissioned Wellington-based company BERL (Business and Economic Research Ltd) to complete an economic analysis of the value of pasture to New Zealand’s economy.

BERL determined that pasture was worth $20.5 billion to New Zealand’s gross domestic product (12.1% of GDP) and $10.2 billion to producers at the farm gate.

Trust chairman Murray Willocks told NBR that the low cost of animal feed is New Zealand’s economic edge, and it could be expanded on to the tune of billions of extra dollars each year.

“All our dairying and beef and sheep farming operations are dependent on our pastures,” Mr Willocks said.

“As we look to economic growth, we should look at investment in pasture as a key contributor.”

Pasture renewal rates are the key. Mr Willocks said sheep and beef farms should renew 8% each year, while dairy farms should be looking at 12%.

BERL’s report determined these rates of pasture renewal would add $1.6 billion of value at the farm gate and about $3.1 billion to GDP.”

It’s not clear from this article how BERL or the Pasture Renewal Trust believe pasture renewal should be accomplished. Hopefully they don’t see dumping more chemical fertilisers on the ground as the answer.

Soil expert Phyllis Tichinin has written for BayBuzz on restoring the soil and the Council’s role. She has identified HB farmers like Kevin Davidson in Onga Onga and Hamish Galloway in Takapau who are making substantial progress on soil improvement through biological farming. According to Dairy Exporter, Galloway has increased the carbon content of his soil from 3% to 7% in less than three years.

It would be useful for the HB Regional Council to get its hands on the BERL report and use its methodology to extrapolate the dollar value of pasture renewal to land here in Hawke’s Bay.

Methinks that if they did so, they would find a plain-as-the-nose-on-your-face case for investing more HBRC resources in land care education and advisory services for HB farmers.

Tom Belford

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