About two or three weeks back there was a considerable raruraru in the local (NZ) media about a proposal to move away from traditional pasture farmed dairying toward the techniques used in EUrope and the US with fully enclosed herds on "artificial" feeds. The advantages were many, and much outweighed the perceived costs of open farming.
Personally I hope that they fail. NZ's major advantage in all farming methods is not the "green and clean" message but the fact that our methods are natural; we convert water and sunlight into food.
Now - this last week - there have been reports coming through of Missouri (the US one, so that we are clear) reclaiming some 5% of the total US dairy market (such as this example). Apparently the US dairy state had been losing its markets and consequently suffering reduced production under the pressure of "increasing costs and decreasing returns". That despite what I suspect would be fairly substantial state and federal subsidies.
With milk prices so low and many dairy farmers losing money, the New Zealanders’ low-cost methods, which mostly involve a different way of feeding cows, are luring converts.
“Their impact has been so significant in our state that it’s hard to get your arms around it,” said David Drennan, executive director of the Missouri Dairy Association.
As recently as 1975, the state had 20,000 dairy farms and 333,000 dairy cows. Today, there are about 2,000 farms and less than one-third the number of cows.
A decade ago, businesses, farmers, bankers, academics and others gathered around a table in the Greene County Extension Office in Springfield to confront the crisis.
The group realized the business practices of the state’s dairy farms needed to improve.
The turn-round in production has come largely from four farms purchased, "modernised" and managed by Kiwis - the re-introduction of traditional pasture based farms of my countryside.
Kevin van der Poel remembers the skepticism and suspicion when he moved here four years ago from New Zealand with a newfangled approach to raising dairy cattle.
He heard the doubts, peppered with a tall tale or two.
When he started construction on rock walkways for moving cattle between pastures, the rumor spread that he was building housing for victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Some locals thought his cows seemed too thin.
In the radio programme on this topic last week (I still listen to the rural news and other rural based programmes) there was a delightful descrition of a field day held at one of the farms. Questions after the tour ranged from whether cows would get stones stuck in their hooves, to the problem of the cows having to walk too far and getting tired, and the consequent impact on production...
And so we come to -
Tony Finch understands why some people might resent the New Zealanders’ different approach and, ultimately, their success.
“People see that as a threat or a degree of arrogance that we do it right and they do it wrong,” said Finch, general manager of Grasslands Consultants, another New Zealand operation, with 9,000 cows on 10,000 acres around Monett.
“That’s been a struggle — to convince people that what we’re doing is not a threat to what they’re doing, but another way of doing it.”
In many ways, the New Zealanders are returning Missouri dairy farmers to their past.
Traditionally, all Missouri dairies were pasture-based. But, in the 1970s, many began to use confinement operations and increased grain feeding to boost milk production.
In the Ozarks, where most of the dairies are, costs rose as more feed needed to be delivered and more manure needed to be removed. Labor was scarce.
The operation, which the van der Poels run out of a nondescript yellow barn set back off a rural highway, pumps about $6 million annually into the local community, he said.
They employ 28 people, about a third of the number required to run a confinement dairy with a similar-size herd.
...thereby returning to my wish for the "enclosed farming" developments in Southland to bite the dust before too many people waste their money on them.