Realising the Potential of Hawke’s Bay (and NZ Primary Sector)

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4 Responses to Realising the Potential of Hawke’s Bay (and NZ Primary Sector)

  1. cjkperley says:

    There have been some interesting threads following this post within email traffic. Below is my reply to some questions from DM

    Thanks for your comments below DM.

    My argument is that we can actually create MORE returns by 1. realising the potential of land (patterns that match site with multifunctional potential and high value produce), 2. localise ownership so profit and revenue spend flows through a local system rather than enriches the distant colonial masters wherever the shares of corporates are owned, 3. higher value primary products generally lead to longer and local processing chains (e.g. contrast following a radiata log to the wharf or centralised scale-dependent mill vs a kauri log potentially to local small-scale tertiary processing and creative art – or strong vs fine wool, commodity GE corn vs GE-free figs made into various delicatessen products).

    I also argue you create both cost savings (the environment and a ‘grown-up’ pattern of land use actually saves costs – shelter, soil, animal health, soil function, R&M, stock losses, woody weed control, reduced artificial input requirements in an energy-constrained future – and the eventual savings of not contributing to climate change – rather the reverse with higher soil & terrestrial carbon). And then there are the productivity gains (output/input) particularly with regard to critical and dependent inputs – energy, soil function, climate variability etc.

    The Nebraska model of commodity agriculture is the classic alternative to a ‘tuscan’ model – and it is the one that involves high-capital, outside ownership, low wages, low employment per unit area, energy-intensive. The idea that energy & capital intensive agribusiness makes farmers and rural regions better off is, I think, completely false. Quite the reverse.

    The high capital trap relates more to the commodity industrial model. And yes, you can be forced into it. The story of the dustbowl is very relevant. in contradiction to ‘free market’ dogma, the reduction in wheat price in the mid west during the early 30s following the stock market crash did not lead to less supply (as supply demand curves would usually demonstrate), but the very reverse. Farmers had high capital overheads (principally mortgages) and no other options in the dry land prairie systems – so were forced to expand production by ploughing in more prairie, or not resting the land. They increased production, Herbert Hoover gave them a pat of their backs for their ‘patriotism’, and the prices went even lower.

    So they repeated the process for a number of years until they had reduced their land capacity to dustbowl levels – then came the drought – then came the system collapse.

    Which is what I think we face, though the specifics of the collapse will be different of course.

    The alternative model some of us are suggesting involves higher returns, more local ownership, more local economic multiplier effects, more local decentralised processing, more room for meaningful jobs including the creative ones, less high-energy input costs, building rather than reducing resilience to future market or climatic stresses. A better social, economic, and environmental future.

    You could actually see GDP grow, but with a higher level of sustainability attached, though the sales of high-energy chemical inputs would reduce.

    I don’t, frankly, see any other choice than the one that gets us off over reliance on energy and the mining of our natural & social capital.

    As to the ‘problems’ with catering to the top of the world’s markets rather than to those 2 billion who earn less than $2US per day, I don’t see us as realistically being able to fill that space. The solutions to that are first geopolitical – ability to pay, distribution, stopping the power disparities that any historian can wax on about, but most economists don’t get, but also a far greater emphasis on agroecological systems of land use pattern and production.

    In fact the de Schutter report to the UN General Assembly makes the very point that the solution to the world’s food problems are through looking at low-energy input, high-production, landscape agroecological approaches to land use.

    Check out


    So no production efficiency losses – the reverse. Plus eco gains. Plus resilience gains. Less reliance/dependency on energy inputs. reversing contribution to GHGs & climate change. More revenue while more sustainable – my god, perhaps even higher GDP measure (though I think that a complete waste of space unless qualified by good vs bad GDP). The structures currently reward the rape of soil, and it has always been the case that you make more money for yourself by raping the Kauri, the soils, the fisheries and any other long-cycling natural systems. Long-term feedback systems can be destroyed within a laissez faire market system that only thinks within months or years at most. And yes that needs to be addressed through institutions – a mix of market and ethical and regulation.

    This agroecological landscape and land production system redesign (Morgan Williams’ call in the 2004 Growing for Good report) should be our research and policy focus, and it needs a lot of that. CSAFE in Otago is about the only place I know where there is group of people looking at structural alternatives to the race-to-the-bottom industrial ag model we are currently on. A gerbil on a wheel going ever faster to stay still, and the bearing are getting really really hot.

    Requires a different paradigm of thinking, though I do think there will necessarily have to be 1. the ability to finance the costs of a shift (though not as great as the costs of NOT shifting), and 2. the very necessary reestablishment of extension systems as both vital to that shift occurring (but we have almost no one who can think in the land systems space because we were all taught to maximise production in a factory world view at Lincoln). So sort education in universities as well (pleeaaasseee!!)

    But first, we should get the debate going, and get the research funding put where it is needed (not to the bloody blinkered stats-orientated agronomists and GE lab technicians, but to the agroecological, socio-ecological, resilience, food & rural social systems researchers and the strategists).

    For a related take, read the latest straight furrow where local HB farmer Bruno Chambers takes on the dinosaur feds intent on getting GE into HB. “our future is not low-price commodity markets.” Couldn’t agree more.

    Chris Perley

    • cjkperley says:

      From Justin Ford-Robertson 12th September 2013
      Thank you Chris
      I hope your article is published and/or otherwise distributed widely. The same issues are present in our Bay (BOP) and being played out in the battle over lake water quality. Here it seems to be all about supporting farmers to maintain their land values and their ability to service outrageous debts. The Fonterrarist paradigm based on fear and greed is propagated by councils focussed on GDP growth and ‘development’.

      For some reason the simple strategies are overlooked: eg here we have ‘discovered’ that retention bunds on farms slow down rainfall, reduce erosion and allow water and nutrients to seep into the pastures. It sounds rather like the ‘outdated’ swales and dams approach, providing landscape water harvesting as well as small, local water storage sites for dry periods. We’ll no doubt research storage ponds one day, but perhaps after exhausting the industrial dam options first; ponds mean less pasture. Besides, farmers appear happy with approaches like alum dosing to lock up excess phosphate: phosphorus purchased at 25c/kg is then ‘removed’ from the lake for $250/kg.

      It seems bizarre that with all the high-tech focus on nutraceuticals and biomimicry that nature appears forgotten on the farm. For example Dairy NZ and Massey trials have demonstrated the value of mixed pastures: 50% reduction in urinary N losses with no loss in milk production. Indeed more milk solids are produced due to increases both in volume and in milk protein concentration. As well as reduced leaching and greenhouse gas emissions, the pastures are more resilient to drought. Sounds good, for the cost of a bag or two of seed. So why would the industry pursue GM ryegrass in order to boost production? How does this help our products or our once-was-green image?

      The Taupo Beef and Lake Farm beef ventures are local examples of production for local markets and there are numerous others demonstrating there are alternatives. There are increasingly large numbers of producers of niche products, integrated cropping systems, local/farmers markets etc and consumers who want to purchase clean nutritious seasonal food, instead of the denatured high-processed commodities which are produced to ‘generate wealth’ and ‘keep us safe’. UHT milk in schools, served in tetra packs that have to be sent to Thailand for ‘recycling’ into roofing tiles? Is this the best we can do to help our future generations understand their direct connections to the land, the water and businesses in their region, or the benefits of creating cyclical systems in which ‘waste’ is a redundant term? Lesson 1: Waste is a term used for resources which have as yet unrecognised value.

      We export 80% of the food we produce and import at least 20% (by value) of the food we eat. If we don’t change direction we are likely to end up where we are headed: more imported fertilisers, more coal and transport fuels, more massive irrigation schemes, more roads and bigger trucks, lower water quality, less ‘life’ in our soils and our foods, lower wellbeing for the majority of our people. The risks on this road are great and many. Rape and plunder of the natural capital instead of enhancing our natural advantages while accepting our physical realities is myopic. Homo sapiens sapiens? The man who knows he knows, is consciously aware? It’s about time for another evolutionary leap methinks – time to act according to what we know!

      When you are elected Chris I have faith that you will be able to articulate the vision of a sensible future and lead the flock along the pathways to it. J

      Kia kaha e hoa

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