Ecological Farming is the Most Affordable Option

Editor’s Note: This is another weekly column in the Wanganui Chronicle.

I could not agree more with Wanganui provincial president of Federated Farmers, Brian Doughty, and his recent thoughts on the damage caused to vulnerable slopes due to outdated management practices and June’s weather bomb: “We need, at least, to think outside the square in an attempt to minimise the effects from an ever-increasing number of these storm events because it will happen again.” Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 9.45.38 am

A difficult and costly repair job after the flood.

From my reading of Brian’s Conservation Comment, he makes two main points in the second half of the piece: 1) climate change will bring more frequent extreme weather events; 2) redesigning our farms to work more closely with nature will save farmers money in the long run. As any regular reader of this column recognises, these are two of the central tenants of eco-thrifty renovation.

When eco-thrifty thinking is applied to the land it can be called “holistic land management” or “permaculture” or “ecological farming.” Whatever you call it, it relies heavily on pattern recognition. Specifically, the patterns that Brian addresses are ridges and gulleys and the best locations to place tracks and fences within the landscape to minimise damage from slips. This is sage advice, and we wish Brian could have been on the committee that chose to move the Sargent Gallery into a floodplain.

Designing with recognition for the patterns in nature has two clear advantages for farmers: 1) higher productivity; 2) greater resilience. In the day-to-day workings of a farm, holistically managed farms are more profitable, and during extreme weather events – either storm or extended drought – are more resilient.

And who would have guessed that ex-farmer and current Letters writer G.R. Scown was an eco-farmer long before it was fashionable?!? I admit to pleasant surprise as he waxed eloquently (Letters, 22-10-15) about worms, soil bacteria, humus, moisture retention and seaweed.

Similarly, I have experienced great results in pasture quality using some of the methods Scown describes along with rotational grazing. The result is a win-win-win situation that includes a healthier mix of pasture species, healthier animals (from eating better plants), and a resilient farm better able to weather both ends of predicted weather extremes.

A recent study by researchers at Stanford and Berkeley published in the journal Nature concludes that, “Climate change could cause 10 times as much damage to the global economy as previously estimated, slashing output as much as 23 percent by the end of the century” (Bloomberg News). Another recent report identifies that “Land degradation is costing the world as much as $10.6 trillion every year, equivalent to 17% of global gross domestic product” (Guardian, 15-09-15).

But none of this would be news to our outstanding regional council. For a long time, Horizons has taken a holistic, proactive and hands-on approach to land management and working with farmers. I have nothing but respect and admiration for the leadership shown by Horizons and the high quality advice and support offered by expert professionals.

I have been impressed with more than one regional councillor’s understanding and advocacy for holistic perspectives on issues ranging from watershed management to environmental education. Getting rid of the “Green Rig”, for example, was an excellent decision.

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Poplar poles planted this winter on a vulnerable hillside. 

I have also worked with a number of Horizon’s staff on issues of soils, slopes and tree planting. The advice was top notch and the customer service outstanding. I actually enjoy paying my rates because I know my dollars are doing great work. Speaking of which, I seem to recall reading that the regional rates bill was going to increase by $2 per household to buy more poplar poles for farmers. I reckon that should be doubled because decades down the track we’ll all be better off for it.

– Estwing

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