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Watching my friend labouring passionately on a windy, exposed hillside at a sloping Kaimai lifestyle block, I thought she was a little bit mad. But no, I am told this is the first stage of her new permaculture area which, she insists, will deliver fabulous produce for years to come by working with all the natural elements.
Bees are among the hardest workers on the farm and in the garden, because they work constantly to pollinate clovers, garden flowers and many crops, and they produce marketable products such as honey. Nationwide, the benefits of the pollination they do flow on to livestock production and the meat and dairy industries. They are extremely important to agricultural and horticultural businesses. However, their numbers are falling and this is a real cause for concern.
Over 70% of New Zealand is privately owned, and significant but threatened habitats occur mainly on private land in lowland areas - so if you own any land that is worth protecting, consider protecting it permanently by applying a covenant. Covenanting land with the help of the QEII trust is becoming more and more common.
Captain James Cook first introduced rabbits to New Zealand as an emergency food source for shipwrecked sailors. Fortunately these first rabbits died out. In the 1850s more rabbits were introduced from both Australia and Europe to establish and export fur trade and meat for the local market. The rabbit flourished with no natural predators and by 1876 landowners were looking another ecological disaster in the face. Rabbit numbers then peaked in 1890, the 1920s and in 1946.
The Australian Brushtail Possum (Trichosorus vulpecula) was introduced into New Zealand in the late 1800s to establish an export fur trade. Only 200-300 animals were released in about 20 locations and now the population is quoted as 70 million. The exercise was an ecological disaster and there is no way New Zealand will ever eliminate the possum. Control is the only hope. Possums kill native wildlife (young birds and eggs) and are vectors (carriers) of bovine tuberculosis which is an enormous threat to our meat and dairy exports.
Animals that are not healthy are not productive, and they add cost to the business. An animal health problem - whether it is acute or chronic is a good indicator that there is something wrong with overall farm management. This needs investigation as it's not sustainable. Check this by animal health costs per head of stock over the year, and when the peak costs arise.
There is a wide range of pests in New Zealand that damage pasture. Insect pests seem to come in cycles. This is because there is a build up of diseases that kill them or reduce their population, and this takes time. Insect pests that have arrived from overseas (eg clover weevil, bee varroa mite, painted apple moth) are a major hazard as they have no natural predators in New Zealand.
Pasture grows well in New Zealand, and that's the key to our low-cost farm export business. But pasture does not grow free of charge. The cost of growing it is over 80% of the total cost of production. So pasture must not be wasted and good pasture utilisation is a major goal of all grassland farmers. Pastures are very variable - they are made up of grasses, clovers, weeds, bare ground and dung patches.
Wherever you have farm animals there will be effluent (faeces and urine). Farm effluent carries the risk of diseases and can be spread this way. Grazing stock will spread their effluent on the paddock, but it will be in highly concentrated areas. Effluent collected in ponds or septic tanks has to be spread on the land, and this must be done correctly.
This question is of greatest concern to small lifestyle farmers. There is such a wide choice of species - some of which do not have their feeding needs well established. The interaction between species is important, especially in relation to internal parasites that can affect more than the one species. Then there is the question of what classes of stock to keep within each species. Fencing and water supply must be considered. Soil type and drainage is also an important point to consider. Livestock do not like mud, especially those prone to feet problems like sheep and goats.
It is good advice when looking at a new property to inspect the water supply before you look at anything else. Water is needed for domestic use, for livestock to drink, for yard washing and cleaning farm dairy equipment, and for irrigating pasture or crops. The requirements for all these uses are different.
Pugging happens when grazing animals tread wet soils and sink in to the pasture surface and leave large holes. Continual pugging will lead to the paddock looking like brown soup. The delicate crumb structure of the soil is broken down. The crumbs are smeared by the pounding action of the feet, and the soil air is squashed out.
Soil health is not easy to define, but it is vital to the health of the plants that grow in it, and the animals that graze it. Many believe that it's also the basis of consumer health and welfare. The concept of a "living soil" is real and describes the large amount of micro organisms in the soil. For example there are 1600kg/ha of bacteria, 2000kg/ha of fungi and 800kg/ha of earthworms. Healthy soils are fertile and rich in organic matter and humus, have a good crumb structure and are porous.
Weeds are plants that grow in the wrong place, they have a big negative visual image for the property. People make assumptions that weeds mean poor management but getting rid of weeds can easily become an obsession and create a lot of stress to land owners.
Soil erosion is a natural process, where soils is stripped from the earth's surface and moved to another location. This can be caused by wind, water (rainfall, rivers or the sea) or ice.
In a nutshell, the soil is the basis of all farm productivity. The soil is where you start planning your sustainability programme. New Zealand has a wide range of soil types (more than 1000), and it's important to know what kind of soil you have.
The first in a new series on Sustainable Farming - what it is and what you need to understand to know you're doing the right thing. This article looks at the question "What is sustainable farming?"