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Don't Nuke The Farm... Use Exactly What's Needed! - 10th Dec 2018

Don't Nuke The Farm... Use Exactly What's Needed!

 “Being a Kiwi, you’ve got to look after your country and if there is a smarter way to do something then you want to do it.”

That’s straight talking from Murray Cockburn, owner of Mainland Minerals Southern, a Gore based fertiliser company earning a reputation in Otago and Southland for promoting environmentally responsible practices in fertiliser use. In 2014 the company won the Commercial Category of the Southland Environment Awards in recognition of the work it does in reducing Nitrogen and Phosphorous inputs on farms.

Murray is no stranger to the topical debate that’s being playing out in the media around different approaches to fertiliser use in New Zealand and he comes down heavily on the side that favours fine particle fertiliser as opposed to granular. But using the best option for different areas of the farm, fine particle or granular, is just one factor in his company’s successful equation. 

“We are all about working together with the farmer, understanding what they want to achieve, identifying where their gaps are and looking for the gains that we can help them make. It’s a holistic approach and at the core of it is soil science.  The biggest limitation to plant production is not always just nutrient, often soil health is the major factor. We jigsaw up the farm, so to speak, and through soil tests & getting out to have a dig in the paddock we find out what each area requires.”

Taieri Dairy Farmer, Peter Cashmere, says when he brought in Mainland Minerals their approach was totally new to him. 

“We’ve now identified potentially four different soil types when we had actually been treating them all as the same - it’s a real science. More of the same is not the answer. Some of us farmers have our heads in the sand when it comes to our soil, we are more interested in what happens above it rather than below it. Within three months I could see the difference in the soil structure and that sold me on the fine particle application. It enhances grass growth quicker.  Now we have ongoing monitoring of the soil and can tweak things when we need to.”

Mainland Minerals do not have standard fertiliser with a set level of say phosphate or sulphur, as is the case for conventional fertilisers such as Superphosphate. Murray Cockburn says that every fertiliser mix is unique and is blended according to the nutrient & biological requirements of each farm.

“In the good old days you nuked the whole farm with superphosphate and hoped for the best, of course times have changed and with a greater desire for better environmental management and good economics, guess work isn’t good enough anymore. Your farm might not need phosphate, so why pay for it?”

The company ethically sources its phosphate from various countries worldwide to ensure the highest quality materials with the best possible value & lowest possible heavy metals such as cadmium & fluoride. As an example, one of their key highly concentrated phosphate products, MainphosXP, has double the amount of phosphate, when compared to super, with only 30% being water soluble yet still has 80% of the nutrient quickly available to the plants. Superphosphate has close to 90% water soluble phosphate so has far greater risk of leaching into water ways, particularly in low phosphate retention soils, and significantly higher cadmium & fluoride levels.

Murray is not entirely averse to granular use and will recommend it if phosphate and potassium levels are so deficient that they require a major boost to lift them to an optimum level. However, he would always suggest using it in combination with fine particle once deficiency levels have been addressed. As for nitrogen he’s emphatic that it is definitely more efficient in fine particle application compared to granular as a lot of the applied nitrogen is up taken through the plant leaves and there’s virtually no leaching into waterways. 

According to Murray, the benefits of fine particle application become blatantly obvious to farmers who invest in it. There’s the efficiency that comes from the even spread of fertiliser and the greater surface area that’s covered, resulting in rapid uptake of nutrients into the soil, faster plant uptake, quicker growth response, greater dry matter production and limited opportunity for nutrients to enter into a waterway. In addition, nutrients can be taken up even quicker by plants through its leaves. Long term, independent trials have also shown high sustainability of all nutrient levels.

“One of the beauties of fine particle fertiliser is that you come up with a nutrient cocktail that blends all the elements needed for a particular area, both macro nutrients (calcium, nitrogen, phosphorous, sulphur and potassium) as well as trace minerals, and apply them all at the same time. You can even over sow seed through the system.”  

Such a glowing report card begs the question -why aren’t farmers turning to fine particle fertiliser in their droves? Murray believes part of the resistance has been a hangover from the early days of its introduction.

“Back in the late 1980’s fine particle application got off to a poor start as initially it generated a great response but it didn’t last long and grass production levels fell. The problem was the low rate of application, just 25-50kg per hectare. Things have moved a very long way since then. Typically, Superphosphate had been applied annually at a rate of 250kg per hectare. Now we typically apply fine particle fertiliser at a rate of between 150-350 kg per hectare depending on the soil needs.”

Murray also finds that farmers can be resistant to change for “fear of the wheels falling off”, of suddenly realising “my farm is not producing”.  But in reality, he says this doesn’t happen and he has plenty of farming clients who are happy to confirm this.

Eight years ago Bruce Taylor from Mossburn was won over by Murray’s knowledge and philosophy of soil science and decided to give the fine particle approach a go. He was running sheep then and says that within 12 months he’d noticed a difference on the farm.

“Today I’m into dairy support and the farm is thriving.  Animal health has improved, especially the lambs as they came up to weight much quicker and were healthier.  We are getting good tonnage in fodder beet crops and all baleage made on the farm is high quality. Just through balancing the nutrients in the soil has really turned it around. The fine particle application provides for a quick plant uptake because it’s finely ground and all the plants can take up the nutrients directly.… solid fertiliser can sit around for a few months.” 

One of the company’s long-standing clients, Rob Hall from Waikaka, is a self-confessed convert to what he calls Mainland Mineral’s ‘philosophy’.

“Someone asked me the other day – why do you always have so much grass? The answer is simply what Mainland Minerals are doing for us - pasture and stock wise they are leaps and bounds above other companies we have worked with. I may be breeding stud sheep and beef but what I am actually doing is breeding microorganisms in the soil. It’s not about the medium term it’s about long- term gains. We are stewards of the land and we have to look after it for the next generation.”  

Provocative billboards target Ravensdown and Ballance - 7th Dec 2018

Provocative billboards target Ravensdown and Ballance

Greenpeace is pulling no punches in its new campaign to ban synthetic nitrogen fertiliser and save New Zealand’s rivers.

The environmental organisation has installed provocative billboards on arterial routes around the country in time for the summer.

The no-frills billboards read; ‘Ravensdown and Ballance pollute rivers. #TooManyCows’.

On the latest tactic Greenpeace campaigner Gen Toop says "Ravensdown and Ballance are the river and climate polluters that many New Zealanders have never heard of. Our billboards are just the first step in making these dirty companies a household name."

Two of the Greenpeace billboards are being installed just a stone’s throw from the Ravensdown company headquarters in Christchurch and Ballance’s in Mount Maunganui.

Ravensdown and Ballance together supply 98% of all fertiliser to NZ farms.

Greenpeace has taken issue with synthetic nitrogen fertiliser because of its links to the industrialisation of agriculture, particularly dairying.

"Synthetic nitrogen fertiliser is the fuel that drives industrial dairying. It’s spread onto New Zealand dairy farms to grow more grass for too many cows" says Toop.

The use of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser in New Zealand has increased seven-fold since 1990. In the same period, dairy cow numbers have doubled. The dairy industry is the biggest user.

"Too many cows and too much synthetic nitrogen fertiliser is trashing our rivers and causing climate breakdown."

Synthetic nitrogen fertiliser acts as a double whammy, damaging both rivers and the climate.

Increasing the number of cows through the use of synthetic nitrogen increases the amount of nitrate pollution getting into rivers from urine patches. On top of that the product can directly run off and leach nitrate pollution into waterways.

For the climate, the increase in cows causes increases in ruminant methane emissions and nitrous oxide emissions from urine patches. On top of that, synthetic nitrogen fertiliser can directly emit nitrous oxide - a dangerous and long-lived greenhouse gas.

Synthetic nitrogen fertiliser is also the main cause of the breach in the safe planetary boundary for the nitrogen cycle. Scientists have identified the 9 ‘safe planetary boundaries’ as the set of ecological limits within which we must stay if the planet can continue sustaining human life.

The impacts of the nitrogen cycle breach are already being seen around the world, in the rapid growth in freshwater pollution, oceanic dead zones, and the spike in nitrous oxide emissions.

Greenpeace is unequivocal about the urgency and scale of action needed on the issue.

"We are facing mass starvation, human displacement and suffering, and extinction of wildlife because of climate change. Meanwhile, our rivers and lakes are dying, and our drinking water is becoming contaminated,"says Toop.

"We are literally going to hell in a handbasket if this Government refuses to take serious action against industrial livestock farming and its enabler, synthetic nitrogen fertiliser."

Regenerative farming methods have been proven to produce the same amount of food, and retain farmer profitability without using any synthetic nitrogen fertiliser.

"The Government must ban synthetic nitrogen fertiliser, reduce cow numbers and massively invest in regenerative farming," says Toop.

Farming running deep in Blackler's veins - 3rd Jul 2018

Farming running deep in Blackler's veins A article written about Kent, Barbara & Eddie Blackler clients of ours published in the recent Business Rural paper.. well worth a read.

Eddie (Paul) Blackler works in partnership with his parents Kent and Barbara on their 1300 hectare farm near Roxburgh, Central Otago.
The farm is on rolling terrain which extends from 200 metres to 900 metres above sea-level.
The main-stay of activity is the flock of 2500 merino ewes, grown for their excellent quality wool contracted out to sell to suppliers of merino clothing.  The farm also carries 130 Hereford cattle.
Paul enjoys his life shepherding and has also completed a seeding season (2016) in Western Australia.  He says the unique qualities Merino wool offers the clothing industry makes it a cut above the rest.
“I was away hunting over the weekend and the conditions went from being very cold to quite hot.  The great thing about merino fibre is that it breathes, so you keep comfortably warm in the cold and remain comfortable even in very hot weather,” Eddie explains.
All the lambs produced stay on the farm for their first winter and are shorn as hoggets in September.  The replacement ewe hoggets are classed out before shearing, with the remaining cull ewe and wether hoggets finished to a prime weight of 44 kgs sold at the spring market.  Eddie says there are some key characteristics that contribute to a high-value merino ewe.
“She should have a good frame, able to walk well on her feet, shear a quality fleece of wool ( 18 micron), produce a lamb every year and look after it.  As far as our flock is concerned we’re definitely heading in the right direction to have well-built ewes throughout the whole flock.”
Each year about 550 new ewes are introduced into the flock, replacing the old-girls who have been productive for 6 seasons.
When Rural South spoke with Eddie, he had been back on the farm for 8 months.  Prior to this, the operation was run by his father.
“We do everything ourselves, all the tractor work, the cultivation, drilling 200ha annually.  I have been shepherding all my working life and it’s a great life.  There’s always something to do.”
Maintaining a property the size of their farm is a major consumer of time.  Some of the farm’s fences Eddies says are 100 years old and in recent years all new cattle yards and a new wool shed have been erected.
Eddie has recently competed in the Otago/Southern Region Young Farmer of the Year event.  He says the experience offered opportunities to rub shoulders with a new and passionate group of young farmers who carry strong ideals into their farming and believe in the industry they work in.
The herd of 130 Hereford graze the hill blocks.  Depending on the value of the calves they are either sold after weaning or are carried through to 2 ½ years old.
“We’re in a fairly dry corner and if we dry out too much will drop our cow numbers back to 80 or less.”
Eddie says the farm has enjoyed an incredible Autumn with grass only just beginning to slow up in May.  Winter can often be fairly tough and frosts are a regular occurrence.
This year has been a good one for other reasons too.   Eddie applied for a scholarship from the Otago Merino Association and was successful.  After sending in a cover letter about his farming and himself, he was shortlisted for interviewing by six people from the industry.
“They asked my opinion on the state of the Merino sheep and wool industry.”
The scholarship provided him with a three week visit to Australia and he says the experience was very valuable.
“It’s called the PGG Wrightson Monaro Scholarship.”
Recipients travel to the Monaro region (NSW Australia) which runs from Canberra south.
“You get to visit a number of different sheep farming operations.”
He says the experience of seeing and talking about so many varied approaches to farming was extremely valuable.


Welcome back to the Muster 2018 - 7th Feb 2018

Welcome back to the Muster 2018 Our first Muster for 2018.. and we are covering the Southern Field Days... you dont want to miss these Field Day DEALS! Click hear to listen to what we have to offer at Waimumu 

December Muster with Murray - 5th Dec 2017

December Muster with Murray December is here & its our last Muster for the year... click here to listen 
We wish everyone a safe & happy festive season and look forward to having you all back listening to the Muster in 2018. 

2017 Gore District Community Awards - 7th Nov 2017

What a fantastic night we had on Friday at the Gore District Community Awards. 
We were honored to be able to bring back the Environment Award this year, a big thank you goes out to those who entered and the schools for getting in behind it. 
Congratulations to the Pomahaka Water Care Group on winning the 2017 Mainland Minerals Environment Award and runner up to the Gore Pakeke Lions Club, both well deserving groups. 

We look forward to next year already and seeing this category grow

Spring Muster with Murray Cockburn - 3rd Oct 2017

Spring Muster with Murray Cockburn Last week we had our Environment Southland hearing for the Land & Water Plan. Click here to have a listen to what Murray & Andy had to say about it. 

Glenquoich Station - The Evans - 5th Sep 2017

Glenquoich Station - The Evans A fantastic write up in the Business Rural on our clients the Evans family at Glenquoich Station.
Grab your self a copy its a must read!

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