Thursday, June 27, 2013

Mike Barton-Beef Farming Under a N Cap. This Video Will Scare The Crap Out Of Dairy Farmers

Mike Barton gave this talk to the Beef & Lamb NZ Farmer Roadshow in June 2013. 

It is a real eye opener & Mike explains in detail what farmers in the lake Taupo catchment have had to change in order to meet the Nitrogen cap put in place by their regional authorities.

Thanks to Beef & Lamb New Zealand for making it publicly available.

A quick summary

Mike has had to cap his nitrogen leaching & production to 2004 levels.

He can't change his beef farm to dairy for example, therefore he has also given up any real capital gain on his land.

He has to farm for cash flow not capital gain.

  • 20% of catchment area is in Pastoral farming, 69% is in forest.
  • Possible many other regions of NZ will be the opposite! (69% pastoral & 20% forest)

  • Farming responsible for 93% of manageable Nitrogen
  • 6 farms were modelled for the environment court-Insolvent in 5-9 years
  • Production is capped at 2004 levels
  • Since then costs have increased by 48%
  • Mike assesses his productivity in profit/kg of Nitrogen leached. That is the only way he can increase his profitability.

Mike stated, New Zealand farmers can not continue to sell our product for less than it costs to produce.

New Zealand farmers have not been taking into account the environmental cost of our production. 

New Zealand farmers need to stop being commodity sellers, they need to stop worrying about production and start to concentrate on selling high value products, and more importantly retaining as much of the value as possible.

We need to find low N dairy systems

The reason I am working hard to investigate dairy farming systems that leach very low amounts of Nitrogen is because the day will soon be here when farmers of all descriptions will have to account for the nitrogen leaching out of their farming systems.

I get the feeling it will not matter which flavour of government is in power, the trend is clear.

The Horizons One Plan is the latest instalment and it is only a matter of time before similar plans hit the rest of the country.

I'm planning now, for a profitable farming future. Where my cows will have to leach much less Nitrogen.


  1. That's a really great talk. Thanks for it.

  2. "New Zealand farmers have not been taking into account the environmental cost of our production"

    RUBBISH!!!! Pure and simple.

    NZ farmers produce some of the lowest input, lowest cost product in the world. How do you think they have managed to survive in a largely subsidised world?

    Sure we have a problem that N seems to be increasing in our waterways. I think most regions have a firm grasp the issue is there.

    How do we stop it? Oneplan? Never. Farm management plans. Never.

    Education my dear Watson. When was the last time you heard the of a field day on nitrates run by a council?

    Councils like to brandish farmers with all sorts of negative information whilst positive information is ignored and their solutions are in the form of socialist control. This is very wrong in my view. We need education. Science has learnt and is still learning about Nitrate. Recent learnings have not been portrayed. Take your own basic view that urine is the problem. This is blatantly wrong. Urine may a significant part of the delivery mechanism, but is not the problem. Cows are not the problem. There are plenty of dairy farms with high stocking rates and low N loss.

    There are many factors leading to N loss. Farmers need to understand what the combination of factors are that lead to N loss and be given the opportunity to remedy the said issue. And a relevant period of time. Many farmers have made beg changes to effluent application etc. We are yet to see the down stream affects of these changes.

    I still think there is a lot to learn scientifically. Until we have a great grasp of the issue we should not be brandishing farmers with socialist control. If you doubt our need for more science google "Eutrophication of lakes cannot be controlled by reducing nitrogen input: Results of a 37-year whole-ecosystem experiment"

    Mr E

    1. Just because NZ has the lowest environmental impact and the lowest cost, does not mean there is not an environmental cost. There clearly is an environmental cost and it is not factored into our farming business models.

      The nitrate leaching from stock is totally a urine issue. Numerous papers show that a majority (85%) of nitrate leaching from a stock system is caused by urine.
      But urine is not the sole cause of total agricultural leaching. Horticulture has a much higher rate of leaching than dairy for example and there is no urine in a hort system.

      Mike says in his presentation at 8:40 "This is not a fertiliser issue, it is a stock urine issue" The cap is on stock urine.

      Education you say is the answer?!? Ha ha Yeah right.

      We all know how nitrate leaching works.

      The problem is we have a farming business model which requires a large amount of assets and only returns 2-4% on asset. There is no room in the current farming model to change their farming practises dramatically in order to farm environmentally.


  3. I didn't say at no cost. But farmers have been factoring environmental costs for years. Rates, drainage, riparian planting, self imposed N limits, good N application strategies, overseer budgets. Why do they do these things. Because of environmental cost.....

    I can see you have been sucked in Glen.

    Let me ask you this. Take urea off a dairy farm and what is the N output then? Plenty of papers showing it is well below drinking standards- 11.2ppm. (R Monagen Edendale)

    Let me ask you this. Take dairy farm from light to heavy soils do you get less N loss? But same urine application. Again plenty of papers.

    Let me ask you this. Winter cows indoors. Less N loss? But same urine application.

    Let me ask you this. Winter cows on grass rather than crop. Less N loss? But same urine application

    Urine is a significant delivery mechanism but not the problem. The problem is a complex interaction of variables. It is not rock science.

    Mike says.... But I don't agree. I have not been sucked in.

    I don't agree about assets and the return. There are heaps of farmers who have got it right. If you are saying we can't change our systems because of our cost structure that is wrong. Farmers need education to know where their greatest leaks are and clog them. Yes Education. Controlling farms from a government point of view with broad plans would cause farming devastation, in my opinion.

    Mr E

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