The True Cost of Dairying

Early in June a story appeared in our local community paper, the Katikati Advertiser, that caught my attention. So much so that 3 weeks after I first read it I have rummaged through our recycled paper box to find it again.
The story heading is: “Study Reveals the True Cost of D airying”.
It reports on a paper cows-spreadpublished in the USA in the scientific journal Environmental Management. The paper is titled NZ Dairy Farming – Milking our Environment for All It’s Worth and was written by Kyleisha Foote, Dr Mike Joy and Professor Russel Death of Massey University’s Institute of Agriculture and Environment.
YouEnvironmental Management can access the report at The abstract is free but you’ll have to pay nearly $60 for the whole report.
I’ve spent a significant part of my life working in farming districts. I love the land and the people who draw a livelihood from it. And I am very aware of the hard times now facing dairy farmers, times which I suspect will continue rather longer than the pundits at Fonterra and the Beehive hope. So I read this report with both interest and concern.
The paper documents the dramatic change NZ dairy production has undergone in recent years from a low-input, low-cost and low-impact system, increasingly dependent on imported feed and fertiliser.
Increases in pollution and costs to the community through lost recreation opportunities and clean-up costs are the result of hugely expanded intensification of farming. And they are growing, and are paid for not by the dairy industry but by the wider community, according to Dr Joy.
The net effect of this is that the costs to society are approximately equal to the revenue gained and the contribution to the GDP, according to the report.
The report documents the four-fold increase in milk production and the doubling of the number of dairy cows in recent decades. Huge increases in imported of fertiliser and animal feed have driven this increased production, which unfortunately has been mirrored in a massive increase in pollution.
Accompanying this has been the accumulation of large areas of productive dairy land in fewer hands, and the shattering of the fibre of former close-knit rural communities in the quest for economies of scale. This social cost has a large price tag.
I have personally seen this while working on the Canterbury Plains several years ago.
What the report does highlight is that it is many times cheaper for farmers to reduce their pollution than to clean up the mess after it has occurred. The clean ups of the Rotorua Lakes, Lake Taupo, the Manawatu River, Lake Wairarapa and a number of lesser known sites have cost the NZ taxpayer millions of dollars.
Dr Joy says: “The degradation is far more extensive and will increase due to delays in pollution effects being seen; this is because nitrogen can take years, even decades, to move through the subsurface to waterways.”
The dairy industry is not the great provider of goodness to all New Zealanders that many of us believed, myself included, when the overall costs are taken into account. It is entirely reasonable for the dairy industry to be held to account for its impact on our environment, even while we appreciate the hard work of individual farmers and the care that most of them now take to protect local waterways.
Ultimately no-one benefits if we have the most productive dairy industry in the world but ruin our share of the world’s most valuable and fast diminishing resource – water.



The Men on the Sideline

This week’s lectionary gospel reading from Mark 5.21 – 43 gives us an opportunity to consider some people on the fringe of the story. People who make up the numbers but we usually just pass over. The men on the sidelines.
“Some men came from the house of Jairus,…… ‘Your daughter is dead,’ they saidyelena-cherkasova-christ-raises-the-dauther-of-jairus1. ‘Why bother the teacher any more?’ ”
If these men had been right, we wouldn’t have this story in Mark’s gospel. If these men had been right, the event would have passed into historical oblivion, and Jairus would have joined the ranks of heart-broken bereaved parents.
We don’t know who ‘the men’ were. Probably servants, friends, associates, family members. They are side-line participants in the story. They are the ones who got it wrong, when all sense says that they had reason to believe they had it right.
“Face reality, Jairus. Your daughter is dead, it’s tough, but let’s get on with what has to be done. This Jesus guy is busy, don’t bother him now.’
I would have been one of those men. Down to earth, practical kiwi blokes, what they could see is what counts, sceptical of anything that doesn’t fit what they have experienced or can see or touch.
But sometimes our sort of blokes don’t get it right. Sometimes it’s us who need to raise our sight levels, expand our horizons. Sometimes we need to recognise that there may be ‘more to life than meets the eye’. Sometimes quasi-agnostics like me need to open ourselves to faith and belief that is bigger than ourselves and what we can, we think, reason our way through.
Isn’t it good that Jairus didn’t listen to ‘common sense’? Isn’t it good that, driven by his love for his daughter, he invested everything in Jesus? There’s no suggestion that Jairus had all his religious questions answered, that he had done ‘due diligence’ on Jesus and decided to invest in him. Yet he was willing to risk his fledgling and faltering belief in Jesus and the outcome was astonishment (v42) and undoubtedly joy beyond what he had ever experienced before.
People like me and the ‘men from the house of Jairus’ could do well to follow Jairus’ example and recognise that there really is ‘more to life than meets the eye.’
And maybe also wonder, astonishment and joy in surprising places and experiences.

The Other Boats We Never Notice

I read the lectionary gospel reading this morning. It is the passage set down in my Bible reading notes for today’s devotions, Mark 4.35 – 41, the passage about Jesus stilling the storm.
It is a passage I read dozens of times; preached on a few times, read numerous comments about and even seen famous paintin6a0120a4f88a1c970b014e8ac611db970d-320wigs of.
So I found myself asking, what is there in this passage that I’ve never seen before? Surely I’ve seen it all! Then, towards the beginning of the passage this little sentence caught my attention: There were also other boats with him.
I swear I had never seen that sentence before!
The wider verse reads: “Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.”
We are much more familiar with the rest of the story. As the disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee the storm blows up. Jesus is asleep in the back of the boat. The frightened disciples wake Jesus, he calms the storm, Jesus challenges the disciples’ faith, and the disciples are awe-struck that “even the wind and the waves obey him.”
Traditionally we’re told that this story tells us that we need to trust Jesus in all the storms of our own lives – he never leaves our boat. He’s always with his followers.
But what about the ‘other boats with him?’ Who were in them? Where were they going? Why did they also get into boats when it says that they left ‘the crowd’ behind them? How did the disciples in the ‘Jesus boat’ feel about the other boats? Did they feel a particular ‘ownership’ of Jesus?
Weren’t they affected by the storm also? Or was the storm so localised that it only affected the boat that Jesus was in? The words ‘with him’ suggest that the other boats were in reasonably close proximity so it is surely fair to deduce that they got caught in the squall also.
Jesus actions affected not only him immediate followers, but others on the lake also. They might or might not have been ‘followers’. There is a fair degree of evidence that they ranged from miracle-seekers to serious God-seekers.
God’s care is not just the preserve of the Jesus people.
In the midst of own dramas and life issues, and the struggles and dynamics in our particular “boat” (personal life, work, church), we are subtly but unmistakably reminded: We’re not the only ones. “Other boats were with him.”
Perhaps there are more ‘boats’ around us on the journey of faith than we realise, and they carry with them the whole range of belief and unbelief, agnosticism and whole hearted believers. Perhaps those God cares about are more than those who are in the same boats as us. It’s the journey not the brand that is important.

The Kikuyu Project – One Mad Gardener’s Efforts to Beat the Odds – Episode One

One corner of our lawn has a serious problem with kikuyu grass. It is a piece of ground about ten metres by six metres.
As anyone living in the northern half of the North Island knows, kikuyu is a fast growing highly invasive grass that is almost impossible to eliminate. It stays green all year and is tough to mow. It grows at a rate of two centimetres per day!! Left to itself it will grow about a metre high, and very thick.
The kikuyu in our lawn has come down the hill from a neighbour’s place. We are faced with two options. Either let it take over the lawn or try to eradicate it. I hate it in the lawn so have decided to try to wipe it out. Cthe Kikuyu Project 012razy, I know. Others have tried and failed. I am determined to win and I have given myself 12 months for this job. I am calling it The Kikuyu Project.
Some of you may be interested in this saga, because my guess is that some of you have also encountered this wretched grass.
I have read up all I can about it, had a chat with a most helpful guy named Barry Thompson from McGregors, and have started work.
To this point I have sprayed the area twice with glyphosate, two weeks apart. Now I have begun systematically digging it over and removing all the roots. It is hard slow work. I have committed myself to 15 minutes per day, and am slowly getting there.
Once I have done this, I think I will spray it again, and then cover it all with old carpet for two months. I will check progress then. About that time we will be going overseas for two months so I may re-cover it with old carpet and when we come back I hope we will have a base ready for new soil and spring sowing of grass seed.
I will use a glyphosate gel on any pieces that appear in the rest of the lawn, and in the garden.
All comments, advice, suggestions and encouragements will be welcomed!
Watch this space for more updates and photos.the Kikuyu Project 011

David Cameron, the British election, and the peril of an Absolute Majority

British Prime Minister David Cameron is riding high. Having led his Conservative Party to an absolute majority in the House of Commons he is in a position of political power rarely experienced in western democracies.
And he’s got it for five years –David Cameron that’s how often the Brits have their elections. Such opposition as exists is in disarray, the leaders of each of the defeated opposition parties having fallen on their swords within hours of the election result being declared.
It must be a huge relief to a political leader to win a general election with an absolute majority. That is, to have more than half the votes cast come your way.
With an absolute majority you don’t have to think about anyone else.
It’s you and your mates ( male or female!), your policies and your programme. And five lovely years stretching out in front of you. That’s if you’re British Prime Minister David Cameron, that is.
Effectively, that’s what happened to John Key and the National Party in last year’s New Zealand general election. Sure, he had the support of ACT, United First and the Maori PartJohn Keyy but they are “yes, sir” parties and would have been consigned to political oblivion without him. And national began to look as though they would throw their weight around – until Winston Peters upset their applecart by winning Northland.
Absolute power, even in a democratically elected government, is fraught with danger.
Firstly, the Westminster system of government, which we have inherited, is about winners and losers. To the winners go the spoils. It is simpler to understand than any form of proportional representation, and more clear cut, and as such is the darling of the dominant party. You can be quite sure that David Cameron won’t be pushing for electoral reform any time soon. And that’s why National would love to see it return to New Zealand.
But with an absolute majority it is so easy to ride rough shod over the ideas and disagreement of the minority who didn’t support them. You don’t have to negotiate or compromise. In so doing, a huge number of citizens are disenfranchised because the government with ab absolute majority doesn’t have to listen to them.
Proportional representation, with all its faults, does mean that many, many more people are represented at the decision making tables of government.
Secondly, an absolute majority presents to its leaders the risk of hubris. Hubris in a political environment may be defined as excessive self-confidence. It is the over-arching pride that makes you think you are infallible and that everyone loves you. It’s the pride that causes you to think that you really can outsmart the gods, or that standards of behaviour that you wouldn’t accept from anyone else are excusable for you.
It’s hard to escape the thought that it was hubris that caused National to initially take Northland so casually, and then panic. Not to mention the embarrassment of the Prime Minister’s pony-tail pulling incident. Or that causes National-led select committees to set almost impossible deadlines for people to make submissions on some important issues.
The tragedy – in political as in personal life – is that the ultimate outcome of hubris is often disaster.
David Cameron is a good man. I like him and I hope that he can lead Britain in the next five years in such a way that really is inclusive of those who didn’t vote for his party, and that he retains the dignified humility that he presents in the media. To do so will be to model some political behaviour that would be worthy of emulation here in the Southern Hemisphere, on both sides of the Tasman Sea. Bring it on, David!

What makes a life ‘great’?

While I’ve been doing my work at AgFirst laboratory slicing kiwifruit for analysis, I’ve been listening to a variety of podcasts. My favourite is the BBC series Great Lives.
Presenter Matthew Parris introduces a person who has nominated someone as their ‘Great Life’, and also involves someone with particular knowledge of that Great Livesperson. The nominated ‘Great Life’ are people from all walks of life, not all of them British, and from all ages of history. I have never heard of many of them. But almost without exception they are extremely interesting, and from whom I learn something about their contribution to the world….and ultimately, in some way, to my life. Probably yours, too.
They are people who have contributed to the rich weaving of human history. The Great Lives programme is not hagiography – a biography that treats its subject with undue reverence. The flaws, mistakes and weaknesses of those people are acknowledged, but not dwelt on.
Which brings me to a question. Who are people you know whose life you would regard as ‘great’? In my own life, Sir Edmund Hillary and Sir Paul Reeves are people who immediately coPaul Reevesme to mind. And closer to home, former Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons.
What, for you, constitutes a great life? What makes greatness?
I think of in terms of accomplishments, contributions to the life of the world, care of others, and personal integrity, together with that mix of humility, common-sense, and personal warmth that makes people attractive to others.
Scottish American industrialist Andrew Carnegie led the enormous expansion of the American steel industry in the late 19th century. He became immensely wealthy and gave away to charities and foundations about $350 million(in 2015, $4.76 billion) – almost 90 percent of his fortune.
Our minister, Reece Frith, commented on Carnegie’s life in a serAndrew Carnegiemon at St Paul’s Presbyterian Church, Katikati, on May 3, 2015. Quoting from Timothy Keller’s book Counterfeit Gods, he said: Although Carnegie built 2,059 libraries……. a steelworker, speaking for many, told an interviewer, “We didn’t want him to build a library for us, we would rather have had the higher wages.” At that time steelworkers worked twelve-hour shifts on floors so hot they had to nail wooden platforms under their shoes. Every two weeks they toiled an inhuman twenty-four hour shift, and then they got their sole day off. The best housing they could afford was crowded and filthy. Most died in their forties or earlier, from accidents or disease….
Was Carnegie a great man?
Over the course of my life I have conducted a great many funerals. Funeral orations are nearly always hagiography. They may present a life story, but almost without exception we hear of the great qualities and achievements of a person’s life, not their weaknesses, failings and mistakes. Sometimes I come away from a funeral like that feeling sold short. Feeling like I had heard about a sort of unreal person. And wondering if that’s how that person would have wanted themselves presented.
That will probably happen at your funeral, too.
Each of us includes elements of greatness….and doses of insignificance and mistakes and personal failure.
My mother used to say, “there’s a bit of bad in the best of us and a bit of good in the worst of us.”
The Great Lives podcasts are interesting and informative, and it help me appreciate the contribution everyone, great or small, known or unknown, you and I, make to the life of our little, beautiful, flawed and fragile planet. Let’s celebrate those lives in their wholeness!

Alison Holst – a Tribute

I’m up early this morning. Not unusual, for me, but this time I am cooking. More specifically, preserving. I’m just finishing the Feijoa Relish that I commenced last night with the slicing of the feijoas and leaving them sit in a sugar solution overnight.Alison Holst
Which brings me to Alison Holst. When it comes to coming, in our house Alison Holst is the point of reference. We start with her. “What‘s in the Alison Holst book?”, we ask. And there have been lots of her small books that have come and gone in our house over the years, with some favourite recipes moving from them into the home made cookbooks that Sue has put together.
Alison Holst is a kiwi icon for good reason. Hugely knowledgeable, always gracious, always down-to-earth, always looking for ways to make food simpler yet tasty and nourishing, always there with practical tips so helpful to inexperienced cooks like myself.
So now we learn that she has dementia….not an uncommon lot for people of her age and stage. But sad, for all that. And like many other ordinary New Zealanders I wish her calmness and peace in these later years. Thanks, Alison, you’ve been a gift of God to far more people than you probably realise.