Farming's changing face
Farming practices need to evolve as the world's population surges toward 9 billion people by 2040.
The prediction was made to 40 participants in an international Young Farmers Master Class in the Netherlands last month. One of them was Richard Laugesen, a third-generation sheep and beef-stock farmer from the Waihopai Valley in Marlborough.
He and four other New Zealanders joined farmers from the United Kingdom, Ireland and countries in Africa and South America for a week-long global master class, sponsored by Rabobank.
The co-operative bank which has branches around the world makes agriculture its specialty field, says Richard, who was nominated by Rabobank Marlborough manager Paul O'Regan to attend the seminar. All participants had to be aged under 40 and workshops were focused on the challenges and opportunities facing the next generation of agriculturalists. Identifying resources at hand and extending them in a sustainable way is vital in a world of shrinking natural resources. Before the master class started, Richard spent three days on a dairy farm at Lochem near the German border in the Netherlands.
That country seemed 10 years ahead of New Zealand when balancing land production with sustainability, he says.
Cows on the farm were all housed indoors and everything the animals needed was brought to them.
They looked comfortable and happy and their milk output was twice that of New Zealand cows grazed in paddocks.
At Lochem, cow effluent was collected in a basement and twice a year spread on to pasture.
There were no nitrogen-leaching problems.
Richard learned many Dutch farms produce their own solar and wind power, making them energy neutral.
In the dairy farm he was on, cold water was used to cool the milk from the cows in a double-duty heat recovery system.
Water used to cool the milk was simultaneously warmed, reducing the amount of power required for refrigeration and water-heating.
"Every process where energy is used is used somewhere else. Nothing is wasted."
The Master Class young farmers learned that consumers in the Western world waste 35 to 40 per cent of the world's foods - enough to feed 2 billion people.
Improving that ratio would go a long way to feeding the extra mouths forecast for 2040, Richard says.
Better ways of producing food for everyone must involve education, new shopping habits, giving foods longer shelf lives and finding new food sources.
"Very soon governments will have to decide where they stand regarding genetically engineered foods to enable farmers to get on and meet these challenges."
Non-dairy milk has been developed and ground-up insects can provide vital nutrients for animals and humans.
If nutritional values like iron, calcium and protein are compared, studies show caterpillars, grasshoppers and dung beetles measure favourably against beef mince.
Back in the Waihopai Valley, Richard and his wife Anna aren't looking at adding caterpillars to their young sons' diet any time soon.
But farmers must stay alert to new developments and keep each other informed about the best ways of doing things, he says.
New Zealand's geographical location adds logistical obstacles when reaching international markets, but the wide expanse of sea surrounding this country is also an advantage.
Outdoor cows might produce less milk than those living under cover, but consumers are willing to pay premium prices for dairy products sourced from cows living more naturally outside. Product safely is imperative.
"Countries that can't feed their populations are looking to shore up supply agreements. And they're looking for safely produced food.
"We have that, so we have to make sure our standards are kept extremely high, to use that stretch of water to our advantage."
Richard and Anna bought into the 1300-hectare Craiglochart farm with his parents Brian and his wife Jennifer seven years ago.
Two years ago the young couple bought the senior Laugesens out.
To raise some capital, Richard turned 30ha of the traditional sheep and beef run into a vineyard.
There were risks involved with planting grapes so far into the valley where seasons are extreme and rainfall levels low. But Richard carefully calculated them, aided by knowledge gained doing his Bachelor of Commerce degree with a double major in farm management and rural valuation from Lincoln University.
He sells Craiglochart grapes to a Marlborough winemaker and says the dam built to keep the vineyard irrigated has transformed the farm's sheep and beef pastures.
Live stock at Craiglochart once had to be sold by November before the summer droughts arrived and the grass disappeared, he says. With the help of the dam, filled from rainwater catchments set up on the hills, specialist finishing crops like brassicas and lucerne can be grown, enabling lambs to be finished to high weights. Quality pasture has dramatically increased stock production. After running with a ram, all hoggets are in lamb instead of some remaining dry; and heifers can be retained for calving when they are 2 years old.
Richard believes the future is looking bright for agriculture and he is sharing the master class information with discussion groups and media. "But you must love what you're doing and be absolutely passionate about it."
The Marlborough Express