Agricultural scientist says New Zealand should learn from European lesson

Intensification places unnecessary stress on animals and farmers, says  Frank van Steensel.
Tim Cronshaw

Intensification places unnecessary stress on animals and farmers, says Frank van Steensel.

When Frank van Steensel left the Netherlands in the 1980s you could not swim in the Rhine because of the pollution.

Arriving in New Zealand he was happy to find beautiful clean rivers but over the years has watched as industrialised agriculture has intensified to now mirror the problems he left behind.

The Netherlands van Steensel visited last year on holiday was very different to the place he left 30 years ago to study his masters of agricultural science at Massey University.

Frank van Steensel, who farms just outside Greytown, hopes New Zealand can learn from the mistakes made in Europe.
ILLYA MCLELLAN/FAIRFAX NZ

Frank van Steensel, who farms just outside Greytown, hopes New Zealand can learn from the mistakes made in Europe.

"It was amazing, you can swim in the Rhine again. They have done so much to reverse the damage that was caused by unchecked intensive agriculture and industry."

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The irony was that now you could swim in that great European river, but not in the rivers of New Zealand.

The current situation in New Zealand was similar to what happened to Europe decades ago.

"The pollution of the waterways, the stress on animals and farmers, the mentality of profit first and everything else second," van Steensel said.

Corporate pressure to produce goods had resulted in farmers becoming trapped in a cycle of production that was difficult to escape.

"I know farmers, I am a farmer myself. Most farmers love the land and they love their animals. The problem is that they are being pressured and talked into believing industry-driven science and trapped in a cycle of debt to corporate interests that are entirely profit focused."

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He was saddened to see farmers suffering and even committing suicide which had also happened in his homeland 50 years ago.

For van Steensel there were obvious problems with industrialised farming.

"There is pressure on the farmers and there is pressure on the animals. In the old grass-fed system a cow would produce significantly less than they do now. A cow in 2017 can produce four to five times as much milk as it did in the 80s because of modified production methods."

That was not good for the cows and created waste management problems as well as high vet costs. 

 An increased runoff from dairy farms caused an imbalance of nutrients in the water systems which led to problems for the human population with water quality and infection, he said.

The increased waste from cows on smaller areas of land led to imbalances in soil quality which flowed on into wider issues with groundwater and animal health leading to situations where farmers started to feel control of their operation slipping away.

"We need to increase the knowledge of the danger this intensification causes and get more independent data on its effects. We need to look after our animals, our farmers and our country," he said.

 - Stuff

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