Friday, July 1, 2022

Getting more from less

Egos drive a lot of positive outcomes and if we are honest they lie behind a lot of what we do.

Being proud of a great outcome that you have had something to do with is a passive form of egotism. Perhaps it is how many people you tell about that success that begins to move ego into a negative form.

The farming industry is littered with super egos that have hindered progress. That is because these egos belong to people that hold power, such as in meat companies and wool companies. Now environmentalists have joined the party and are satisfying their egos in labelling farming as environmental terrorism. They ignore the fact that the urban centres they live in are bigger contaminators.

My story, though, is about a totally non-egotistical representation of farming on the edge of Lake Taupo. The restrictions on farming in that environment are substantial and really do limit the income that can be generated from those farms. Late in the spring I sat through an inspiring presentation about the realities of farming alongside that lake and appreciated the power of facts, non-threatening responses to unsound demands, and preparedness to compromise. Egos would be disastrous in this conflict. These restrictions, though, force the focus to go on to getting more from less.

How do we make livestock produce more from the same feed? Because that is how farming can continue to be profitable with restrictions on nitrogen outputs. The presenter back in the spring acknowledged that opportunity but had in the meantime demonstrated extraordinary marketing acumen in selling a special product to special people. Although possible only on a local scene, it was a wonderful example of innovation, imagination and branding.

I was really struck by the opportunity being presented in the need to get more from less, because some of the value of that applies to all farms, not just to ones that have restrictions on them.

Genetics could deliver animals that have higher feed conversion efficiency. In our livestock systems that must be one of the massive opportunities we have yet to tackle. The pork and poultry industries have shown what can be achieved. Getting the tools to readily monitor this trait in our ruminants should be a high research priority. Alternatively we could import the Blonde Aquitaine genetics that I saw in France because, as I have previously mentioned, they grew faster than they should have for the amount of concentrate they were offered. It was the self-imposed limit on their intake that intrigued me and was the mechanism for their efficiency.

The ability of some forages to support more growth from less intake is another area that should offer huge opportunities. In terms of meeting environmental needs, are there forages that have lower levels of nitrogen outputs than others? I see that plantain is being labelled as being like this, but is it enough to make a difference? Such forages must be able to establish with minimal tillage because disturbing the soil is not lake friendly.

The really fascinating aspect of this clash between environmental and farming needs in a localised area is how relevant it is to all farmers. The solutions are relevant to all farming. The restrictions could apply to all farming. There must always be challenge to the validity of the restrictions, but the opportunity must be the big driver of the response.

This opportunity highlights the diversity in the industry. For many, if not most, the biggest opportunity still lies in utilising more of the pasture grown and the allocation of that feed appropriately. Probably having animals with higher feed conversion efficiency would help with the outputs, but I suspect that it would be insignificant in terms of what drives the profit on those farms.

At the other end of the scale, highly controlled finishing farms that have measured feed inputs, the costs of which are put against the value product sold, would benefit hugely from feeding animals that produced more from less. The benefits are far easier to measure in these systems than in breeding systems, but those finishing systems have to source their stock from somewhere. They depend on breeding farms.

Integration, integration, integration – that must be the biggest opportunity of all.

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