Archive for the 'Production systems' Category


Becoming New Fonterraland: GE, TPPA and BS

Holstein Freisian dairy cow – there’s 4.4 million of them in New Zealand. Image from Wikipedia. This is not a diatribe against cows, as previously stated I really do like the beasties.

So news is out that National seek to allow the introduction of genetically engineered organisms into New Zealand. You know New Zealand–that previous bastion of 100% Pure; that primary exporting country that has so, so much to loose from lax biosecurity, resource-depletion, dirty dairying, environmental degradation and/or GE-contamination? Are we still a nation or are we quickly becoming a corporation? Should we be renaming ourselves New Fonterraland?

Government ministeries don’t do things with huge policy implications off their own backs. Especially during a period of public service restructure and redundancy. But Dr Nick Smith, Minister for the Environment, apparently had no idea that his Ministry was compiling a study into how much money can be made by changing genetic engineering laws. The reason anyone found out about it? MfE put out to tender the study that looks at promoting greater use of novel organisms  in the open environment.

“They are working against a brand strategy for ethical applications of new organisms in containment. They have forgotten gorse, and possums, and the refusal by the Insurance industry to cover GM organisms,” says Jon Carapiet from GE-Free NZ in food and environment.

So why is NZ’s GE-free status at risk? Well, lobbying from two major power players–Fonterra and the US-backed biotech industry.

Fonterra: Dairying with GE–dropping quality, going for quantity

Fonterra wants GE pastures. This year it dropped it’s support for organic dairy production by 50% at a time when organic markets continue to rise. Organic dairy exports from New Zealand grew 400% between 2005-2009. Organic product sales in the USA grew 7.7% compared with total food sales increase of less than 1% in 2010. So why drop support for a ever-growing value-driven niche? Because organic production has been identified as the main obstacle to introducing GE grasses and crops into NZ.

But in this report, GE lobbyists “fail to mention the significant GE contamination of non-GE farms, the loss of markets, the massive increase in herbicide use, the new resistant weeds and disease problems, higher seed and production costs, loss of biodiversity, or the human and animal health problems associated with genetic engineering (GE),” says Soil & Health – Organic NZ spokesperson Steffan Browning.

Fonterra are ready to overlook all of this hoping to see 20% higher production over the next couple of years. Fonterra apparently is only interested in returning higher profits to investors, shafting the rest of the country in the process. They’ve managed to do it with milk prices, now they’re stepping it up a notch.

Biotech businesses want more billions

The US biotech industry isn’t happy with it’s $50.7 billion a year revenue. It wants to weaken GE laws as part of the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement (TPPA) allowing companies like Monsanto to sell it’s genetically modified organisms to a farming nation.

The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement should have been the main political issue this election. Loss of sovereignty and backroom deals by National for the TPPA will complete the introduction of GE crops into NZ . To have Pharmac, tobacco regulation, intellectual property, pro-corporate regulatory biases, finance, foreign investment, mining, water rights and GE straight-jacketed by a mega-treaty done in secret (All documents except the final text will be kept secret for four years after the agreement comes into force), is an astounding affront to New Zealand as a nation.  And why is the government pursuing it? What does New Zealand hope to gain from this? Helping Fonterra gain access to the lucrative US market. Feel sick yet?

New Zealand: Value-driven?

Our point of difference as a nation, our brand, our selling point, how we can add-value to New Zealand products–is being sold out to open up room for the big boys of the industry to rape and pillage? Our world-renowned environment, our precious birds, our native flora, our health and welfare all put at risk by organisms that aren’t fully understood.  There is no going back. Once they are here they are here

Threats of future enviro-degradation, monopolisation and health concerns from novel organisms don’t seem to scare most people.The incredible lack of knowledge and apathy on these issues is because people live more in the day to day, the future can be worried about in the future, we’ve still got to get through today. But New Zealand consumers are going to have to very quickly face up to decisions about eating GE. Feeding GE grass to cows that we then eat and get dairy products from (and NZers eat a lot of beef and dairy), is a very close relationship with novel GE organisms. Do we trust our scientists and the corporations that fund them enough to bypass all evolutionary safeguards, test all possible permutations and be concerned enough about the consequences to let those organisms loose into our environment and our bodies?

And no we don’t know the full ramifications of GE in our food supply–it simply hasn’t been around long enough. We’re only just finding out that plants you eat can affect the regulation of some of your genes through the effects of plant-derived miRNAs.

Vote this Saturday

It seems almost certain that National will returned to power this election. But please consider voting for the Greens–the only party willing to stand up on this issue. With clear environmental, child poverty and economic policies, the Green Party are important players in New Zealand politics. Hopefully a strong Green presence in parliament will mean that these issues are addressed and don’t turn into policy pushed through under urgency.


‘Super-grass’ aims to boost milk production (02 Mar 2010)

BioTechnology Learning Hub: Amazing Ryegrass

GM grass may not be so green (18 Jun 2011)

Something smells bad (15 Jun 2011)

Warning on GM laws from the NZ Sustainability Council (10 Nov 2011)

GE law probe a big surprise (20 Nov 2011)

GE Free New Zealand in Food and Environment

Soil & Health / Organic NZ

Trans Pacific Partnership Watch

New Zealand Green Party


October Planting – What you can plant right now and when you can eat it

Wayback when I created a handy little chart of growing times for common food plants which proved quite popular. So let’s put it in immediate terms- What can you plant this Labour weekend and when will you be able to eat it?

~~A reminder that this is for a guide for temperate New Zealand.~~

Plant now for December harvest

Leaf lettuce, Mustard greens, Radish, Rocket, Coriander, Parsley

Plant now for January harvest

Beans, Beetroot, Bok Choy, Broccoli*, Cabbage*, Capsicum, Chillies, Cucumber, NZ spinach, Swiss chard, Tomatoes, Watermelon, Basil, Dill, Sunflowers

Plant now for February harvest

Aubergine, Carrot, Corn, Leeks, Zucchinis, Pumpkin

Plant now for March harvest

Celery, Parsnips, Potatoes, Yams/Oca


* Yes, you can grow these now but I don’t advise it because of whitefly.

Buy seeds online

You can buy quality vegetable and herb seeds online right now at Trade Me and I’ll make darn sure they get to you ready to sow next weekend.


E. Coli: Lessons for the Home

The E. Coli outbreaks that have become so prevalent overseas lately are enough to make one’s spinach wilt at the mere thought. It does soldify in my mind one simple lesson for the home gardener :

NEVER put fresh manure on your vegetable garden. ALWAYS make sure it is composted well, for at least 6 months, with lashings of lime.

Also foragers beware. With the amount of fecal matter escaping from this country’s bovine masses, cooking the greens you source from riverbanks might be a mighty clever idea. The CDC says E. coli in spinach can be killed by cooking at 70°C for 15 seconds. (Water boils at 100°C.)


How to save the world with cow dung

NZOnScreen has put up the trailer and an excerpt of the must-see Peter Proctor documentary One Man, One Cow, One Planet.

This film looks at biodynamic agriculture, a Rudolph Steiner-inspired system of organic farming. The film focuses on proponent Peter Proctor, a worm-obsessed Kiwi gardener; and his work promoting biodynamics worldwide, particularly in India, where he argues that modern industrial agriculture (eg. artificial chemicals, GM seeds) has made soil and plants toxic, and farming unsustainable. Proctor’s simple recipe to save the planet? One man and a bucket of cow dung. Narrated by E.T. actor Peter Coyote, One Man screened worldwide at environmental film festivals.

Buy the DVD here.

More resources and info here.


Food Forest Presentations

I just gave my very first powerpoint presentation – an  80 slide extravaganza on the whys, wherefores and wonderment of  food forests, all in 33 minutes. And I’m quite pleased at how well it went.

It was a really fantastic chance to talk about things I’m really passionate about food, plants and pretty things. All done in support of the establishment of a Kapiti Food Forest for the community.

I used the Presentation Zen approach with only a handful of words per slide and filled with lots of really lovely images. And I’ll be shaping the presentation into a series of blog posts to appear here over summer. Exciting things are happening…

Kapiti Community Food Forest
Food Forest Gardening Intro


Generosity: The other part of the how much to plant equation

generosityI always hear about people so sick of zucchini at that certain time of year.  Stories about sneaking it into muffins and scrambling to find as many uses as possible until they’re thoroughly sick of the sight of it. Then they do the same thing later with something else – silverbeet for example. Sound familiar?

What I can’t work out is why they simply don’t give it away. Or at least trade it for something else. 90% of New Zealand’s vegetables get bought at supermarkets – they can’t tell me everyone they know has a glut of zucchinis. If that’s the truth, they need to get out and meet more people.

So my big piece of advice is grow what you can. If it’s more than you can eat then give it away. Be generous – people will love you for it. Leave big bouquets of salad leaves on people’s doorsteps. Send herb clippings to your neighbour. Take your broccoli seedlings to work. Give your left over lemons to the food bank. Take your spare beans to Seedy Sunday. Trade some of those zucchinis for some new potatoes with the gardener down the road.

I do all these things regularly and I want to do them more. I love it. It makes me feel great. It makes me feel part of my community and it stops me from feeling isolated or sad. People love it and I feel like a better person. It’s a win win win situation.

Don’t be scared of planting too much – just don’t let your extras go to waste.


The 30% rule: How much should I plant?

Borlotti bean seedlingsRachel asked me how I knew how much of anything to plant. We were talking about how all the published advice we had both seen on the topic was, work out what you eat each week and start from there ie 2 lettuce per week, plant 2 every week.

But neither of us plan our meals with that much detail. I plan mine around what I have available or how I feel at a particular time. I’m a big foodie, I love food and working around these things is just the way I like to do it. Can’t think of anything worse than coming up with weekly meal plans. Screw it, I’m just not that organised, nor want to be.

My rule of thumb for planting amounts was taught to me by my parents and applies to any farming – plan for 30% stock loss.

30% has served me well. Punnet of 6 seedlings, I’m likely to lose a plant or two and/or have them some under-perform – be it by pestilence, disease, weather or forgetting about them (yeah, it does happen). If I plant just one bean seedling, chances are I won’t see anything off it. So, I plant 3 instead.

For seed sowing I add another 30%. I plant 30% more seed then I expect to grow. Some won’t germinate, some will be pricked out and some I will lose by natural attrition.

This isn’t a scientific formula but it has done me well over the years. How do you plan how much to grow in your garden? Do you plan everything in detail? Do you do complex maths equations based on dietary requirements? Let us know in the comments.

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