Does Sustainable Equate to Profitable Farming?Sunday, Feb 2, 2003
The sustainability of farming practises is this year, to be assessed by the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.
Intensification of all forms of land use has been continuing apace. Not all has been environmentally damaging.
In the context of the sustainability review a key feature is the influence of the Governments plans for growth of GNP at any price and taking growth from where ever they can find it.
While farming practises in the context of sustainability are to be reviewed, consideration should be given to the outside factors that have caused the shift to higher cost production systems which may be the cause of environmental decline.
An instance is the current spurt in milk production which has seen a major shift in on farm production practises focused on the whole production chain rather than the profitability of the farm business unit.
The so called unbundling of the milk pricing structure has placed individual farmers under considerable pressure in the past few years to maximise output to obtain the best paper benefit from the unbundling exercise.
This process maximising product for a marginal benefit has introduced much of the dairy industry to a high cost feeding scenario. A promoted policy of at least 30% of bought in feed has become the accepted rule and the description “milking platform” is drifting into meaning “feed pad” and all its environmental implications.
The key issue for consideration is the cost of feed and its efficiency of conversion in the context of the total farm business and what is the most cost efficient way for in this instance feeding milk cows.
It could be that the old farm business analysis techniques of EFS or marginal analysis are not up to the task of informing what on farm practises are sustainable and what are not.
In essence a farm systems management approach to profitable farming is required.
The “sustainability of farming practises” review should first look at decision processes that are causing the implied farm environmental problems and look to resolving those, rather than heading into legislation and rules to limit the effect. It may not be in the interests of the growth of the GNP but it will certainly have a positive effect on a farmer’s profitability.