Monday, January 29, 2007

Organic New Zealand

Once again the greenies are making noises about an Organic New Zealand. The idea (enshrined in Green Party policy) is that New Zealand should become wholly organic in its agriculture so that foreigners buying our products will get lumps in their throats and let fall tears of gratitude that a little country in the South Pacific has led the world in producing organic macrobiotic mung beans for them to eat.

Well forget it!

In point of fact those Birky wearing mung bean munchers in Europe are simply old style protectionist peasants in disguise. They don't want organic product from the other side of the world. They want organic product from down the road. They will boycott our produce on the ground of "food miles" (the concept that any amount of oil spent in moving or producing goods is evil because it pollutes the environment). They don't want New Zealand farmers to show up their wasteful, subsidised and expensive methods by under-cutting them. They want to be left alone, keeping the grass down in the French, German, or whatever countryside making exotic cheeses, drinking local wines and living their organically pure existence courtesy of the industry they will happily rail against.

More to the point Europe is increasingly not where our product goes. Where once Britain took everything we grew now it is a relatively minor export destination ( see The result is, it doesn't matter what the Europeans think, what matters is what the Australians, Americans and North Asians think.

Meanwhile back in New Zealand land prices are forcing our farmers to go completely the opposite way. The average dairy farm for example used to cost $8k per hectare. Today its $20k and in some places, like the Bay of Plenty its already $50k. The payout for milksolids has remained a fairly flat $4/kg with the average farm returning only $1200 per hectare. Reducing costs in a period of higher interest rates, land prices and input costs (eg energy) is becoming steadily impossible. The only way to increase profitability is to increase production and margins.

MAF has done some excellent work going through all this and the net result of going organic is harder work on an already tough lifestyle for less money.

But take a look at this paper on high input farming

and one cannot fail to be convinced that the answer is not in obtaining a fictional organic premium but simply improving productivity.

As the dichotomy between urban and rural understandings of New Zealand increase, so too will the separation in understanding between extremely urbanised consumer movements (eg the Greens) and rural (overwhelmingly National Party voters) producers increase. It is essential that rural producers continue to have a voice rather than be drowned out by consumers who have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.

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