Tuesday, 20 October 2020 10:25

Burning hope for change

Written by  Nigel Malthus
Helicopters with monsoon buckets attack the big Lake Ohau fire. Photo: Ned Dawson/FENZ. Helicopters with monsoon buckets attack the big Lake Ohau fire. Photo: Ned Dawson/FENZ.

Federated Farmers is hoping for changes to the Department of Conservation's (DoC) high country grazing rules in the aftermath of two recent big wildfires in the Mackenzie Basin.

A fire at Pukaki Downs, in August, burned through 300ha of DoC land. Meanwhile, the big Lake Ohau fire this month took out many homes in the Lake Ohau village and tore through another 5000ha – both farmland and DoC estate.

Federated Farmers blames the ferocity of both blazes on the vegetation load of ungrazed DoC land, saying fire risk is being mismanaged and neglected, and needs urgent review.

“It’s not even fire season and we have lost almost 50 homes and over 5000ha because of fire,” Federated Farmers high country chair Rob Stokes told Rural News.

He says some areas of the DoC estate were inappropriate for livestock, but in less sensitive areas, low numbers of sheep or cattle can keep combustible grass, scrub and immature wilding pine levels down.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage responded to this call suggesting farmers were opportunistically looking for free grazing. Stokes dismissed this as “a cheap shot.” 

He says the Feds had been warning about fuel loads on DoC land for years. 

“We have only been opportunistic in the sense that the near-miss to human lives, not to mention the stock loss and serious property damage from the Ohau fire, was a chance to finally get some traction with the department and the Government on this issue.”

Despite the uncertainty around the general election, Stokes expects to continue discussions.

“We hope it’s sorted out this spring.”

DoC director operations, Ben Reddiex, told Rural News that the department and Land Information New Zealand held a positive meeting with Federated Farmers to discuss fire management in the high country.

“Reducing the occurrences of fires around high-value sites, residential and commercial structures is a key concern for all parties,” he says. “A range of potential solutions were explored, including active management of physical hazards, and an ongoing public awareness campaign about fire risk across New Zealand.”

Reddiex claims DoC, LINZ and Federated Farmers are working collaboratively with Fire and Emergency New Zealand on these matters.

Stokes believes destocking high-country farms for conservation purposes had not been thoroughly thought through. He says passive grazing, in the past, had significantly reduced fire risk and also enabled landowners and leaseholders to manage pests while preserving open landscapes.

The immediate past chairman of the Feds’ High Country group, Simon Williamson, told Rural News the Lake Ohau fire had obviously been “pretty hot” where it went through ungrazed DoC land.

“You only have to go up there and have a look to see that the bits that were grazed haven’t been nearly as badly affected as those that haven’t.

“We’ve never said that grazing will stop fires, but it’ll help a helluva lot with the issues that go on when there is a fire.

“Anywhere it’s been closed up with all that fuel loading underneath it, it’s burnt really hot and savagely whereas if you graze underneath it and take that fuel out of it, they [fires] do brush through and everything is more likely to survive underneath it.”

Williamson’s own property, Glenbrook, is about 20km from the fire but was potentially threatened when it got into the neighbouring Ohau Downs property at the bottom of the lake, he said.

“It had jumped the road there and it was coming this way but because it’s all been grazed it didn’t get anywhere.”

Mackenzie District Mayor Graham Smith, who farms in South Canterbury outside the Mackenzie Basin, said his son’s Ben Dhu Station was under threat from the fire until a wind change.

Smith acknowledged that DoC had done a lot of good work and recently put a lot of money into managing wildings. 

But believes grazing could help manage the risk. 

“I’m not talking about decimating it to dust,” he told Rural News. “I am talking about managing it, light grazing throughout the year or certain times the year so that that foliage is managed.”

Smith also floated the idea of controlled burns to manage wildings, having seen how the Pukaki fire appeared to have knocked wildings back.

“In these areas only a small bit of fire went over it but all the wildings are dead. So maybe burning some of these areas from time to time needs to play a part in the management of wildings.”

Smith has had discussions with Sage and she agreed that the five aligned parties charged with joint management of the Mackenzie Basin, (ECan, LINZ, DoC, Waitaki District and Mackenzie District) would sit down and work out a fire management strategy. 

“I do declare my interest as a farmer but I think really in the Mackenzie Country we have to take our hats off to those farmers and landholders up there because they in general have done a really good job in actually managing that ground,” Smith says.

“Conservation’s one thing and we all understand protecting the environment and we want to protect it in the Mackenzie because we’ve got some outstanding natural landscapes.”

Smith says you can’t shut vast areas of country up and then “just walk away”.

More like this

Nice speech, but...

OPINION: Publisher Stuff and lobby group Federated Farmers both like to preach about their respective high-minded virtues – Stuff, about “funding journalism”, Feds about “supporting our farming communities”.

A dangerous precedent

A proposal by the Timaru District Council (TDC) to extend setbacks in rural areas is raising eyebrows.

Praise for associate director scheme

Federated Farmers dairy vice chairman Richard McIntyre says the associate director scheme run by DairyNZ is awesome and he would thoroughly recommend it to anyone.



Lely offerings for the future

Dutch robotic specialist Lely launched a new farm management application called Horizon at its recent Future Farm Days 2020.

Designed to connect data from a range of on-farm equipment and suppliers into one management system, it creates a real-time decision-support platform, to make the farmer’s life easier, the herd healthier and the farm more profitable, says Lely.

Developed over a 24-month period, with over 100 test farmers in seven countries, working with 75 engineers, designers, farm management advisors, veterinarians and AI specialists, the new application will eventually replace the current Lely T4C management system. It uses smart algorithms and the cloud to deliver data that is processed into actionable information that is always accessible on any device in a user-friendly way.

Lely claims the Horizon application unburdens farmers from routine decision making and helps them optimise their workloads, using integrated routines based on easily scheduled cow ‘touches’, create logical and more efficient workflows. It is also possible to assign a certain task to an employee and to schedule a time slot for the cow touch, rather than analysing different reports and filtering long lists.

Horizon is also able to connect and combine data from non-Lely sources into a complete solution for the farmer removing the need to enter the same data twice, while scrutinising individual data streams in different applications will no longer be necessary. Currently, connections with farming applications such as Dairy Comp, Uniform-Agri, CRV and Herde already enable farmers to synchronise information about calving and inseminations between applications. Lely’s ambition is to connect with more partners over time, to hand the farmer more smart data.

To ensure full support in the migration to Lely Horizon, existing Lely T4C customers will be personally informed by their Lely Center before the end of 2020.

The migration is planned in a phased approach, from country to country, over the year 2021.

Also launched at the event, Lely Exos is an autonomous concept for harvesting and feeding fresh grass to the herd.

The company suggests that feeding fresh grass makes better use of available roughage, suggesting “fresh” has between 10 and 20% more nutritional value than grass silage, as there are minimal losses typically seen during mowing, tedding, raking, harvesting and feeding.

Lely suggests that feeding fresh grass over an extended season reduces the amount of silage that has to be conserved, reduces the need for concentrates and bought-in feed and increase the margin made on each litre of milk produced.

Based around an all-electric vehicle that mows and feeds, Exos is light weight and uses soil friendly technology, that can be exploited throughout the growing season. Design to work 24/7 as feed requirements change, the system places no constraints on labour or time, while it is also designed to work in tandem with the Lely Vector automatic feeding systems.

In operation, Exos also collects field data as it goes about its job, giving framers live data on grass supply and lending itself to a further concept of delivering a targeted liquid fertiliser as it passes over a harvested area.

Goat farming on the rise

Dairy goat milk processors, looking to increase their supplier numbers, are helping to drive interest among farmers in New Zealand’s growing goat milk industry.

TB fight goes on

The total number of TB-infected herds in Hawke’s Bay has risen to 20, following the recent reclassification of a new herd in the Waitara Valley.

Milking cows behind the barbed wire

A recent field day at the Waikeria Prison Farm near Te Awamutu offered farmers the chance to see what goes on “behind the wire”, alongside introducing the idea of farmers employing offenders near the end or after the term of their sentences.


Dispelling wool's myths

Paul Alston believes that when comparing wool and synthetic carpets, wool wins every time.

Not all GHGs are the same

The New Zealand Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (NZRSB) is calling for a new, more accurate, method for calculating methane emissions.

Machinery & Products

Weeds in for a shock

WIith an increasing focus on reducing chemical herbicides, largely because of crop resistance and a potential build-up of residues, new…

V8 - a baler with a grunt

Following three years of testing with clients worldwide, Ireland-based manufacturer McHale has added a bigger model to its range of…

Virtual CV valuable tool

With a 12-year history of recruiting specialised operators from overseas to service the agricultural contracting industry, Hanzon Jobs typically brings…

» The RNG Weather Report

» Latest Print Issues Online

The Hound

Tough gig!

OPINION: This old mutt has a fair amount of sympathy for Ag Minister Damien O’Connor with the two associate ministers…

Cow killer

OPINION: The Hound was not surprised to hear well-known end-of-the-world doom-merchant ‘Dr’ Mike Joy is still as joyless as ever…

» Connect with Rural News

» eNewsletter

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter