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Ross trained as a veterinarian in New Zealand specialising
in dairy nutrition and farm consultancy. He is also
chairman of a group of agtech companies which have
an agricultural consultancy division. The group also has
a feed blending unit which blends feeds for the dairy
industry. As another adjunct, the company handles
sales of the silage additive Ensile, manufactured by
Volac, which is also involved in providing Ross's group
with supplies of Megalac for use in its feed division and
Blossom milk powders for feeding to calves.
A changing landscape
The New Zealand dairy farm landscape has changed over
the past few years, from being almost entirely covered
by grass to having a variety of crops, all used to provide
alternative feed sources for dairy stock. Ross Beale
outlines the research that has gone on in tandem with
this change in cropping: "Maize production has been well
established for a long number of years. In regard to those
maize crops, for instance, a lot of work has gone on over
the past forty years to develop hybrid strains that meet
the di erent climatic zones and growing requirements
from the far end of the North Island to the southernmost
regions of the South Island. Over the past ten years
fodder beet has become more popular and there is
a recognition that, in some cases and on vulnerable
soils and topography, grazing that crop in situ presents
environmental and animal welfare challenges that are
leaving farmers open to criticism from the public and
greater scrutiny from the authorities."
Dairy output growth slowing
The New Zealand vet agrees that growth in dairy output
has slowed down in recent years: "There are a number
of reasons for this. Environmental issues are one reason.
Added to that there is less available land that is suitable
for conversion to dairy. Some of the steeper land that
is being used now presents its own challenges. Some
of the new dairy units developed over the past decade
were on land that requires full-time irrigation and there
are obvious environmental regulations which have to
built into the business model, increasing costs. The
stewardship of water use is now foremost in everybody's
mind. That includes farms that are used for crops as well
as those devoted to pasture. On the other side of the
water use equation, water also has to be managed in the
urban environment." The progression elevator that has
allowed the industry to be continuously rejuvenated over
the decades with young aspirant farm owners is slowing
down as Ross testifies: "The share farming model which
has facilitated young people entering the industry and
gradually building up to farm ownership is not operating
as well as previously. It has served us well but there
are now fewer fifty-fifty structures where the younger
farmers owns the herd and the owner provides the
land and dairy infrastructure. Shared equity models are
increasing in number. This is where the up and coming
farmer may take a shareholding in the entire farm
business. That has benefits but it is di cult for the young
farmer to build the capital equity required."
Restoring environmental reputation
In response to the criticism which New Zealander
farmers are enduring from the general public as well as
some politicians because of some farm management and
animal welfare practices, Ross explained that progress is
being made: "Environmental stewardship and improved
animal care are now part of the mix of running a farm
business, whether you are dairying or deer farming or
whatever, it doesn't matter. There are environmental and
animal welfare matrixes that the agricultural industry has
New challenges in New
Zealand animal welfare
Ross Beale a veterinarian based in New
Zealand looks at the changing landscape
for dairy farming and the importance
of animal welfare and herd health