Meeting increasing societal demands

24 Dec, 2018 04:00 AM
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Many farmers are frustrated that grasses developed in Australia offering huge production gains still sit in trial plots, blocked by government regulation, processor bans and lack of consumer acceptance.
The increasingly global nature of our economies is also a factor.
Many farmers are frustrated that grasses developed in Australia offering huge production gains still sit in trial plots, blocked by government regulation, processor bans and lack of consumer acceptance.

OPINION: If anyone doubts the impact of consumer and wider society demands on our industry, a few stories that have appeared on our website recently should change their view.

Increasingly, the way we farm faces scrutiny. In part, this reflects the techno-knowledge age, with a greater understanding of the way things interconnect.

The increasingly global nature of our economies is also a factor. Multinational companies often set policies to enable them to sell products into a wide range of markets that have different standards and expectations.

It also reflects the growing power of social media and the sensitivity of governments, organisations and companies to the opinions of wider society or special interest groups.

The broadening gap between farmers and the wider community is also at play, as people increasingly have less knowledge about the details of what happens on farms. This means opinions can be shaped by those with a particular viewpoint and people are unable to assess the information presented against their own experience and knowledge.

A story written by Marian Macdonald looks at what is happening with genetically modified grasses. Many farmers are frustrated that grasses developed in Australia offering huge production gains still sit in trial plots, blocked by government regulation, processor bans and lack of consumer acceptance.

Her story does point out that there is hope on the horizon -- with different genetic tools potentially able to be used to deliver gains.

But the comments in her story from the Friends of the Earth's emerging tech project co-ordinator point to the difficulty in getting these onto farms. The co-ordinator dismisses new techniques, saying "all gene-editing techniques can result in unexpected mutations". It's a black-and-white stance that offers little opportunity to find a middle ground.

A story from the World Dairy Summit on the increasing scrutiny on antimicrobial use in agriculture offers more hope. A Dutch researcher explained how The Netherlands had cut its antimicrobial use across all species by 60 per cent within a decade but this had not led to an increase in clinical mastitis.

Antimicrobial resistance is a big issue, not just in agriculture, but for human health. But this story shows that science and industry can work together to meet the challenge without negative consequences.

Our story on a trial of a nitrogen-fixing plasma reactor in Northern Ireland also shows how science can help solve problems. The farm where the trial is being conducted, like many in Europe, is subject to quotas for the amount of ammonia it can produce. The plasma reactor fixes nitrogen from the air and adds it to the manure, which causes a reaction with the manure and stops ammonia losses. This produces liquid nitrogen that can be applied as fertiliser on the farm.

It's a great example of a closed-loop that offers wins for the environment and for the farmer.

We can't simply ignore the demands of wider society but with a smart approach we might be able to find solutions that are a winner for everyone.

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