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Farming for the Future: Developing a Better Business

Farming for the Future: Developing a Better Business

How do farmers build resilient, environmentally friendly and profitable businesses? The vision is (not so) clear.

Navigating your way through the various methodologies, nutrient systems and products of dairy and dry stock farming, agriculture, and food production can be a tiresome and confusing process. With a myriad of scientists, advisors, information, online videos, seminars, and publications available, how do New Zealand’s farmers and growers make sense of what the best and most efficient approaches to improving their businesses are? 

At Tow and Fert our work takes us all around the world. Every single day we meet with farmers and talk about their platform, their nutrient program, and everything in between. At the forefront of farmers’ minds is the need to change what they are doing for the benefit of their farm and their future. There is a general feeling that the way we have done things for the last 50 years must change. How much each farmer wants or needs to change is an entirely individual question. Each one has different reasons for wanting to develop and change the way they do things on their land. But central to all of this is the goal to create and sustain a better business. But what do they mean by ‘better business’?  

Developing a ‘Better ‘Business

‘Better’ is a word thrown around seemingly at will by marketing people often with little regard to what it is that something is better than? Without a baseline from which to work ‘better’ simply becomes a buzzword to attract attention 

If we look at what ‘better’ means and how it applies to our industry, ‘better’ is referring to the constant efforts by farmers and growers to “improve on or surpass an existing level or achievement.”

Placed in this context that would mean that any or all, of the following touchpoints, can be improved on:  

  1. Business profitability  
  2. Environmental impact  
  3. System efficiency and productivity  
  4. Animal health  
  5. Worker health and safety  

By no means an exhaustive list, the above simply captures a range of outcomes that can determine whether a business is becoming ‘better’ over time. Looking at all of these listed above it quickly becomes clear that each is dependant and, in many ways, determined by the others.  

We need to look at the five points above as one integrated ‘whole’ where each is inextricably linked to the others and, if one is allowed to flounder, can pull down the other four touchpoints listed. 

Follow the Science : In pursuit of ‘Better’  

For many years we have been told to ‘follow the science’. Science will tell us how to create a better farm and business. Science has allowed many farmers and those in the food production industry to grow profitable businesses. What we see happening today is a terrific number of farmers experimenting down on the farm with fertiliser and nutrition products, application techniques etc and in the process creating systems that have a positive impact on all five touchpoints listed above.  

There are those in the media whose opinions take a very singular approach to farming and whilst these opinions are important it is crucial that farmers also look across the fence at their farming friends and neighbours to observe what they are doing that is working. The future of farming depends on innovation across the farming system.  

To ignore these farmers is to put your head in the ground with your eyes closed. No amount of light, water, nitrogen, phosphorus, fish fert, seaweed, or any other nutrient product is going to help you ‘see’ potential other ways of managing a farm’s fertiliser program. It is important that we are all prepared to look at, study, and ask questions about the results these farmers are getting. 

And this is where we see time and time again across New Zealand farmers ‘doing things for themselves. 

Whether it is by using less fertiliser (N) and growing more grass or mixing and experimenting with other conventional products such as Gibberellic Acid or Lime flour for improved soil health or from those who have gone through the complete Regenerative model using cover crops, organic fertilisers and the like, farmers across the country are building better businesses by learning, innovating, and trying new things.  

The Vision is Clear(er)

With all the focus on the environment, water quality, etc farmers are trying new things. They know that change needs to occur, and they want to change.  

In some ways farmers must become ‘scientists’ themselves, and many already have, trying new things, experimenting with different ideas, and monitoring the results. We tell our prospects to start small, try one paddock at a time. Employ a Tow and Fert Contractor to spray 4-5 hectares of pasture with your fertiliser mix, see how much less you can use, monitor the results, see if it works.  

Talk to your neighbours, have you seen a farm that looks like its pasture is greener and richer than yours, go and talk to them, discuss their results, is it working for them? If it is then decide if it could work for you, give it go. Start small and see what happens.  

Finally, there are systems and programmes that work across the spectrum. In fact, Regenerative Agriculture need not be the end game for all farmers and probably won’t be. Instead, a cross-section of systems is already available. From solely conventional fertiliser reduction to fish fertilisers and seaweed products, to organic composts and organic fertilisers, the spectrum is wide, and the opportunities great for building a better business. Which direction you choose to take is entirely up to you and the needs of your business.

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