Investigating agricultural practices

A whirlwind eight-week trip to investigate agricultural practices in the USA, Mexico, Brazil, the Netherlands and New Zealand has highlighted the active engagement of local farmers with environmental issues for Nuffield scholar and Waimakariri zone committee member Cam Henderson.

“In New Zealand, regulation encourages farmers to get actively involved and focus on the environmental outcomes of their farm system.  In Europe, where regulation controls farm inputs, farmers just have to comply with a set list of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ and are less concerned about whether that actually has a positive environmental effect.”

Experience in Brazil 

Cam Henderson learning about sugarcane in Brasil

Cam Henderson was impressed by Brazil’s environmental protection practices when visiting sugar cane farms as part of his scholarship programme.

Brazil was a positive experience for Cam with many farmers involved in soil conservation and reforestation projects.

“We started in the capital Brasilia and completed a week-long loop around the inland regions visiting cropping and cattle farms.

“I was really impressed with the level of understanding of their environmental footprint. They use direct drilling to improve soil conservation and the reforestation programme provides for a total protected area which is the same size as Western Europe.”

Time in America 

Cam enjoyed a road trip from Chicago to Des Moines, Iowa with five fellow Nuffield scholars. They visited farms along the way and agricultural universities. While environmental protection practices lag behind New Zealand, Cam was impressed with the quality of the American university system.

“Environmental practices aren’t regulated like they are here, and the emphasis is on large scale production. I saw effluent being spread on the frozen waterlogged ground which would never be acceptable in New Zealand. On the other hand, their university system is excellent with plenty of practical research and world-class extension services to get that knowledge out into the community.”

Last stop, The Netherlands 

Cam Henderson helping out on a dutch dairy farm

Cam Henderson helps out on a Dutch dairy farm during his scholarship trip.

The Netherlands surprised Cam as he thought they would be ahead of New Zealand in terms of environmental protection, but he found the opposite.

“Their reputation is very clean and green, but I felt quite the opposite when I was there. They have gone down the input controls path and I felt that it ended up being a box-ticking exercise with farmers being disengaged with what comes out at the other end.

“I saw drains running through to rivers with cropping right to the edge. There were no setbacks or sediment traps.”

Learnings from the trip 

Cam is looking forward to sharing learnings from his trip with fellow Waimakariri zone committee members as the group starts to work on formulating their catchment management plans.

The New Zealand segment of the trip focused on diversification with the group visiting farmers in Nelson and Marlborough.

“We looked at farms which are diversifying to add value where they are growing hops, branded fruit and making ice-cream. I believe that this is a growing trend throughout New Zealand.”

Cam will now begin the project section of his scholarship by investigating options for growing biofuel crops to offset carbon emissions in New Zealand.

“It very common internationally, but absent in New Zealand. I’m looking at how we could grow our way to carbon neutral through turning sugar beets into ethanol to provide a more environmentally friendly fuel source.

“I am really excited about this as it could be an answer to our environmental issues. I want to work on something that is action-focused and if it works, I hope to partner with a fuel company for a trial project.”