TECHNOLOGY AND THE KIWI FARMER
Over the last forty years New Zealand farmers have adopted technologies that have enabled them to remain in the top rank of efficient food producers in the world, sometimes at a rate that has embarrassed scientists, extension workers and industry, according to Arthur Duncan of Ravensdown Fertiliser Co-operative.
Mr Duncan’s address at this week’s Fert Research fertiliser conference is a reflection on forty years of industry experience.
Says Mr Duncan: “It is my experience that there is a strong uptake of technology on New Zealand farms, despite the common adage that ‘farmers do not make best use of all the technology available.’ The adoption and use of technology in all aspects of farming - including soil fertility management, access to information, management of pastures, animals and crops, breeding, and machinery - has had an enormous effect on New Zealand’s high level of food production.”
While many examples of technological development have major and sometimes spectacular effects, such as the solving of sulphur and selenium deficiencies, most improvements take place in a sustained incremental process. Mr Duncan says that whatever the potential benefits of technology, these benefits are not realised until they are taken up by farmers and incorporated into their farming systems.
“Multiple factors influence the uptake of technology, including an awareness of the technology, willingness to try, presence of technical support, economic incentives, cultural and social barriers and risk aversion,” says Mr Duncan. New Zealand farmers who are backed by research, extension and commercial services are very adept at making use of advanced technology relevant to their circumstances.
“Over the last 50 years global population and global food production have approximately doubled while the area of food producing land has been virtually the same. Such an astounding increase in food production is without precedent in the history of Earth since it has been achieved almost entirely by the application of science-based technology. New Zealand has played a full and active role in this achievement, but what of the next 50 years?
“Most predictions of population growth agree that by the middle of this century the world population will be between eight and nine billion people. They do not agree, however, on whether the population will be still rising or will have stabilised or will be declining by then. At the recent international congress of crop scientists there was a general agreement that there would need to be a doubling of food production if the expected world population is to be properly fed. Gains in food production will be more difficult to achieve in the next 50 years than in the last 50 years. It is therefore essential at the farm, national and global levels that there be increased research on food production technology,” says Mr Duncan.
The Fert Research 26th Technical Conference is being held today and tomorrow at Lincoln University. Entitled ‘Fertiliser Research: Unlocking the Potential of New Zealand Agriculture,’ the conference focuses on practical insights, technological advances, the role of fertiliser in the success of New Zealand agriculture and the future of the fertiliser industry.