Resilience is the ability tobounce back from adverse events. When we are generally happy and healthy we can handle most things nature (or life) throws at us. If we are run down, tired and sick, the slightest thing seems to knock us for six.
Farms are very much the same. They handle adverse events better if the soil is healthy, water available, and infrastructure (and capital) in place. And the reverse is true too. Beaten up soils, lack of water, inadequate or poorly maintained infrastructure and high gearing leaves a farm (and its people) at higher risk when bad things happen.
Resilient Cropping Workshops
Building resilience into cropping farms is the aim of our “Resilient Cropping” project. A joint venture between LandWISE, Foundation for Arable Research, Horticulture NZ and Tahuri Whenua the Maori Vegetable Growers Collective, it is funded by the Ministry for Primary Industries.
A main focus of Resilient Cropping is preparing for adversity such as extreme weather events, fuel cost spikes and restricted access to irrigation water. In-field workshops across the country involve local growers sharing experience and ideas and proposing local solutions.
Among the topics covered are soil quality, irrigation efficiency, nutrient management and energy use. A common question is, “what can we do to best prepare for uncertainty?” An alternative is, “How should we farm knowing that adverse events will certainly happen sometime, and possibly more often?”
Is resilience an issue?
The first stage of the Resilient Cropping project was a survey of growers about the impact of adverse weather on farming businesses. 101 replies were collected. Some respondents were offended by the survey and made the point that managing the impacts of the weather on their farming businesses was what farming was all about.
Diana Mathers reported that, of 101 respondents, only 9 had not lost money from a climate related event in the last 5 years. Only 7 believed that climate variability would not affect their business in the future.
Severe weather had impacted two thirds of cropping businesses two to four times in the last five years. Weather events affected profitability of more than three quarters of growers. Almost half said the losses were severe.
Farmers in Canterbury, Hawkes Bay and Gisborne said both drought and rain are important regional issues. Those without irrigation ar condisering a change their farming system. Some are looking to reduce cultivation intensity to reduce soil moisture losses, while others are changing the sort of crops that they grow.
What do undesirable events cost?
Estimating crop yields, their value, and the cost of lower production is made easier by a LandWISE tool called YieldEst. It is an output from our Sustainable Farming Fund project, “Assessing the cost of crop loss at paddock scale”.
Growers and agronomists recognise areas of suppression, damage and loss within crops. YieldEst systematically assesses the financial cost of losses and the contribution of adverse events. Quantifying the cost of lost production and the relative impact of different problems also helps target where efforts will have most benefit.
YieldEst starts by assessing the yield in the main part of a paddock, and comparing that to expected or “potential” yield. Because it can consider multiple grades with different prices, a shift to lower grades will be also identified, along with the monetary implications.
Variable paddocks are assessed by monitoring yield in “Loss Zones”. Growers are asked to name the “cause” of lower production in each zone and again, multiple grades can be entered.
The project was funded by the MPI Sustainable Farming Fund, LandWISE members and Horticulture New Zealand levy payers through the Vegetables Research and Innovation Board. The YieldEst tool was developed with generous in-kind support from Chris Folkers at ASL Agricultural Software.
Dan Bloomer, LandWISE