Topic: Moving towards Organic 3.0? Stories from New Zealand dairy farmers
Keywords: decision-making, profitability, system resilience, biological, dairy
Following economic policy reforms in the mid-1980s, New Zealand has been recognised as a model of unsubsidised agriculture. This is considered a positive achievement by neo-liberal proponents, but also raises issues regarding environmental impact, including claims that the environment is subsidising the sector. Environmental degradation, especially of waterways, and social pressure has led to the introduction of regulation restricting nitrogen leaching from dairy farms, and, in some regions, the ability for dairy farmers to expand their operations. Many farmers experience that these regulations are pushing them to become semi-organic, and as a result, some have made the journey to become certified organic.
For a majority of dairy farmers, profit per hectare has become the new business model as regulations are increasingly restricting intensification. Although there is an increase in dairy farmers converting to organic production, the combined economic and environmental pressures are also eliciting ‘non-organic’ strategies, such as biological production. Thirty semi-structured interviews have been conducted with organic, biological and conventional dairy farmers across New Zealand to investigate what they see is the relative advantage behind the choice of their system and where they are heading in the future. Two common ways of increasing profit per hectare is (1) through adopting practices which lead to lower operational costs, or (2) adding value by, for instance, producing organic, grass-fed, or ethically sound products. Some of the farmers entered into organics for the movement and its principles, whereas some entered due to the offered premium but have since become convinced of the organic message. Many biological farmers state that their advantage is efficiently lowering their costs whilst improving soil and animal health without being hampered by the inflexibility of organic certification. Most conventional farmers see organics as too contentious but see biological production as a future potential possibility. Thus, biological production is often seen as a middle way between organic and conventional, and is getting increased traction. Despite being a ‘non-organic’ strategy, perhaps biological production is the way for New Zealand dairy farmers to move towards organics? I will present a number of case studies and shed some light on the New Zealand perspective and illustrate the different steps that farmers are taking to improve their profitability and environmental footprint. I will also discuss how the rise of biological production as a movement might fit in with the vision of the Organic 3.0 document.