Advances in technology have changed the face of farming in New Zealand. Large machines are doing the work of a hundred men or more and drones are giving farmers a better picture of their land. However, adopting modern farming methods come with problems, some of which have serious environmental effects.
Farm machinery and power equipment sales have more than doubled over the past decades. Machinery is taking over most of the farming processes such as cultivating, seeding, irrigation/watering, prepping, and harvesting. Modern machinery has allowed farmers to increase their crops and to tend to larger tracts of land. Crops are healthier, more uniform, and less likely to be contaminated. Increased yields have increased the availability of fruits and other crops as well as brought down their prices.
Farmers can allocate more of their produce for export and rake-in bigger returns. The technology is not limited to farming crops; dairy farmers are also experiencing increased yields with the use of automated milking sheds that can milk cows without human assistance. Cows are coaxed and trained to use the stall with treats and snacks. The act is voluntary and the lack of human contact makes it less stressful to the cows, which increases milk production and extraction rates.
Aside from yield, innovations in farming have also led to increased efficiency. Plastic pallet bins have done away with rot and mold problems and made the storage and transportation of crops easier and safer. Crops are also less likely to be bruised or damaged. Drones in the sky are giving farmers detailed information about their land — including where and when to use fertilizers or pesticides
Farmers can use precise amounts at precise locations, eliminating or decreasing the amount of waste and environmental run-off. Increased efficiency translates to savings in farming supplies and moderation of a farm’s chemical use.
The benefits of modern farming methods don’t come without problems. The increased number of crops requires an increased amount of fertilizer, most of which are artificial or chemical. More cows mean more waste — the biological kind. New Zealand’s rivers and streams are inundated with nitrogen coming from run-offs from large farms. Two-thirds of the country’s rivers are unswimmable and the high levels of nitrogen and fecal matter in the water are bringing three-fourths of native freshwater fish species close to extinction.
Heavy November rains are spreading the contamination, leading to a shutdown of 40 beaches in Auckland. The problems with the increasing number of cows and other herds of animals are not limited to the water. Half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions originate from the agricultural sector. Methane from cows has prompted serious government action, including an attempt at an emissions levy. The country also has the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium (PGGRC), a consortium that seeks to find measures that can reduce the methane-production of livestock.
Modern farming techniques are both boon and bane to New Zealand. Farmers are reaping the benefits, but the increase in production is putting significant pressure on the environment.