Nature, profit and intensification - can they go together?

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Posted by Brendon Walsh on 21 December 2017

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Livestock farming is rapidly being seen as a problem because of how we are doing it and some fairly broad statements in social media have suggested that we need to reduce or even eliminate livestock farming. If you missed my recent blog on this, click here. The biggest issues driving this are the negative effects that our farmers, our farming businesses and our environment are clearly showing, as a direct result of how our farming activities have been ramped up in the name of “more profit.”

Low profitability, struggle with change, depression, suicide, animal ill-health, sediment movement, nutrient leaching and polluted waterways, are among these many negative effects. Farming decisions and practices have generally overloaded the capacity of nature (and ourselves) to cope. Costs and workloads have risen. The real worry is that it will get worse before it gets better.

Rapid intensification has become the major attempt to counter the much-lamented low profitability in sheep and beef farming. The accepted premise is to increase income from the same or less land area. Usually, larger scale sheep and beef intensification is justified by the inaccurate assumption that more intensification brings more income, which brings more profit. Although it sounds quite plausible, it often doesn’t work that way. With greater intensification comes greater costs and a decreased ability of the system to absorb and handle variation and challenging years.

Yes, profit is needed for businesses to keep going, create reward for risk and to power society. But to assume profit will automatically result from increased income is madness. Sometimes it will, but it is not a 100% guarantee. On top of that, all farm working expenses (and extra unintended expenses of intensification) have to be taken into account. After a point, more expenses drive proportionately less income. So, to assume that intensification is the sure way to increase profit just doesn’t add up.

It’s not that intensification is wrong. It’s more that farming well is farming appropriate to the parameters that are important to us and nature.

You may ask “So what alternatives are there for increasing profit?” Glad you asked!

Here are a few:

Firstly, it takes more than a tweak to conventional farming thinking to “get” true profit thinking. You literally have to be prepared to climb down from one tree and climb up another to fully appreciate the thinking and systems behind true profit. Instead of just thinking that more volume equals more profit, we need to learn how to work with nature to create value.

For example, we have clients who have dropped their winter ewe numbers, fed their animals better (with better body condition) during the profit periods and they get the same number of lambs to sell. Often, lambs are sold earlier at better weights! One Southland client dropped 1000 ewes and achieved exactly that. This season he counted an extra 1100 lambs on top of that again and this is in a province where the average lambing percentage was reduced! There are other options too but the varying of stocking rates at different times of the year to capture advantage from the profit periods, is one of the specific drivers of profit.

For this client, his pasture covers are higher, his animals are in far better health, his workload has decreased, resilience is huge, and profit is flowing freely. This is not just based on opinion. It is simply based on implementing the 6 Profit Principles and profit theory consistently. Funnily enough, value is flowing for him and his family, his business professionals, his community, the market and the environment. Yes, nature is benefiting too, through less pressure, healthier soil, healthier pastures and healthier animals.

Secondly, defining the value you provide and then using that in your marketing story can help enhance profitability, as Mike Barton of Taupo Beef and Lamb points out. Consumers are in essence helping to pay for his farm meeting certain environmental standards for farming next to Lake Taupo. His brand is based on his positive response to a potentially adverse situation. Well done Mike for turning a challenge into advantage.

Thirdly, it is less about what you know and more about what you actually do. Consistently applying profitable farming practices that deliver results annually is more important than doing the “latest and greatest” technique, or knowing about everything. Those techniques may be useful but only if they help to achieve the desired outcomes year after year. That is what a profitable farmer needs - the capability and processes to assess and implement what will deliver for them. Do this well and your results (and nature) will love you back. After all, true sustainability is the ability to sustain.

We may need to question our assumptions, or we may not. Either way, we need to learn how to work with nature to deliver value all round. It can be done, and is being done. Will you do it?

 If you are curious about how the GrowFARM® System helps sheep and beef farmers take control of their businesses and unlock their potential, contact me here.

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  • For years now farmers have been encouraged to be copycats - adhering to the 'chat over the fence' or 'keeping up with the Jones's' for new ideas. And the constant encouragement from 'those who know' (or want to sell you things) means that farmers aren't running their operations in tune with Nature. Too many aren't thinking how to tune things to make the best use of what She is offering, and how to adjust to keep making profits, whatever She and Climate Change throw at us. Brendon's Profit Principles and more flexible thinking needed.

    Posted by Sue Edmonds, 22/12/2017 8:36am (3 years ago)