PKE un­der pres­sure

New Zealand farm­ers buy one third of the global pro­duc­tion of palm ker­nel ex­peller (PKE) as a feed stock for its cat­tle, but in­creas­ing con­sumer aware­ness may in­crease pres­sure to find al­ter­na­tives.

Element - - Planet - By An­drew Wil­liams

The cat­tle graz­ing on Mike Bar­ton’s Ti­hoi farm, west of Lake Taupo, are fed on grass, and noth­ing but grass. It’s a de­ci­sion made by Bar­ton and the three other farm­ers grow­ing ‘Taupo Beef’ – a prod­uct sold to the best restau­rants in the dis­trict – based on their ex­pe­ri­ence that if ed­u­cated, con­sumers will pay more for sus­tain­ably-reared meat where the farms on which they were raised don’t con­trib­ute to the pol­lu­tion of Lake Taupo and the stock feed doesn’t con­trib­ute to de­for­esta­tion.

In Bar­ton’s case, where stock num­bers are re­stricted around the lake, not us­ing PKE as a feed stock is made eas­ier; he can source feed on his – or neigh­bour­ing – properties.

But for dairy farm­ers the in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion of their herds to re­main com­pet­i­tive means ex­tra feed is re­quired. As Dairy NZ strat­egy and in­vest­ment leader Bruce Thor­rold ex­plains, PKE is “a very good sup­ple­men­tary feed; it’s a good price, it’s safe, it keeps cap­i­tal re­quire­ments down.”

But the prob­lem lies over­seas, where the blame for de­for­esta­tion in In­done­sia and Malaysia lies with the palm oil in­dus­try, which is clear­ing rain­forests to make way for the plan­ta­tions.

New Zealand im­ported over 1.4 mil­lion tonnes of PKE in the 2010/2011 sea­sonal year (Statis­tics New Zealand), which is over a third of the global trade (which stands at 4.86 mil­lion tonnes, ac­cord­ing to the United States Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture For­eign Agri­cul­tural Ser­vice).

A re­port re­leased by Green­peace New Zealand in 2011 said that the PKE im­ported into New Zealand dur­ing that same dairy sea­son pro­duced up to 8.9 mil­lion tonnes of green­house gas emis­sions, equiv­a­lent to 12 per cent of New Zealand’s en­tire an­nual green­house gas emis­sions.

Yet Green­peace does not know of a sin­gle dairy farmer in New Zealand who re­fuses to use PKE on en­vi­ron­men­tal grounds.

Both Dairy NZ and Fon­terra dis­agree with en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists who say that PKE is a co-prod­uct, rather than a waste prod­uct.

Fon­terra claims that PKE makes up just two per­cent of the rev­enue from oil palms, but that is still a large num­ber.

Change is per­haps go­ing to come from in­creased con­sumer aware­ness and de­mand. Bar­ton says: “We have had feed­back from cus­tomers that they would pre­fer food made with­out palm ker­nel. There is also an in­creas­ing body of science that grass-fed an­i­mals have higher Omega 3 lev­els.”

Bar­ton says that dairy farm­ers are fac­ing a cost spi­ral. “In real terms they are earn­ing less than they were 15 years ago. So they in­ten­sify. They’re run­ning more an­i­mals than they can grow grass for.”

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