View Full Version : Brix

11th August 2009, 10:29 AM
The Brix meter complements biological farming. If you look after your soil properly, (encourage soil activity like worms, microbes, nitrogen fixing plants etc), the grasses and crops growing in it will increase their Brix reading over time, and this indicates the total percent solids dissolved in the plant juice or sap is increasing = more sucrose, fructans, salts etc in the crop. The Brix readings should equate to QUALITY of the measured item.

In the case of grasses, it is a guideline to the maturity, MJME and protein content of the grass. Google 'Brix' and 'biological farming' for a lot more detail. Private sector unpublished research shows strong links between improving the Brix of grasses and supplements for cows and ruminants, and their milk Brix or other outputs, and FARM PROFITS.

Average ryegrass has a Brix value (sugar activity) of 2-6% in the morning, and it usually rises to a reading of 8%-13% or so in the afternoon on a sunny day. Cows and ruminants love higher-Brix forage mixtures, and their general health markedly improves when eating it.

11th August 2009, 10:39 PM
Novel Ways staff have recently carried out a small amount of scientific research into the use of Brix meters on grasses and legumes (not peer reviewed). The writeup for this work is available on our website here:


We have not found any other Brix work for grasses published on the web.

The results were significant: using careful procedures, a Brix average reading on various paddock samples on the same day and time period was strongly related to the average amount of sucrose (simple sugars) in the plant saps. Those paddock samples with the higher Brix readings would have been sweeter in taste.

What does this mean for farming practice? We would expect that farmers would observe their stock preferring this higher-Brix feed, if they have a choice. They would tend to stop immediately on finding such feed, and begin cropping closely. Feed utilisation efficiency might improve as a result, with less grass getting trampled.

Over time, animal health might improve. We think it's possible that ruminants might be able to convert more of the organic matter that they eat, when it is higher-Brix. The conversion efficiency of this process is normally anywhere from just 15% to 60%. Farmers that measure and try to improve Brix readings on their pasture often note that their stock have more solid movements, which could imply that their digestive systems are working more correctly.

Unfortunately, we don't know of any scientific research which has tested any of these ideas.

4th September 2009, 10:55 AM
BRIX (oBx) is a measurement of the dissolved sugar to water ratio of a liquid. (the standard is sucrose at reference temperature of 20oC). It is normally measured with a refractometer in oBx. A 25oBx solution is 25% (sw) or 25grams of sugar per 100grams of solution or 25 grams of sucrose and 75grams of water by weight per 100grams of solution. Where Brix is measured with solutions containing contaminants such as cell walls and non sugar molecules it is not strictly correct to refer to this as a true Brix reading, but as a refractometric dried substance (RDS) i.e. total dried solids. It gives an approximate measurement of sucrose and as most of the dried solids will probably be sucrose, to all intents and purposes will be accurate enough for farming purposes.
Pasture in New Zealand is
composed largely of perennial ryegrass and white clover.
This assumes that heavy handed use of nitrate fertiliser hasn’t subdued the clover!
There are other plant varieties used, but for the purpose of this discussion I will use ryegrass to illustrate the points made.
We are aware that ryegrass is composed largely of sugars, CO2 fixation by photosynthesis provides two of the most important plant functions: -
(a) Glucose based long chain polymers as cellulose in the plant cell walls. This is one of most important products of CO2 fixation, cellulose is the main support system, or the skeleton of the plant.
(b) the individual cell contents, a jelly like substance called protoplasm which is divided into two major parts, the nucleus and the cytoplasm. Put simply the nucleus is essentially the information store and the cytoplasm is the chemical factory for the cell. Sucrose, the main energy store for the plant, is formed in the cytoplasm of the cell from glucose and fructose molecules. When this energy is required by the plant it is reconverted to glucose and fructose by enzyme action.
In theory (b) should have the greatest appeal to cattle i.e. more palatable, equals more eaten, equals correct fertiliser regime, equals more production for the farmer. What it doesn’t show is that of the total sugars, how much is locked up in the cellulose and hemicellulose cell wall part of the plant, which has the lowest palatability and digestibility available to the cow. It is well known that cows eat the new growths first! Kids to lollies! Ruminants are designed to utilise cellulose, it doesn’t mean that they necessarily like it!
Remember Brix is only one management tool available to farmers, it cannot be used in isolation. It doesn’t change the need for good management practices. We have a large amount of anecdotal evidence that Brix works on New Zealand farms, however this lacks verification! For some obscure reason the scientific community remains either quiet (perhaps if you ignore it will go away) or scathingly opposed to Brix,(another Greenies stunt) as a farming tool without doing the research What we need is, good, peer reviewed, scientific research to prove one way or the other that Brix has/or has not a place on the modern farm!

4th September 2009, 12:51 PM
Thanks for your contribution grassmaster..

Novel Ways have sold quite a few brix meters to farmers over the last year, and would like to hear any feedback from their results.

In the meantime, Dr Doug Edmeades (AgKnowledge) intends to write an article about Brix measurements on grass, and this should appear on his website at some stage. We'll try and post a copy back here. He's using our writeup as one of the source materials.

We have also discussed Brix readings with forage experts at nearby DairyNZ, without too much interest at this stage. But if anything, it's becoming more likely that some research work will be done in future. There are other ways of measuring brix in materials: near infrared (NIR) instruments can be quite accurate and will also measure pH, digestibility, etc. But some handheld units of this type are $30,000 each.

29th September 2009, 08:05 PM
I've been taking brix readings since 2003. Mostly on my small holding where I keep an eye on the stock. When they are sitting down, I'm happy. When they are standing, it's time they were moved. They grow like mushrooms. I don't drench or use any other nasties.

My brix is around 13. High brix will mean stock will eat less DM, not more, as it is more filling. Just like food used to be. Being a small block I only fertilise once a year. I'll get a reading from my high N neighbour soon & post it.

Little or no N is used. I used 9kg N last March, nothing prior to that, nothing since. (What a waste of money.) Clover content is 30% min. (Up to 60% around January.) No problem with bloat, FE, insects or anything else. The neighbour does have those problems & he used 235kg N last year & 191kg N the year before.

Interestingly, my soil N is 324kg/ha. That is in the high bracket. (no reading for neighbours). My leaf N is 4.3%, (mid range) his is 2.7% (low). My August 2009 growth was 62kg/ha/day. His was 35kg/ha/day.

Healthy plants emit frequencies that at least do not attract and perhaps repel insects, and unhealthy plants emit higher frequencies that attract insects. In other words the plant tells the insect to eat it when it is not healthy. It seems 12 brix is the min. at which insects & diseases will not affect a crop. However, some protection may be afforded even at 8% on a rising plane of nutrition.

Insects and humans have extremely different digestive systems. It is ludicrous to even think that we share food with insects. However, it is so common now, we don't give it a second thought. The insect is the winner, so what are we? (No prizes for guessing.)

Insects avoid high sugar concentrations. (Complex sugars ferment in the insects stomach and the alcohol kills them.) Butterflies, bees etc appreciate high sugar in flowers. Less than brix 7 means the bee spends more energy than it is worth to extract the nectar and process it. Even at 7 it is of doubtful benefit. Below 7 it will not even be attracted to the flower.

Lower sugar (brix) in the maize leads to more stalk rot & lodging. I grew a maize crop biologically & it yielded 6% more than ever before & 13% greater than the previous year. Lodging was certainly reduced to almost nil. Brix was around 8%, so there was plenty of improvement to go. The area was 120ha.

Two biological farms I measured the milk at 10. One organic one was 8, but we noticed some issues when that farm was inspected. The biology had been closed down by the use of the plough and it hadn't yet recovered.

If sugar levels decrease, (they should increase in the course of a day), that could indicate a phosphorus problem. If the weeds test higher than the pasture, that is a P problem. Usually the available P is too low in relation to the K which is too high. This could be a typical NZ scenario.

If the demarcation line on the refractometer is sharp, the probability is low calcium; if it is fuzzy or diffused, acid is low & calcium will be higher.

If you use potassium chloride, your brix will drop 2 points. The answer is very simple. Don't use it under any circumstances for agricultural purposes.

Fruit & Veg
Ever risk a speeding ticket going home from the supermarket? The veggies go off that quickly, it's almost compulsory. Not so with high brix fruit & veg. Properly grown food tends not to rot, but it will dehydrate. Do you believe you can keep a picked cabbage for six months & it's still good? You can if you grow them properly.

Have you heard that Carey Reams, in Florida, entered a water melon in the county fair, not once, not twice, but three times? That is, the same melon grown properly lasted for two years.

Have you noticed when you eat sweetcorn, that it shows up in the toilet bowl? Go to the sewerage works & have a look around there. Peas & carrots will be added to the list. The veggies are not digested properly because they are not grown properly. Grow your own with compost & you will have properly digested food. The brix on this food is a lot higher than in the supermarket food. I recall testing supermarket lettuce and getting 1.5%. 4 is poor, 10 is excellent. By the way you don't see my seetcorn again. It's all digested.

A student in California correlated lab Phosporus grape leaf test analyses with brix.

Results were 0.1-1.0% P during the growing season. If P fell below 0.35%, the brix could not get to 12%. If 0.4-0.6%, the readings were 13-14% while grapes were filling. (Under stress.)

Magnesium in the leaf was best kept at 0.4-0.5% with an absolute minimum of 0.3%. P could be 0.33% and brix would stay above 12%.

If you do get above 12 brix & have insect problems, it will be because your calcium is too low. It needs to be a min. of 60% on the base saturation, but 68% is better. The yanks measure it as 2,000lbs/acre min.

I feel like I've been hit by brix.
Good night.
Brett Petersen

2nd October 2009, 09:01 PM
Brett, welcome to the forum and thanks for your input :)

There haven't been that many farmers in NZ using a Brix meter on grass since 2003, so you'll have a lot of good information for this thread. It looks like your block has responded really well to biological farming.

I have a few questions, if you don't mind.

1. When, and how exactly, do you take Brix readings on grass? We've noticed at work that the technique and timing is very important, so it would be good if there is a common reading standard.

2. Do you measure one particular species of grass or legume, or a sample of the whole paddock?

3. What has been the general nutrient treatment for your farm(s) to get these results, has it been expensive or time consuming? Can the system be applied to a larger farm?

4. I've seen some tables for Brix levels in various fruit and vegetables, but very little for grasses (not our ones anyway). Do you have any of these?

5. Do you have many results for Brix of milk compared to the Brix of the fodder for the cows in the 48 hours before? (One of our customers is already noting higher milk output after high-brix grass is fed, and only feeds maize silage if the Brix is lower, to even out production). Not bad for a cheap tool..

6. You mentioned higher sugar plant sap will deter insects, I've read this before, will try and locate scientific evidence. Do you have any?

7. You state plants of high and low Brix give off different frequencies (or levels of emanations) and low brix plants attracting insects because of this. I've read the anecdotal evidence (two crops of same strain side by side etc) and would be very pleased to see research evidence. Is this in the visible, UV or IR area? It's not a scent difference is it? Related to the sugar content?

There was a short article on TVNZ news on 29th September, Massey University is starting some research into biological farming techniques. I missed it, but apparently the research lead is Nicole Schon. This is good news too:D

Here's the item, not a massive study at the moment..


The above link might have lapsed, here's a list of the researchers in a Scoop article recently. 10-30% grass production improvement from worm introduction to low-activity soils? That's interesting.


21st October 2009, 07:25 PM
The Brix Test
Tuesday, 20 October 2009
The Brix test is being promoted as a test of pasture quality.
Dr Edmeades reveals why this test is technically unsound.
"The test may help farmers focus their minds on pasture quality but does not measure the true nutrient value of pasture"
See the FERTILISER REVIEW NO 23 for more in depth information.

http://www.agknowledge.co.nz/agknowledge_Members.cfm?uid=A392CCE4AD199A9F2E17F9 2125A9F83C&

You have to register on the AgKnowledge website to read this article. Despite the good Dr. admitting to knowing little about Brix meters just a year or so ago - and I suspect he's probably not used one of the meters himself -, he is now setting the record straight. :rolleyes:

Dr Edmeades has not set up a right of reply on his own website, so we'll have to do it here. Remember, this forum aims to be the worldwide leading source of technical and field information on the Brix method as applied to pasture (grasses and legumes).:) So we don't want too many unsubstantiated comments from any quarter.

21st October 2009, 08:54 PM
Before we have a look at Doug's article, here are some NZ farmers who are using biological farming practices, and note the prominent mention of Brix meters.


They appear to be noticing different positive behaviour and performance in their stock, linked with increasing Brix readings on their forages.

22nd October 2009, 11:47 AM
The Brix Test
Dr. Doug Edmeades writes in ‘AgKnowledge; Fertiliser Review’ 23. Spring 2009:-

(Removed post 23/10/2009 after legal action suggested by Doug Edmeades, as Grassmaster did not have written permission to copy the information.) See special terms and conditions on the AgKnowledge website.

22nd October 2009, 01:21 PM
Thanks for trying to post that GrassMaster, but we have been advised that we do not (and will not) have Doug's permission to post/copy his website's information onto the web. His information can be used for private use, see his site's Terms and Conditions if unsure.

Those of you who are using Brix meters on pasture will now either be throwing them aside in disgust, or will have quite a bit to say about the above (linked) article. In defence of Dr Edmeades, there are some valid points that I have no argument with:

Anything that causes pastoral farmers to have a look at their grass in detail, is good. The Brix refractometer is only looking at a part of the whole plant. Brix meters are used by horticulturalists to quantify the taste/quality and maturity of a fruit, and they are very useful for that.

If you have a look at the other threads I've started on this site, I have this overview on pastoral farming in NZ at the moment:

Grassland farming is very energy inefficient. In terms of incident solar and the small other input energy (diesel, power) compared to output energy in goods at the farm gate, milk production from cows is just 0.06% efficient on average, and meat production is even worse, maybe 0.03%. Our system only works because the sun's vast energy is free. To increase efficiency, the easiest place to get results is in forage production.

While Doug mentions clover quite a bit in various articles, most NZ farms now have a lot of trouble keeping clover, as some introduced pests and expensive chemical nitrogen don't always favour clover, they hold it back (ryegrass shades clover etc). General loss of biological activity in the soils (looked for worms in your paddocks lately?) means we are often growing a one-or-two species forage that ruminants can find relatively unpalatable. So the next step that scientists have proposed, is to ensure the grass is eaten well down (LUDF etc research), to 'improve the quality' of the next growth.

Any farmer can tell you that a pugged or heavily eaten paddock will be slower to recover than one more lightly grazed. Grass grows grass, because the plant prefers some photosynthesis going on at all times. So I think that all grass grown on a farm (at any stage of maturity) should be as palatable as possible.

In the same way that a Brix meter indicates sweet grapes, we have proven that you can measure sweet grass very accurately. That research work cost us a fair bit, and is posted to the internet for all to see. Cows like sugar too: they just don't get the choice very often.

And now the hard part. Where is the research that compares two herds of cows on the same farm, one herd being fed a higher-brix forage (ideally of the same pasture species) and the other being fed significantly lower brix, over a period of time? We'd be looking for milk output changes (quality and quantity), herd health, weight gain, cow behaviour patterns, etc. Anecdotally, that data is already there, and strongly in favour of Brix , but until the scientists knock out some "peer reviewed" papers on this fairly fundamental research, anyone using a Brix meter on pasture can be called into disrepute.

Doug has also failed to supply the details of any alternative equipment farmers could use to measure pasture quality without resorting to frequent lab tests (which are basically impractical). We did some of those 2kg quick-frozen samples ourselves, and we'd never do it on a daily basis. But you could measure Brix daily, no problem.

The other point I'd like to make: if you have two paddocks side by side, same pasture strains, similar soils and grass maturity, and coincident with higher soil biological activity one paddock has higher Brix readings, palatability and production, what does that mean in terms of scientific proof? I'd suggest that the Brix meter deserves a great deal more attention than a lighthearted fob-off for advertising purposes.

Doug, if you like, I'll send you a free Brix meter/pasture kit and you can run a few tests in your travels. :) We provide an information booklet with it. You're welcome to try and prove me wrong.

23rd October 2009, 02:51 PM
Hi Graham & Peter F.

The answer to Grahams questions follows. I’m not interested in what Edmeades has to say about anything, least of all about a refractometer.
1. As you say in your brochure, work the sample in the hands for one minute to allow the readings to stabilise. Do not take readings if the pasture is wet as this dilutes the readings. Highest readings will be available late PM on a sunny day; lowest in the morning on a cloudy day.
2. We measure separate species and mixed. That is to gather as much information as possible. We measure weeds too, to check on whether the fertiliser is working or not. If the weeds have higher readings than pasture, you had better change your fertiliser rep. Today I did pasture (10), then dandelion flowers (11), then the leaves (6). That told me the weeds are not as healthy as the pasture, but the reproductive capacity of the dandelion was still high. (Not that I mind dandelions.)
3. I don’t count nutrient numbers of the fertiliser used. We use alternatives such as Agrissentials, Abron Living Soil Solutions, Ecologic Soil Improvement, NZ Humates, Rorisons and others. At the end of the day, it is the microbe count that counts, not the elemental numbers on a bag. It’s as expensive or inexpensive as you make it, you set the budget. The first gains to be had will be savings in animal health costs which are slashed drastically. Depending on your circumstances, production may increase, or decrease. It all depends on how you manage the transition from chemical to biological. Chances are profit will increase no matter what. The farms (one 200ha, the other 500ha) are farmed in this manner, not just my own little block. It’s no more time consuming than normal unless there are more applications. Microbes like to be fed more than once or twice a year, just like us. Some farmers follow the cows around with regular calcium sprays.
I don’t use superphosphate or potassium chloride which is a worse product. Urea in small doses mostly sprayed. The farms have had from 0 to 36kg/ha/year of N for the last five years. The leaf tests generally show high levels of P & K, but medium N. Where lots of N has been applied, I have sometimes noticed low N in the leaf. In other words, putting more on isn’t necessarily better.
4. For pasture I call 6 poor, 12 “average,” good 18 and excellent 24. You’re right, pasture figures are hard to come by. NZ dairy farmers have quick grazing rounds, so it will be hard for those practitioners to get high readings as the grass is usually not mature enough. It takes a while to build calcium levels too, and that will hold readings down. You won’t get there if you rely on calcium from superphosphate. But don’t go putting on large dollops of lime. Little & often is best, with boron.
5. No figures relating pasture to milk. I don’t live on the farms, so the readings haven’t been done. Some farmers set a minimum pasture level at 8 and only put the cows into the pasture if it has reached that level. The cows respond to that very well.
6. I have many books packed with many facts and observations. Here is a list of some.
Science in Agriculture Arden Andersen
Hands on Agronomy Neil Kinsey
The biological Farmer Gary Zimmer
Nutrition Rules Graeme Sait
Agriculture in Transition Don Schriever
From the Soil Up Don Schriever
Eco Farm Charles Walters
Mainline Farming for Century 21 Dan Skow
And many others.
The books above have chapters on insects, sap pH etc.
Most of those above will have reference to brix readings and refractometers. Any farmer worth his salt will not apply foliar fertiliser without checking the change in brix readings before he applies the product. He does this by applying the product to a “patch” & taking before & after readings in about half an hour. It’s more difficult to predict the results of a solid.

NZ pH levels are too low. They need to be 6.4. The chances of pest of disease attack at that level is zilch provided the BS is balanced. However, do not adjust pH. Adjust the base saturation to the correct levels & pH will automatically fall into line. Ca 68%, Mg 12%, K 3.5-5% & Na 0.5-1.5% for pasture & row crops. Trees & vines need 5-7.5% K.

7. Refer to the books above. Maybe Science in Agriculture is the best bet. Phil Callahan has written books on this sort of thing too & many others. Try Nutrition Rules by Graeme Sait. This book has 22 interviews. I can email it to you. Frequencies are beyond me. I just accept they exist & the antennae on insects are for the purpose of intercepting emissions from unhealthy plants. I have observed insects selecting or ignoring plants to lay eggs on & can confirm they are right in their selections. Just because a plant is a cabbage doesn’t mean it will attract the white butterfly. It has to be unhealthy to do so.

I know Dave & Kathi Harris & David Miller quite well. I won’t hold my breath regarding Massey research. Massey itself is tainted by “commercial conveniences” as any large institution. They are no longer independent. I hope changes are afoot and good luck to my old university if they are about to change. Their Certificate of Sustainable Nutrient Management is a disgrace.

Brett Petersen

26th October 2009, 11:12 PM
Hi Brett,

Thanks for your detailed reply. Great to know our Brix measuring technique is about right. A Brix of up to 24 on grasses? that's huge, I guess from mature grass that was a bit droughted. I spoke to one SI farmer who said that their droughted paddocks were more like standing hay, but the stock seemed to do OK on them.

It looks to me like you're very careful in what you do, any elemental deficiency is sorted out, and calcium is applied regularly to set up a buffer solution in the soil over time.

I'm still hopeful someone will get keen on Brix measuring their milk at the vat, and over time can post us a picture of these, related to the pasture/feed Brix and the dairy factory tests.

(7) The list of books is handy, I should read the one by Ardern Andersen first. This frequency aspect has me interested. Using electronics, maybe we could quantify it, certainly detect it. So in a way, I hope it's not a scent issue of some kind that attracts or repels insects.

15th November 2009, 04:58 PM
I worked at Ruakura as a technician between degrees, and soon realised I'd need lots of patience and more knowledge to get a foot in the door as a scientist. But I was able to observe a few scientists at work during that year, and like any profession, some were held in higher regard than others. Novel Ways try to link up with the CRIs when we can, but have always found it difficult, being only a small business.

Last year, I spent some time contributing to the Rural Network Forum (based in Hamilton, a website) before it was dropped by the sponsors and the published pages were eventually removed from the web. This was a shame, because some learned people had posted some good input over the years it was operating. I copied some parts that were interesting to me, into Word before that happened. I will put some of this back up, and if there are any issues with copyright etc, those who wrote the posts are welcome to advise me.

While I was at Ruakura, Dr Clive Dalton was already well respected and a popular scientist, being interested in animal behaviour, and I think fronting farmer conferences at the McMeekan Centre, as an ambassador of the CRI.

I was somewhat amused when I found this article from Dr Dalton on the Rural Network site, and sad to say I'd learnt quite a bit myself over the years that put me in agreement with a lot of it...does any of this have a bearing on the use of a Brix meter?

Science - open, shut and nut case
By Clive Dalton on Feb 01 , 2008

I’m sick of the arrogance of science. Having been part of it, I realised years ago that there was no more closed mind than that of the so-called “open-minded” scientist. Rocking boats is not good for a scientific career.

A classic example is where somebody in meteorology’s distant past rubbished the influence of the moon, which has been passed on to subsequent generations of students. What young academic now would dare say “hey, let’s have another look at this moon business.”

I got so sick of the game of “where is the evidence.” It is still alive and well today, killing off folk with products that work, and for which farmers pay their bills and re-order (two good signs). They are head bashed by the scientific establishment under the rule that if there’s nothing in the literature it must be crap!

The Holy Grail is “peer-reviewed papers in respected scientific journals” but I have read and reviewed so much bad science, bad objectives, awful presentation and utter trash from such sources. This is because when some researchers looked they missed the obvious, and so often they just never looked.

Scientists hate the comment by some wise person that “absence of proof is not proof of absence” Ouch!

All academics should be booted out of universities after 10 years, and none of their students should be allowed to replace them unless they have done at least 10 years at another university and preferably overseas.

Independent research is a thing of the past, so anyone with a good idea cannot get it “officially tested” despite politicians screaming for good new Kiwi ideas. The Crown Research Institutes (CRIs) would be the last place I’d go with an idea. They’d send you broke testing it and probably pinch your intellectual property!

It’s the competitive world that scientists have to work in that makes them what they are - the need to be first with the results, to have the first name on the paper, to be asked to open the first session at the conference – and other childish things.

Years ago as a “scientific liaison officer” at Ruakura, I realised that my skills with small children were far more important to the job than any I had gained as a scientist.

It was like pre-school. Asking scientists for information was like asking to borrow their favourite toy. They couldn’t part with it at that moment because it needed more work or tidying up, or the statistics were not complete etc etc. The real problem was that they feared criticism! And, you might tell their colleagues, as they didn’t want them to know - even if it was joint research and they shared offices!

So, I used the trick of “over-the-top praise”, telling them how marvellous they were, how Daddy (the Director) would be so impressed, and what a great job they were doing for the institute, the nation and the world!
When I eventually got the document prised from their grasp, with the threat that they wanted it back by 4.35pm, I immediately went into raptures saying what an incredible bit of work it was and, in fact, it was so well done that it would qualify to go on the fridge for all to see! Some would mumble words to the effect that it was a first draught, and later draughts would be better. “No, no, no,” I would scream, “it’s fantastic, and could easily get the author an invitation to a world conference.”

Scientists will never share toys, so the labs of the world are full of white elephants under dust covers. These are bits of equipment that when purchased under urgency nearly bankrupted the institute, depriving other scientists of gear. Often the institute up the road had this gear, or the organisation had some at another campus – but NO, that particular scientist had to have his own! Then when he moved on, out came the dust covers and eventually it went to the dump!

When I regularly got the bum’s rush from a colleague, with the “stuff off, I’m far too busy to write anything for blardy farmers, come back in a month“, I would write it for them, and have it back on their desk by 4.34pm.
Boy-oh-boy did that get some action – my arrogance, and the fact that I’d got it all wrong, immediately persuaded them to write their own. Then I’d do the massive grovel tell them what a masterpiece it now was. It never failed to get results.

So, I want to praise anecdotal research that works on farms, and from which farmers can make money and survive. Let modern scientists keep generating kilograms of submissions for work, most of which has been done years ago.

Dr Clive Dalton is a former agricultural scientist and is now technical editor of the Lifestyle block website

15th November 2009, 05:49 PM
This item may help explain what has driven Dr Dalton to state his position so bluntly:


A Cure for Facial Eczema

First reported in 1887, facial eczema is a disease that serious affected 20th Century New Zealand farming. Agricultural scientist Dr Clive Dalton recounts how a well-known Waikato farmer Togo Johnson was forced to cull 90% of his ewes in 1938, leading to the government instigating research at Ruakura Animal Research Centre (Rennie, 2006). However it took 30 years before it was traced to fungal spores (found on the boots of a gardener in Hamilton).

No worthwhile solutions were found until Gladys Reid, a Te Aroha dental nurse, reported in the early 1970s that adding zinc to the drinking water reduced the toxic symptoms and held milk production. She had two farms and reported that the herd given zinc produced 30 per cent more milk during March and April (September and October in NH) than the one without. Zinc was acting as an anti-oxidant against the free-radical sporidesmin spores (Wright, 1999). Unfortunately she was not believed, and was even ridiculed by Ruakura people for about seven years. Her international contacts and her extensive reading helped her get even the required zinc usage rates right. Some farmers were using zinc for FE control in 1974, while in 1975 the NZ Animal Remedies Board (ARB) stated through the NZ Herald that Zinc in water troughs was completely useless as a form of treatment or prevention of FE in livestock and threatened to prosecute the vendors of zinc promoted for control.

Some researchers tried to persuade farmers that zinc was quackery. A Ruakura spokesperson said on radio that zinc was not coming up to expectations, and that the latest gimmick was a daffodil in the left nostril as a cure! Then in 1981 Ruakura recommended its use, using an excuse for the delay of having to test for residues. This delay, aggravated by the NIH syndrome (not invented here) and over-cautious attitude are typical human failings internationally. Estimates of costs to farmers prior to zinc control, put the total cost to the NZ agricultural industry at a hundred million dollars/year in bad years. There will be less funding of research into animal resistance to FE and other animal and pasture health problems unless NZ farmers (and ones in each country) demand it vocally.

The dental nurse from Te Aroha became something of a facial eczema sage. She dispensed advice on treatment whilst scientists at Ruakura worked from the ground up to understand how her zinc recommendations worked. Facial eczema was a blight on New Zealand’s agricultural potential for a large portion “Researchers were initially scrambling, the disease spread so quick there was some thought it was bacteria borne,” says Dr. Dalton.

Meanwhile at Te Aroha Reid had turned to her experience with zinc oxide as a pain reliever for five year olds with rotten teeth. Her quest for knowledge was renowned. In an age when the internet was unheard of she managed to get on the mailing list for scientific documents from the United States. By the late fifties she had found research supporting the use of niacin and zinc having a beneficial impact on liver damage in animals. In 1999 she recounted to Radio New Zealand how she began treating a herd on her home farm in 1968 by lacing the water troughs with zinc sulphate. She was astounded how the milk volume had not dropped, while every other farm on the tanker run was down by as much as 30%.

“The tanker driver thought maybe we were putting water in our milk to keep it up,” she recounted.

Key to her research was contact with Dr Jean Apgar, a Nobel Prize winner for identifying the structure of the t-RNA molecule. Correspondence with Dr Apgar revealed treating animals with up to 20 times the dietary requirements with zinc protected the liver from certain poisons. Reid had the luxury of observing the results of zinc treatment through her own on-farm trials. Scientists at Ruakura had to undergo the rigours of peer review and evaluation and find exactly what was causing the condition in the first place. However Dr Dalton says Reid was a great “hypothesist”. Reid’s work was rejected by the journals in the field until Horrobin published it in Medical Hypotheses, after which her work was confirmed.

“Ruakura had to do the hard yards while Gladys was able to think ahead, chucking some zinc in the trough and drawing conclusions scientists would never dare do. She was constantly telling scientists what her hypotheses were, and how they should be getting on testing them, and they never liked that as they saw it as questioning their integrity.”

Two sides rapidly formed in the debate on zinc’s efficacy. Reid was reluctant to make direct dose recommendations after claiming the Director General of Agriculture had told her she would be taken to court for misleading practices if she did. However she won followers from farming wives in particular. Many would call asking for zinc advice after tiring of seeing suffering livestock and husbands on the brink of suicide from crippling stock and production losses.

Official opposition to her treatments continued through the seventies, with the Animal Health Board noting in 1975 zinc treatment was “completely useless as a form of treatment.” This was the same year she received a standing ovation from farmers at the annual Ruakura Farmers’ Conference. It was not until 1981 that the use of zinc was finally recommended by Ruakura, and in 1983 she received the OBE for her research efforts.

6th December 2009, 12:01 PM
I couldn't help but notice this cartoon recently, as AgResearch started mentioning biological activity, related to some newly funded research. I phoned Malcolm Evans and obtained his permission to post a link. Turns out Malcolm once worked for an organic fertiliser firm, so was well schooled. Click on it, to enlarge it.



8th December 2009, 10:02 AM
What is high sugar grass?
First of all what is grass? It is not intended to go into a long winded scientific treatise on the subject, ‘Google’ will give an adequate cover of this! Suffice it to say that all grass species, especially those used as pasture in the New Zealand system of farming, are a natural feed stuff for herbivores, especially ruminants. Their growth pattern is unique in that the leaves grow from a crown at ground level allowing the leaves to be removed and as long as the crown is not damaged new leaves will grow. This of course assumes that all other plant requirements are met i.e. adequate water, sufficient nutrition, sunlight and that plants are not overgrazed by poor management practises to the point where the growing crown is damaged! Cows are not designed to eat clods of mud, in spite of what may be seen on some dairy farms!
Although basically any grass species can have the level of its water soluble carbohydrates (sugar) enhanced, perennial ryegrass including its various cultivars will be used to illustrate the points of interest in this discussion.
A definition and a distinction between the three basic methods are as follows:-

(1) Perennial Ryegrass genetically modified.
(2) Perennial Ryegrass bred to enhance the natural sugars.
(3) Perennial Ryegrass biologically enhanced.

Because of the unfortunate negative connotation put on anything genetically modified, number one will probably remain as an item of academic interest in the foreseeable future! Although don’t write it off.
Number two is at the moment the most viable system, with scientists and plant breeders putting a lot of money into, if you believe the advertising, what they claim are the most suitable cultivars for New Zealand conditions! Protecting their patch? The ‘AberDart’ controversy is a case in point. With scientists taking sides, who knows?
Number three is the most controversial! This is where scientists and farmers differ dramatically. Any farmer who dares to state that a certain regime has increased his milk solids and financial returns tends to be labelled ‘Green’ and his claims are written off as anecdotal. The catch cry from the scientific fraternity is where is the proof and the paper written up in a peer reviewed reputable journal? This is as it should be, up to a point. Have any of these critics ever looked into the claims made by farmers regarding gains made in production?
There is the usual problem with ‘Way out Claims’ made by people with a particular agenda, if their system is so good why aren’t they making millions on their own farm?
So what is High Sugar Grass ‘HSG’? You are probably aware that grass is largely composed of various ‘Sugars’ and their chemical derivatives manufactured during the process of photosynthesis. ‘Photosynthesis as defined by Wilkins 1988 is the process by which plants capture and package the energy in the sun’s rays. Further:- ‘It can be transported around the plant, to be released when and where it is required to do useful work, like driving chemical reactions. In practise, this involves storing the energy in chemical molecules that are stable, but that can, in the presence of appropriate enzymes, be broken down to release the energy they contain. It is also the means whereby the plant acquires, from the air, the carbon atoms that are the principal components of the molecules that make up its body.
Photosynthesis can be summarised as a chemical reaction in which carbon dioxide from the air and water, react to produce carbohydrate (sugar and starch) and oxygen according to the general equation:
CO2+H2O -------------- [CH2O]+O2
It must be remembered, however, that this is only part of the story, mixing carbon dioxide and water together doesn’t cause a suitable reaction, it requires light and chlorophyll in the green pigment of the leaf to complete’.
So where does the extra sugar in high sugar ryegrass come from? We can’t increase the sunlight available to the plant! We are supposedly increasing the carbon dioxide available (global warming and greenhouse gasses) in spite of this a normal plant can only produce and store a set amount of carbohydrate. What effect farm management practices i.e. Biological farming has on increasing water soluble carbohydrates is a moot point! Have they changed the sunlight available? ‘No’ Have they changed the carbon dioxide? No more than any other farmer. They may have changed the water and nutrients available to the grass roots by improving the soil conditions! This would still have to be proven! What other farming practises have they changed? This leaves us with plants with a natural high sugar content. Overseas researchers such as ‘IGER’ ( Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research) in the United Kingdom have bred cultivars from naturally occurring high sugar ryegrass specimens from alpine areas in Europe.( see Moorby 2001). Do we assume that the New Zealand bred equivalents have originated from a similar type already present in New Zealand?
There is still doubt in scientific circles regarding the benefits of HSG. An article written by Jacqueline Rowarth, in the spring 2007 issue of ‘Grasslands News’ pages 3- 4, sets out rather succinctly the problems surrounding the controversy over the use of grass bred with a higher water soluble carbohydrate level. This controversy has unfortunately led to sides being taken over the suitability of various cultivars for New Zealand conditions. Vis-à-vis Dr. Jock Allison’s defence of the AberHSG system in rebuttal to a section in ‘Pasture and Forage Plants for New Zealand’ by Drs. Deric Charlton and Alan Stewart published by NZGA in October 2006. As Dr. Rowarth rightly points out at the end of her article: - ‘More Research is Needed. It Always Is’.
Is HSG more palatable to ruminants? We don’t know for sure, there are conflicting opinions, we can’t ask the cow! We could conduct field trials, unfortunately nobody appears ready to spend the money! Does it improve the ratio between grass derived nitrogen (as protein) and the soluble carbohydrates, in other words by increasing the percentage of sugar in relationship to protein in feedstuff does this in fact decrease the losses of nitrogen to the atmosphere (ammonia and nitrous oxide) and water (nitrate) to the soil? see Richard Dewhurst’s paper ‘Manipulating cow diets to reduce nutrient wastage to the environment.’(which is available on the internet) setting out the problems. This should be read in its entirety, it is one of the better explanations I have seen.
If all farmers became ‘Eco-friendly’ over night, would it make much difference to greenhouse gas emissions? The proponents of biological farming would have us believe yes! Is it not time for scientists to conduct trials into the usefulness of these alternatives instead of just writing the claims off as some form of ‘snake oil science’ not worthy of comment? They might just learn something useful!
Assuming that a farmer is convinced that a high sugar ryegrass cultivar is the right system for his farm, how does he monitor the sugar content? Expensive laboratory testing, milk solid returns from his dairy company printout, or is there a place for the brix meter with its proponents and exponents about evenly divided! Is it not time that its usefulness as a farming tool was genuinely tested? Not written off as a useless gimmick, as has been done in some circles!
What fertiliser regime is recommended? To get the proposed benefits, it would appear that any of the quick fix, immediate return high nitrogen based fertilisers would be out! Urea is a relatively slow release nitrogen source and although its use would be curtailed it may still have a place. What about more natural fertilisers? Is there a genuine basis for the claims made by the proponents of biological farming? Shouldn’t they be put to the test? There may be some really useful ideas in organic farming! It can’t hurt to find out.
Although Nick Smith (see article The New Zealand Farmers Weekly page 15 December 2009) as minister, has put the damper on carbon credit trading for farmers in the near future, should we not be at least planning ahead for when and if it does become a viable option? How are you going to provide a quantifiable carbon sink on your farm? If we plant clover or other legumes with rye grass to provide a useful alternative source of nitrate, what effect does this have on the ratio between carbohydrates and protein in the ruminant digestion? Are we not too dependant on rye grass? Should we be looking more closely at alternative plant species i.e. chicory, plantains, even some of the more drought resistant Mediterranean species, Australian species? Plants with anthelmintic properties to overcome at least some of the drug resistance in ruminant parasite species?
What do you think should be done? Push your farm advisor and ask questions at farmers field days! Nobody knows all the answers. Let us know on this Blog site! Who knows you could end up with a winner! Look at all the alternatives, don’t slavishly follow the herd!

Literature Cited.

Dewhurst, R. Agriculture and Life Sciences Division, Lincoln University, Canterbury, New Zealand. Posted on the Internet, no date given.

McNicholas, M. 2009. Not ready for carbon farms. The New Zealand Farmers Weekly. Vol.8, 48, 15.

Rowarth, J. 2007. HSG: the discussion continues. Grassland News. New Zealand Grassland Assoc. published on the Internet. P 3-4.

Wilkins, M. 1988. Plantwatching: How plants live, feel and work. Macmillan. London. 207pp.

9th February 2010, 10:13 PM
Thanks for putting that work in, GM. Helps to explain a few things.

I'm very surprised: Doug has not taken me up on my offer of a free Brix meter yet :rolleyes:

I have heard the Dr. all over the talkback radio though, and seen him on TV, looking decidedly uncomfortable while denying anthropological climate change. But then all publicity is good publicity isn't it?

We have some even better NWL-32 Brix meters available: same price and they're a top quality optical instrument. These have brass and chrome bodies, a very clear graticle, and of course we could buy in any Brix meter that you request, in the range 0-90% brix or so. The new instruments give an easier reading for grass, which will always have a fuzzy area on the boundary.

We are working hard on getting some more involved research work done with these on pasture, and will post the results here.

10th March 2010, 10:38 PM
Dear Dr Edmeades:

A recent paper (article 5 March 2010) using the combined efforts of many scientists found that there is a 95% chance that global warming (which you agree is happening) is in fact caused by humans, not part of a natural cycle or pnenomenon. So there's still one chance in 20 that you are right. Are you a gambling man?


I have to report that after your advice to the property owner beside us, which involved the application of urea, that we have observed plenty of grass and weed growth next door, but the Brix levels have dropped back to about 5-7. But that is OK, high Brix is a cause to be alarmed, get some nitrogen on there to sort it out...I'm not sure what the drystock think of your approach.

20th March 2010, 12:49 PM
I found this article on ruralnews.co.nz:

No brickbats for brix
by Peter Floyd

Some farmers are finding brix is a good indicator of pasture quality.Those of you involved in fruit production will know that measuring brix levels in plants is not new, but applying it to pasture is a relatively recent idea.

What we do is take a representative sample of pasture at the level that sheep or cattle would eat and squeeze some of it in a garlic press until the juice runs out.

A drop or two is put into a refractometer – a small hand-held device that is calibrated to show the refractive index of the juice in percent sucrose or degrees brix.

What it means is that the higher the brix reading, the higher the sugar level in the sample. It is also a good indicator of higher protein, fat and mineral content and density, and some people believe that high brix pasture has greater resistance to insect and frost damage.

The bottom line is that stock certainly prefer (and do better on) higher brix pasture.

Applying brix measurements to pasture is a bit controversial, and as you might expect the traditionalists think it’s a waste of time while the innovators think it’s the best thing since rotational grazing.

And speaking of that, do you remember names like McMeekan, Hutton, Bryant and Clayton? I have worked with them all and have the greatest respect for their contribution over about 40 years to the science of pasture management, which established this country’s international reputation in pastoral farming.

You might be amused to know that when we started promoting the rotational grazing management practices for dairying in the early ‘60s and later for hill country farmers, the cynics all scoffed. They are scoffing again now about pasture brix.

Meantime, we are finding brix is a good indicator of pasture quality, certainly more useful and practical than ME or DM alone. In January some of our members were achieving brix levels of 20 with a DM of 40% on nine days out of ten. The importance of this is that it enables them to make better decisions about selecting paddocks for grazing and about which paddocks are going to put the highest quality milk into the vat on a daily basis.

The significance of this is that profitability can be added to the decision-making matrix and help predict which pastures will yield the most profit each day. This includes considering and calculating all of the expense components of producing a kilogram of milksolids.

It also allows us to include criteria such as pasture residuals, stocking rates and other factors that have been well discussed over the 50 years I have been involved in farming. Then there is the more recent focus on soil carbon levels, top soil growth and depth of plant roots that determines stock feed quality and ultimately affects the quality of the human food produced.

• Peter Floyd is managing director of eCOGENT – www.eCOGENT .biz Tel. 0800 433 276

Peter, this is great background information, but I'd like some details about any correlations you might have of pasture brix against MJME (lab results). That is what the scientists have been saying to me: they're very interested if there was a reasonable relationship in the readings. The latest data I have is that it is 30 years since any scientists have written a peer-reviewed (is there any other kind?) paper reporting on the use of refractometers on grass. That's an embarrassing gap in research if it turns out to be a useful technique like we think, but one that some scientists should be ready to exploit.

Do you have any other data on animal behaviour that is quantified? (high and low brix grass comparisons).

22nd March 2011, 04:44 PM
I am still trying to get researchers to take the Brix technique seriously, and we continue to sell our grass brix kits strongly to agronomists and farmers, some are being exported. Plenty of data to suggest biological farming creates more humus, and should therefore store more carbon in soils.

Meanwhile on the climate change front, more bad news: melting of the ice sheets is accelerating faster than the models predicted.


9th May 2011, 10:06 PM
A colleague in Australia, Roger Martyn, brought this article (http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/business/farming/4963565/Search-for-reasons-for-bucolic-beauty) to my attention: in a familiar way Doug Edmeades professes interest in something approaching biological farming, only to rubbish the idea later. He takes these approaches partly for advertising purposes, and it works for him.

Here's the thing, you won't find scientists beating a track to such farms to see if there is any research that could be done to help other farmers. Some good old practical research. Did Doug look hard at the stock to see how they looked? He didn't even dig up the soil and have a look. He also didn't take any Brix readings, because he's never taken me up on my offer to have one of our instruments for free (Outgro use them). As far as I know, he's never even learnt how to use one.

Does it really take 13 years for some farms to respond 'correctly' to chemical fertilisers? If that is the case then I hope farmers are able to hang in there until it all works out. By the sound of it, it's OK to use silage for extra nutrients, but not seaweed, that couldn't work. One premise of biological farming is that the increased soil activity frees up otherwise bound nutrients and elements. They don't have to be introduced with the biological agents used, they are already in the soil waiting to be activated, or to be put within reach of longer plant roots. Doug hasn't figured this out yet. Many years ago Doug gained fame by tearing down Maxicrop in the courts. Lately he has endorsed Progibb by Nufarm, as something that works. It works because of the plant hormone gibberallic acid, which stiffens the leaves of grasses so they make better solar collectors. Maxicrop is a concentrated solution of gibberallic acid. Their mistake was to call their brew a fertiliser.

Search for reasons for bucolic beauty
JON MORGAN Last updated 11:23 05/05/2011

HEALTHY DEBATE: Nicole Masters, Neil Armitage and Doug Edmeades discuss Mr Armitage's "No 11" pastures on his Patoka dairy farm.

On this sunny autumn day, Neil Armitage's farm looks a picture of perfect health. A herd of glossy-coated cows are peacefully grazing luxuriant pastures of clover, ryegrass, plantain and chicory.

Soil scientist Doug Edmeades explains his system of rating pastures out of 10 and tells Mr Armitage he has a "damn good" 10.

"No, this is an 11," his colleague, Maurice Gray, interjects.

Mr Armitage nods and accepts the praise as his due. He knows his farm is in good shape.

But where he and Dr Edmeades differ is over the cause of such bucolic beauty.

The farm, an 820-cow dairy unit at Patoka, west of Napier, uses the principles of biologics. It is a method championed by American GP and roving agriculture consultant Arden Andersen and focuses on stimulating soil activity, reasoning that healthy soil grows healthy pastures and crops that produce healthy animals.

Its followers believe modern chemical fertilisers such as superphosphate and nitrogen are overused and are harming soil biology and producing nutrient- deficient pastures and food.

But soil scientists like Dr Edmeades and others at research centres and universities believe biologics to be flawed science that, in worst cases, will lead to rundown farms.

I have brought Dr Edmeades, a particularly outspoken critic, to Patoka to see the farm and talk to Mr Armitage.

Dr Edmeades has brought Mr Gray, the East Coast field technician for his consulting business AgKnowledge, and Mr Armitage has asked along Nicole Masters, an agronomist and biological farming adviser through her business, Integrity Soils.

We are all there for different reasons. Mr Armitage relishes the chance to show Dr Edmeades what biologics has done for his farm and Ms Masters is there to support Mr Armitage on the science of biologics and to meet Dr Edmeades, with whom she has debated only by email so far.

Dr Edmeades and Mr Gray are curious about the farm and confident they will be able to provide a scientific explanation.

I hope they will resolve a dilemma I have in writing the stories of such farmers. Biologics is growing and its leading farmers are among the country's best producers. How can this be so if the scientists are to be believed?

Everyone has promised to be on their best behaviour.

For the past four years, Mr Armitage has used a "soup" of humates (natural sources of trace elements), fulvic acids, sugar, kelp and seawater supplied by Outgro, a Dannevirke company, along with small amounts of reactive phosphate rock, nitrogen and sulphur.

Ten years before that, he was a heavy user of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium before gradually easing his nitrogen use.

Animal health problems and a lack of clover persisted and it was not till he attended a course run by Dr Andersen that he experienced a breakthrough. "It was a revelation," he says. "Everything wrong that I had witnessed over 30 years, he had an answer for and he explained it in a way I could understand."

Dr Edmeades diplomatically keeps his views on Dr Andersen to himself. He says the question in his mind is, "Before, you were putting on very large inputs of P [phosphorous], K [potassium] and S [sulphur]. Is this high-quality pasture the consequence of that capital fertiliser?"

Ad Feedback Mr Armitage is incredulous at this suggestion. "That fertiliser was put on 13 years ago."

But Dr Edmeades explains, "After the fertiliser is applied, it takes time for the biological process, of the legumes fixing nitrogen back into the soil, to build up and to get the pasture like this."

He says the best way to understand this is to analyse the soil.

In the discussion that follows he explains that once the pasture's "nutrient tanks" are full, phosphorous will decline at the rate of one unit a year, but soluble nutrients like potassium and sulphur are still needed.

Mr Armitage says no potassium has been applied for 10 years, but grass silage is being brought on to the farm. Dr Edmeades is interested to learn this and thinks the silage could be an extra source of nutrients transferred to the soil through animal dung and urine.

He says a soil can be unbalanced if as little as one or more of the 16 nutrients clover needs is missing.

"A plant can only grow as fast as the most limiting element. If it is missing potassium, for example, it doesn't matter how much P is put on. The first plant to disappear is the clover because it has a higher requirement for nutrients. It is the most precious thing we've got."

Mr Armitage tells of seeing cows suddenly more interested in eating pasture after lime was put on. Dr Edmeades explains that lime makes previously unavailable molybdenum available.

Mr Armitage takes all this in without comment, and then asks about nitrogen. "How can I grow all this grass with just six units of N and yet soil tests show I have 150 units available?"

Dr Edmeades has an answer for that. "A good legume-based pasture is fixing that much naturally," he says. Continued..

9th May 2011, 10:22 PM
Rest of the article:

He also gives his view that Outgro's method of applying fertiliser in liquid form for foliar uptake is unnecessary. Plant roots spread out and are able to capture nutrients put on as granules, he says. And animals transfer those nutrients in their dung and urine.

As we move around the farm examining the pastures, Dr Edmeades is full of praise for Mr Armitage's abilities as a stock and pasture manager. The two begin to warm to each other, wry humour is exchanged and Dr Edmeades, notorious for giving what he calls "pseudo science" short shrift, prefaces his comments with a polite, "I don't know that what you say is necessarily correct."

He reiterates his desire to see soil tests. Mr Armitage has some, but taken at 150 millimetres depth, not the standard 75mm. "As a scientist I can't accept at face value that using the Outgro mixture has produced this. I have to understand the deeper part of it," Dr Edmeades says.

Ms Masters wants to give credit to Outgro's Jim McMillan. "When you spend 30 years with the fert companies and they can't deliver this, then maybe it's Jim. He's interpreting the data, has got the ability to correlate it in his head and to put it out here."

Dr Edmeades agrees with her about the fertiliser companies. "The question has been asked of me: 'Why is it so many intelligent, well-intentioned farmers are looking for alternatives?' They are not getting the answers they want from conventional sources and in their frustration go and do something else, which may or may not be good for them.

"I totally understand that. Day after day I'm on farms where the farmer is frustrated because he knows clover is important but he can't get it to grow.

"The problem, invariably in my experience, is in one of those underlying 16 nutrients being missing."

He and Ms Masters debate mycorrhizal fungi on plant roots, said by Australian biological soil scientist Christine Jones to be crucial to improving soil carbon.

Dr Edmeades: "Sixteen nutrients have all got to be put on in the right balance - once that's done, problem solved. You get an increase in the biology of the soil. There's no mystery about that to me."

Ms Masters: "A lot of that is unstable carbon, but there's another pathway of stable carbon coming through the mycorrhizi."

Dr Edmeades: "I don't understand what you mean by the wrong carbon."

Ms Masters: "It's a stable, deeper carbon that's building in resilience and water-holding capacity."

Dr Edmeades: "Mycorrhizal fungi are ubiquitous in the soil, they extend the root area and make the plant a better scavenger, particularly for phosphorous."

Ms Masters: "If you're putting on superphosphate it tells that plant it doesn't need the mycorrhizal relationship."

Dr Edmeades: "I don't go along with that, I'm sorry. A trial going since 1950 shows that on soils deficient in P and S, if you put on super, get the clover growing, get the nitrogen cycle going, you build up organic matter and biomass. That's proven by science."

Ms Masters: "We believe those soluble nutrients have an impact on mycorrhizi and their ability to build soils and resilience and not have losses of carbon and get the nutrient cycle humming."

Dr Edmeades: "But in a well- managed conventional system you've got all that happening anyway."

Ms Masters: "Isn't it a good thing that we're not using a lot of soluble synthetic fertiliser?"

Dr Edmeades: "But what you're putting on is soluble."

Ms Masters: "It is having a measurable effect on mycorrhizi, with better uptake of trace elements."

Dr Edmeades: "The tests I'm aware of are done in a laboratory where when you kill all the mycorrhizi you can introduce more efficient strains. When that was tried in the field it couldn't be done. The presence of natural mycorrhizi swamps out any newcomer. Our chances of manipulating mycorrhizal fungi in soils is a long shot."

Ms Masters: "But people are inoculating it."

Dr Edmeades: "But the science shows it can't be done."

It's clear the two will never agree.

Dr Edmeades takes the view that the claims of biological farmers have to tested by the rigours of science. He tells Ms Masters, who has a bachelor of science degree, "You are expressing an opinion without presenting the data. I'm not knocking you for that, it's just a different approach from what I take."

Ms Masters ignores this dig and asks, "But isn't the farmer's experience valid?"

Dr Edmeades: "Yes, it's valid as experience, as an interesting observation, but it doesn't necessarily solve the complex issue of cause and effect. I want to know why. You are saying it is because Neil is now a biological farmer, but I'm saying there's probably something else."

He asks Mr Armitage if Mr Gray can come back and do soil tests. "I'd like to unravel the knot to find out if there is something science is missing."

Mr Armitage agrees and the farm visit ends.

Two weeks later Dr Edmeades has the results of the tests. The fertility of the soil is very good at 150mm and 75mm, indicating the farm has had capital fertiliser in the past.

"The current quality and vigour of the pastures can be explained largely by the soil fertility. The soil fertility levels cannot be explained by the biological practices, such as the application of fine lime, humates, complex carbohydrates, trace elements and microbes which do not contain significant amounts of nutrients," he says.

"It is illogical to attribute the current success of this farm to the biological practices applied in the last few years."

I have an answer to my questions. I accept Dr Edmeades' scientific explanation. However, I decide also to continue to report the strongly held beliefs of biological, organic and biodynamic farmers, at the same time challenging them with the science view.

I ask Dr Edmeades if he knows when Mr Armitage's nutrient tanks will be emptied, but he is unable to say. He is sure the Outgro nutrients are not enough to maintain current levels but an unknown factor is the extra nutrients being brought on to the property in silage.

Later, Ms Masters sends me several papers of American and Australian research into organic farming systems, nutrient loss and mycorrhizal fungi, saying that although little research has been done in New Zealand, the scientific case for biological farming exists elsewhere.

This information will soon be more readily available, she says, revealing that the Association of Biological Farmers will soon have Agriculture and Forestry Ministry funding to collate and review the science on biological farming from around the world.

She is surprised that Dr Edmeades and Mr Gray did not look under Mr Armitage's pastures. "How weird is that?" she says. "These two had never been on a biologically managed property yet showed no curiosity to see what was happening under the grass.

"Doug took a soil test, which was a snapshot in time and did not show where Neil has come from, and yet Doug declares that Neil is relying on his capital inputs from 13 years ago. That is not scientific in my mind," she says.

Dr Edmeades' conclusion is no surprise to Mr Armitage and he says it doesn't convince him to stop biological farming.

"He is looking at this from 30 to 40 years of conventional science. He won't admit he could be wrong in his interpretation."

Mr Armitage is proud of his achievements on his farm - 335,000kg of milksolids from 820 cows, which translates to 1456kg a hectare, well above the national average of 912kg, using supplements of one tonne of grass silage per cow. And that was achieved during a cold, wet June-October and hot, dry early summer.

He also points out he has severely cut back applications of the Outgro fertiliser because of tough economic times over the past two years, yet still his farm looks a picture.

"How much more proof do you need?" he asks.

A former Maori farmer of the year winner, he believes he owes his change of heart about conventional farming to his Whakatohea ancestors. "It's like my tupuna are calling, saying they're sick of the poisoning of the land."

Scientists like Dr Edmeades can try to explain biological farming away but they won't change the mind of the farmers using it, he says. "It's early days yet. We'll get better and better and then what will they say?"

He asks that if Dr Edmeades is right and the farm is drawing down on nutrient tanks topped up 13 years before, how is it that other conventionally fertilised farms in the area don't look as good as his.

However, in the next breath he admits he is also a good pasture manager. "Biologics is not a magic cure-all," he says. "You have to know what you're doing. The top 10 per cent of biological farmers have always been in the top 10 per cent of farming. They're the sort always looking for something new - I believe we've found it."

Dr Edmeades has no doubts that Mr Armitage is a top farmer, and that this is a big reason why his farm looks so good.

Mr Gray agrees. The image of the "No 11" pastures stays with him as we drive back to Napier. "He's a bloody good operator; a good animal and pasture manager," he says over and over.

- The Dominion Post

25th January 2013, 07:37 AM
The University of Waikato has a helpful article about ruminant digestion.


It's a complex field, but bacteria populations in symbiosis with cows and other ruminants break down cellulose into materials that cows and the bacteria will thrive on. As part of the need to keep the bacteria populations going while they break down the cellulose, the shorter-chain sugars in the grass sap are surely helpful as quicker energy sources.

Relatively new research on that idea shows there could be a link, it's just farmers don't often know what sugar is available in their feeds. Those selling molasses for in-shed feeders are adamant there is a good payoff too. The suggestion is that as long as there is plenty of fibre and protein in the feed (easy with grass) then a suitable additional sugar level (provided with supplements) might be 5% of the drymatter.


Is this why cows seek higher-sugar grasses? And the way to quickly and cheaply measure and grade the paddocks on your farm is?
(Answer: a Brix meter).

This 2009 paper from DairyNZ says that a higher sugar content (within the WSC data) in pasture eaten, will have positive benefits for cows in almost all circumstances. Of course dietary fibre and protein percentages drop, but these are often too high in grazed pastures. Their high-sugar grasses had a WSC content (sugar is a subset of this) of up to 20%.


Higher concentrations of WSC were offset mainly by reductions in protein and to a lesser extent in fibre, relationships which were similar for each cultivar of ryegrass. An increase in WSC and a decrease in protein and fibre are both likely to have a positive effect on nutritive value and animal performance in most situations. There will be exceptions to this, such as where low concentrations of protein or fibre might become limiting to nutrition or rumen function, or where high concentrations of WSC might exceed an optimum. Provided the relationships demonstrated here hold true with further efforts to increase WSC through management or breeding, nutritional and environmental benefits should continue to accrue from greater WSC and from the associated reductions in protein and fibre.

25th October 2014, 08:34 PM
John King, a consultant from www.succession.co.nz (http://www.succession.co.nz/?file=home-page)has started some research work with Brix meters on ryegrass and clovers, funded by SFF, and with equipment supplied by Novel Ways. Part of the trial uses plants in a glasshouse reared on conventional and biological soils, the other is various farmland trial plots. So far the plants have been measured with Brix meters (optical and electronic) and soon the lab tests will provide the other half of the research, chemical makeup of the plants and the sap.

All the best with your research John, I'll post this as it comes available.