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  • Brix

    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 Private sector unpublished research shows strong links between improving the Brix of grasses and supplements for cows and ruminants, and their milk Brix or other outputs, and FARM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.
    Graham Lynch

  • #2
    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have recently carried out a small amount of scientific research into the use of Brix meters on grasses and legumes (not peer reviewed).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.
    Last edited by Graham; 16 August 2009, 07:48 PM.
    Graham Lynch


    • #3
      Pasture brix readings, why the controversy?

      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!


      • #4
        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.
        Graham Lynch


        • #5

          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


          • #6
            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

            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.

            Last edited by Graham; 10 October 2009, 04:30 PM. Reason: To add new links
            Graham Lynch


            • #7
              Dr Edmeades strikes again!

              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.

              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.

              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.
              Last edited by Graham; 23 October 2009, 12:41 PM. Reason: Heated debate
              Graham Lynch


              • #8
                Some beg to differ

                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.
                Graham Lynch


                • #9
                  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.
                  Last edited by Graham; 23 October 2009, 12:46 PM. Reason: Email and phone call


                  • #10
                    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.
                    Last edited by Graham; 23 October 2009, 12:38 PM. Reason: Heated debate
                    Graham Lynch


                    • #11
                      More Brix

                      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


                      • #12
                        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.
                        Graham Lynch


                        • #13
                          The scientific method

                          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
                          Graham Lynch


                          • #14
                            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.
                            Graham Lynch


                            • #15
                              Classic Cartoon

                              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.

                              Click image for larger version

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                              Graham Lynch