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More production and more health problems

The dark, round masses inside the cells of this clover root are vesicules for the arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus.

With higher production comes higher costs – not just in increased fertiliser but also in animal health.

As we push for more production and more dollars our animals seem to be more likely to suffer from a variety of diseases – often diseases that are new to us.

Diseases such as Watery Mouth in newborn lambs and Salmonella Brandenburg (in a variety of species).

Both were either virtually unheard of or were unknown in New Zealand only a few decades ago. And yet they are both now prevalent in high production, intensively farmed areas.

It’s easy to think that maybe we’ve been too good at keeping our animals alive and that a decreased immunity could be to blame. It’s also easy to think that diseases such as these could have been imported on to our farms.

But in reality it seems likely that both are on-farm environmental problems which have come about because of the way we farm.

Stan Winter, of Southern Chemical Consultants in Invercargill, said that he has theories on why diseases such as these were becoming more prevalent.

He has done some testing in an effort to find out more but did point out that he is only just starting into this area of research.

Mr Winter believes the occurrence of these diseases is linked with the incidence of natural fungi and penicillin in the soil.

As soil activity improves so does the number of natural microbes, fungi and penicillin. He believes that without these the soil, and consequently the animal who grazes off it, has reduced resistance to harmful pathogens such as species of Salmonella, E.coli and streptococcus.

Other species such as grass grub are also able to flourish. He pointed out that in a microbially active soil there are often natural fungi present which are capable of controlling pest species such as grass grub. Mr Winter said that in order for natural fungi and penicillin’s to survive they must have microbial activity, which in turn must have air.

“They need oxygen to survive.”

Therefore any compaction of soil or poor drainage both of which remove air from the soil does need to be remedied. He also wanted to stress that farmers should not put their fertiliser on and walk away assuming that all is now okay.

“People do need to use fertiliser but that’s not all. In the last few years they have forgotten other elements and functions of the soil … there’s more to farming than fertiliser and animal husbandry!”

 First published in Farmnews 27 Oct, 2001

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