How something good became something bad

In every sector of society we see the emergence of growth industries. These new industries are usually triggered by a problem which needs addressing.

In 2008 a Nationwide drought saw the need to bring in feed from offshore. Thus began the Palm Kernel Expeller (PKE) market and it caught on like a match thrown into a haystack. 330% growth since 2008.

Yes, there was demand at that time and it neccessarily filled a feed deficit when nothing else could. Yet since that time, farmers have become addicted to using it. Ships have been assigned to bring it into New Zealand. Massive storage sheds have been erected and a transport industry has grown to cope with the demand. Farmers have even built PK Bunkers to store it.

All this, in spite of the years of good weather since 2008. Why?

Three reasons. First, feeding animals with PK is convenient. Second, it's relatively cheap. And finally, due to a steady stream of sales pitches from so-called experts, we've come to believe that using PK is all benefits with no down sides.

But that isn't true.

Here's a fact that might make us all think twice us about over-using PK. Analysis has shown that the digestability of PKE is 52%. That means that if a farmer buys 100 tonne of PK at $250 per tonne ($25,000), his cows will only utilise 52 tonne of that feed. Only half of that feed investment will go towards animal health. Only half will end up contributing to money in the vat.

Where does the remaining 48 tonne of unused PK go?
It either ends up on the ground or in your effluent pond. After examining hundreds of ponds throughout the country, we have established that the crust and sludge is mostly undigested feed. High users of PKE have a distinguishably browner colour to their effluent arising from the increasing amounts of sludge build up.

What are the unseen costs of PK?
Tangibly, there is the cost of excavation, which farmers are forced to carry out when sludge builds up to critical levels. Then there are the less obvious costs. Going back to our farmer who pays $250 per tonne for PKE, what he's actually paying is $480 per tonne of usable feed since 48% of PKE is indigestable.

When you also consider that any increase in production only effects the fat portion of your milksolids AND do a full add-up of associated costs, it may be that other people are making the profit out of this PKE growth industry, not the farmer.

Is there a better way?
Let's contrast the PK approach with a basic all-grass system. In an all-grass system, biological activity naturally produces the correct enzymes to help the cow digest the feed she eats. Studies show that cows are able to digest and utilise 80% of grass feed. That means tonnes more food goes into animal health and vat profits, and tonnes less ends up in your pond.

If you diverted your PK budget into a Biologically Friendly Fertiliser program, your DM production, profitability and efficiency will increase.

Makes sense?

David Law


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