Seeing emaciated godwits returning to the Manawatu river estuary after flying for nine days from Alaska was an experience to make our dilemmas, disappointments, frustrations and anger seem almost trivial.

Their declining numbers are not because we do not accommodate them well here but because development along the Chinese coast is reducing their re-fuelling options on the long flight back. It is humbling to see these birds returning to the Manawatu where they left from six months ago. They are driven by an instinct. Some of our frustrations and anger etc are probably also driven by instinct, but mostly by logic and passion.

These birds demonstrate the instinctive drive to survive and farmers will similarly respond to challenges to survival but with more than just instinct. It might seem like a big mountain to climb given the deafness to logic and reason of some of the decision makers to date. Not helped by the media playing puppy dog to the opinionated, but ill informed public and their guardians. Take for example the Heart Foundation recent claims.

I was surprised that there was not more reaction to the messages from the Heart Foundation linking red meat intake to heart disease. First of all, when such stuff is put before us the media take it as gospel. Is it a valid conclusion or is it a flimsy relationship? Furthermore, relating a single food entity to a disease presence is very rarely valid because of the huge number of confounding factors that can contribute to that outcome. Did it apply to lean venison as much as it did to fatty sausages? In the promotion of this claim lean red meat was sitting alongside sausages. Was it the fat that is often with red meat that does the supposed damage or something else? Take it out of your diet, shorten your life by missing out on the longevity factors known to be in red meat, but be comforted by knowing that the risk of heart disease will not be doing the damage.

Perhaps those deaf decision makers need to get out on farms more and see first hand the application of best practice. That application captures water, soil, vegetation and animal health while sitting alongside profitable farming. A recent large Wairarapa field day showcased the best, demonstrating all of these and would readily meet any objective of sustainable farming. Where is this being heralded as the way of the future and as a proven approach to successful farming?

Practices based on planned grazing rotations that feed animals appropriately and keep the soil and pastures healthy. Monitored application of fertilisers to help the soils stay healthy, management programmes that support animal and people welfare. Plant biodiversity that supports soil stability and the world and care of waterways. A model delivering high quality products that is operating all over the country. Yet is often criticised by opinionated and ill informed public as damaging the environment, and at times being unkind to animals. To be marketed just as New Zealand lamb or beef is not doing it justice. What is behind it is as important as its appearance and taste. Have we marketed it on that basis enough? To not do so opens the door to labelled yet unproven management systems to take the limelight.

There has been a genetics programme in our sheep and beef industries forever. It is now, at least in sheep, able to contribute significantly to the sustainability objectives referred to above. It can stand alongside those other aspects of our farming that makes it unique. I have been less than complimentary about that genetic gain in the past partly because management has such an impact on the outcomes which can dilute the role of genetics. But there are now sheep that require less inputs and get less disease as an observable and measurable outcome of the genetic selection. Facial Eczema tolerance has long been one of these which I have celebrated in the past. But the incidence of worms, flystrike, enzootic pneumonia, wastage and lameness can be significantly reduced by the use of selected rams. I think that it has taken a long time for the genetic selection for these to get enough grunt to not be overwhelmed by management. To have this genetic support accompanied by high performance in the standard production traits demonstrates a huge achievement by our sheep breeders. It may not be a comment welcomed by many farmers, but those breeders that have made genuine gain through selection are poorly rewarded. Especially when you see the price paid for Angus bulls with very little genetic data behind them.