PKE article dairy diary

PKE guidelines hard for farmers to swallow

AbacusBio farm consultant Kevin Wilson weighs in on the issue of PKE use on dairy farms: what is the reason behind Fonterra’s move to limit PKE use, and how can a win-win outcome for Fonterra and farmers be achieved?

Palm kernel expeller (PKE) is widely used by farmers throughout New Zealand as a main source of supplements to support cow production.

PKE plays a key role in feeding cows during adverse weather conditions such as droughts or periods of poor pasture growth. It is also one of the cheapest quality feed options (apart from pasture).

In September this year, Fonterra released recommendations that the maximum amount of PKE used per cow each day should be 3kg.

Fonterra’s actions are an attempt to reaffi rm consumers of their worldleading position in producing pasturebased milk, in line with New Zealand’s “green and natural” image.

More and more around the world, modern consumers are demanding to know where their food comes from and clarity around what is in their food.

However, the co-operative’s handling of the issue has not been going well with farmers – many of whom were not consulted – leading to accusations of Fonterra interfering in their farming systems and telling them “how to farm” (nzherald.co.nz; Palm kernel knotty issue on Fonterra agenda).

The lack of clarity about how and why the 3kg PKE restriction has come about – and how suppliers would be aff ected – has put the co-operative in a bad light among some farmers.

Is there strong evidence of a premium for pasture-based milk products in the world market?

If so, this would be a strong incentive for farmers to adapt to the proposed guidelines.

The general consensus of farmers was that there had been little explanation, or scientifi c reasoning, behind the PKE feeding guidelines (radionz.co.nz; ‘No discussion’ on new PKE guidelines).

Currently, high PKE input farms use up to 6kg PKE per cow each day (on top of 70% pasture), which is widely accepted in the industry to still qualify as a pasture-based diet.

This level of use will change milk composition, which has caused speculation around end-product use. Again, there is no feedback or data available to confirm speculation.

Farmers are open to new ideas on improving productivity and adding value to their milk, but they are also pragmatic business people who expect the ideas to be practical and evidence-based – before implementing them on-farm.

In this instance, it seems almost illogical to decrease PKE use, unless there is strong evidence supporting the proposed guidelines and clear realisation of a market premium for the product (stuff .co.nz; Fonterra wants farmers to cut back on palm kernels).

Both Fonterra and farmers have similar business aspirations of producing the best milk in the world – through sustainable and good environmental practices.

It is essential to maintain transparency between both parties – in order to create a mutual relationship based on trust, respect, and support.

Perhaps if there was a two-way communication process – in terms of an open dialogue – between Fonterra and milk producers, where issues are discussed and comments taken into account (regarding the concrete facts concerning PKE), then a solution would arise where there would be a win-win outcome for farmers, processors, and consumers.