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Episode 2: Nitrogen Bomb

On the next episode, screening 30 March at 7pm on TV ONE:

Nitrogen Bomb


Taupo farmers Mike and Sharon Barton have responded to a cap on the numbers of stock allowed on their land by creating their own brand of beef.  


The Waikato Regional Council has imposed the cap on all farmers around Lake Taupo to reduce the risk of nitrogen polluting the lake.


The lake is one of the worlds cleanest waterways, but scientists say its volcanic origins mean even small amounts of extra nitrogen would quickly lead to algal growth.


They say the biggest nitrogen source is urine from farm animals leaching into the ground and reaching the lake through underground waterways and the only way to stop it is to cap stock numbers. 


Mike Barton says now he can no longer increase the number of cattle on his farm, the only way to combat rising costs is to increase the per-kilo value of what he produces.  


So the Bartons have set up their own brand, Taupo Beef, which guarantees consumers that the product theyre eating has been grown in a way that wont damage the lake. 


The brand was first trialled in a number of top Taupo restaurants, with menu prices pitched at or above other high-end meat products. 


Sharon Barton says consumers immediately understood the story behind the brand and were prepared to pay a premium to help preserve the lake.  


Theyve also ensured the meat is top-quality by putting it through an ageing and conditioning process to bring out the flavours. 


The regional council, which imposed the stock cap in the first place, has also supported the new brand by endorsing Taupo Beef as environmentally sound.


Initially the Bartons set the brand up to increase the value of stock from their own property, but high demand has seen them extend it  to beef from other farms in the catchment.  The next step may be to include other types of Taupo-grown meat, such as lamb and venison. 


Mike Barton says the nitrogen cap is needed to protect the local environment and he expects similar restrictions to be imposed in future over much of New Zealands agricultural land. 


But when large numbers of livestock farmers cant increase their production, its inevitable that meat and milk prices will rise, he says. 


As a result, New Zealand wont be able to compete on the commodity market because other countries with fewer environmental restrictions will be able to produce food more cheaply. 


He sees the Taupo Beef brand as a possible model for a future in which New Zealand finds a ready international market for its produce at higher prices, by giving consumers a promise that what they eat wont damage the environment. 


Taupo restaurants serving Taupo Beef are Huka Lodge, Bistro Lago at the Hilton Taupo, Plateau Restaurant & Bar, Eat Catering, The Bistro, Wairakei Hotel Resort, Replete Café and Fine Fettle Café, or you can buy it fresh at M21 Meats. 


To e-mail the Bartons:


Other sites:

For enquiries about Taupo Beef:


For info about the nitrogen cap:




Barrington West


Field sound

Tony Spear


Offline editor

Brent Whitwell


Online editor

Alex Wright


Sound mixer

Ian Leslie



Vivienne Jeffs


Network executive

Jude Callen


Associate producer

Dan Henry


Production manager

Robyn Best



Julian OBrien


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Ó TVNZ 2013