Dairy cow numbers might have to be cut on light soils, Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills says.
“We’re losing too much nitrogen. The massive shift to dairy has caught us, and the science hasn’t kept up.”
The “easy yards” of fencing waterways, modern effluent systems and fertiliser application advice had been done, but nitrogen was still leaching into streams, he said.
“It’s a hard conversation, but we have to have it.
“The guys leaching 70, 80, 90kg of nitrogen per hectare per year on the lighter soils will have to get that down to 30-40kg.
“If science won’t deliver the goods, we’re going to have to get these people to change their farming system.
“That’s not easy when a lot of them have borrowed many millions of dollars to get a system going and they’ve got a bit caught with interest payments.”
Regional councils are already imposing lower limits on sensitive soils, particularly those near waterways.
Many farmers had changed already, Wills said. “They’ve read the signals, backed off from four cows per hectare to 3-3.5 cows, and put in less inputs.”
This did not necessarily mean reduced profits, he said. “What we’re finding is that as well as a more relaxed, comfortable farming system, they’re actually making a higher net profit.”
While farmers were prepared to act more responsibly to protect the environment, their businesses had to remain economic, he said. “My worry is the pendulum is going to swing too far in favour of the environment.”
Farming, and dairying in particular is being blamed for problems which have multiple causes and have been building up over many years.
The remedy isn’t always as simples as reducing stock numbers.
Science-based solutions are helping but reversing damage which happened over a long period takes time.
It’s easy to sell the message that economic development shouldn’t come at the cost of the environment.
That shouldn’t be taken to the extreme where standards based on emotion rather than science lead to environmental concerns getting out of balance from the economic and social ones.
He said Labour finance spokesman David Parker was calling for the scrapping of the irrigation investment fund and for charges on water.
“If we had a change of government, we can kiss goodbye to any hope of meeting the ag double of increasing the export value.
Labour has made it quite clear it doesn’t understand farming and its importance to the economic and social fabric of the country.
That they’d be in coalition with the Green Party whose carbon tax, water charges and other anti-farming policies makes the prospect of them in government even more dangerous.
The silver lining to this red-green cloud is that persuading farmers to support National gets easier with every utterance from the opposition.