Rural round-up

October 30, 2019

Taranaki farmers fear new freshwater rules will drive them out of business – Catherine Groenestein:

Dairy farmer Ali Wicksteed is so confident of how good the water on his farm is, he scoops a glassful from a stream on his property and takes a long drink.

Yet he and his wife Nicola fear they could be unable to carry on farming their central Taranaki property under new rules proposed in the Government’s Action for Healthy Waterways discussion document.

The changes aim to improve water quality and reduce the amount of pollution entering waterways from cities and farms.  . . 

They grab every opportunity – Annette Scott:

Driving their business to grow and intensify while keeping true to their farming values for Mt Somers Station is a challenge for David and Kate Acland who are also heavily involved in both their local community and wider industry groups. They talked to Annette Scott.

Mt Somers Station is a 3800 hectare family property in the heart of the Mid Canterbury foothills. 

The Acland family has farmed the fully integrated property with proud traditions of caring for their land, environment and people for almost 40 years.

The philosophy has always been to farm with minimal impact, recognising that to farm sustainably they must farm profitably and remain open to change as they take a 100-year view on their farming business decisions. . .

Venison spreads it’s wings – Annette Scott:

Farm-raised venison is changing with New Zealand no longer having all its eggs in one basket, new Deer Industry NZ chief executive Innes Moffat says.

With established markets evolving and new ones emerging some important new markets have been developed.

They are the result of active market development programmes by both individual venison companies and collectively by the five main venison exporters supported by DINZ.  . . .

Ngāi Tahu Farming strongly encourages sector to work together to progress five-year joint action plan:

Ngāi Tahu Farming chair Barry Bragg says the government’s announcement of their five-year joint action plan on agricultural emissions signals a step in the right direction, but that the sector must work collaboratively to implement urgent change.

Ngāi Tahu Farming is a large-scale agricultural presence in Te Waipounamu with interests in dairy, beef and forestry, and Bragg says that the business strives to balance economic priorities against reducing environmental impact.

“We are charged with running a farming business that contributes to the commercial outcomes of the iwi, as well as upholding Ngāi Tahu values. . .

Marlborough couple to downsize their Pine Valley ‘paradise’ after 50 years – Sophie Trigger:

Lloyd and Valerie Mapp are downsizing. 

After nearly 50 years in Pine Valley, in rural Marlborough, the Mapps are selling 50 hectares of land, including their home, flat paddocks and rolling hill blocks.

But they’re not moving far – just 2 kilometres in fact, to the front of the farm, where they will lose their sheep, but continue beef farming. . .

 

Scientist profile: Ross Monaghan:

My understanding of a meaningful life is having a sense of purpose and having a sense of struggle that’s attached to that, because you quickly get bored with yourself if those ingredients are missing,” says Ross Monaghan, Science Team Leader of the Environmental Sciences Team.

Ross was born and bred in the sleepy rural Southland town of Mataura, 13 kilometres south of Gore. This was where he spent quite a lot of his childhood growing up on family farms where his enjoyment for agriculture began to flourish.

“I quickly realised that to own a farm without a large backing of capital was quite a tough thing to do, so I drifted into agricultural science. I then specialised in soil science. I could see that obviously agriculture is important to New Zealand and that there are quite a lot of environmental pressures coming through due in part to agriculture, so that’s where I thought I could perhaps gain some expertise and try and make a difference to alleviate some of those pressures.” . . .


Deliberate or ignorant?

September 10, 2019

The government’s Action for healthy waterways has a lot to say about farming but was developed without any input from the industry groups like Beef + Lamb NZ, DairyNZ,  Deer Industry NZ, Federated Farmers and  Horticulture NZ.

It proposes new requirements that would:

  • strengthen Te Mana o Te Wai as the framework for freshwater management
  • better provide for ecosystem health (water, fish and plant life)
  • better protect wetlands and estuaries
  • better manage stormwater and wastewater, and protect sources of drinking water
  • control high-risk farming activities and limit agricultural intensification
  • improve farm management practices.

Eric Crampton points out that proposals could bankrupt some farmers.

 . . .Let’s step back and consider why strict targets without compensation are likely to cause a lot of bankruptcies. 

Farm purchases and dairy conversions are often heavily leveraged. Farmers will have borrowed to purchase the land and to put in the infrastructure improvements for irrigation and dairying. The selling price of the land, and the amounts that banks have been willing to lend, reflect the expected return that comes from the business. 

That return builds in certain expectations of the regulatory environment. 

Farmers have never had to pay for water directly. The value of water instead is reflected in the value of an irrigation consent tied to a piece of land. Research done earlier this decade suggested that land with an irrigation consent traded for up to fifty per cent more than comparable land without a consent. In other words, the value of the water was already incorporated into the selling price of the land. And that value will not have gone down over the intervening years.

A big change in the regulatory environment around water abstraction, or around allowable nutrient runoff or on-farm practices, would substantially change the cost calculus for already heavily leveraged farms. Costs go up, returns go down, and net cash flow is insufficient to pay the mortgage. Hello, bankruptcy. . . 

This isn’t fear-mongering.

The proposals are as drastic as the changes that precipitated the ag-sag of the 1980s.

Farmers are very aware of the costs and risks to their businesses. The government appears not to be worried about that, but have they taken into account the huge economic hit the country would take with the huge fall in production, and therefore export-earnings?

The paper was launched last week, consultation meetings have started, mostly in cities, and people have only six weeks to submit.

That is a very short time for people to read, absorb, reflect and respond let alone right in the middle of lambing and calving, the busiest time of the year for dairy, beef and sheep farms.

Is the timing deliberate or are those behind it simply ignorant of the demands placed on farmers in spring?

A cynic might think they know but don’t care.

The goal of clean water is one no-one should argue against but the government would have a much better chance of reaching it, without a huge economic and social cost, if it worked with farmers and their industry groups, and gave more time for them to come up with practical solutions.

 


Rural round-up

September 6, 2019

Farmers face $1b bill to meet new freshwater requirements :

Government proposals to radically improve the quality of New Zealand’s freshwater resources look likely to cost farmers at least $1 billion over 10 years.

Environment and Agriculture ministers David Parker and Damien O’Connor released a swag of documents from the government’s Essential Freshwater policy review at Parliament this morning.

The discussion document on a new National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management details proposals that would:  . . 

New rules to manage water – Neal Wallace:

The Government wants to take a tougher stance on and have a greater say in freshwater management, a discussion document released today reveals.

Action for Healthy Waterways will require every farmer to have a farm plan to manage risks to fresh water by 2025, extends rules on the exclusion of stock from waterways and sets new standards for intensive winter grazing.

Regional councils will have until 2025 to implement a new National Policy Statement for Freshwater and till then the Government proposes tighter controls on land-use intensification and the introduction of interim measures to reduce nitrogen loss within five years in identified catchments with high nitrate or nitrogen levels. . .

Rural innovations secure support – Luke Chivers:

A 14-year-old entrepreneur with an ingenious scheme to provide broadband access to isolated, rural communities is one of four ventures to receive support from the Rural Innovation Lab.

The backing was announced at the Beehive by Lab chairman Mat Hocken.

The initiatives came after a wide call for people to submit ideas to help solve rural issues. . .

Commodity export prices provide some cheer, even for those downcast Fonterra farmer-suppliers – Point of Order:

NZ lamb export prices have hit their highest level since 1982. That mightn’t be good news if you are contemplating a roast leg of lamb for the barbecue this weekend.

But for NZ meat producers that, and the high prices being earned in markets like Japan for beef, suggest it’ll be a good season for NZ’s meat producers.

This is despite the global uncertainty stemming from trade wars particularly between China and the US, two of NZ’s main markets. The outbreak of swine fever in China is likely to sustain demand for other meat such as beef. . . 

Breeding for parasite resistance important:

WormFEC Gold a collective of farmers breeding for parasite resistant genetics are leading the pack as drench resistance becomes more prevalent and drench failure is reported across the country.

Ten breeders across New Zealand have joined forces creating WormFEC Gold bringing together more than 200 years combined experience breeding highly productive, parasite resistant rams. The aim of their breeding programme – verified by Sheep Improvement Ltd (SIL) – is to strengthen flocks and save farmers time and money by reducing the number of times flocks need to be drenched. As a group they work collaboratively to improve parasite resistant stock genetics and educate farmers about the value of including parasite résistance in stock selection decisions. . . 

Benefits of entering Dairy Industry Awards numerous:

Entries for the 2020 New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards open on Tuesday 1st October and are an opportunity for entrants to secure their future while learning and connecting with others and growing their career. The 2019 Share Farmers of the Year say the benefits to their career and business from entering are worth the effort and time.

Colin and Isabella Beazley won the 2019 Northland Share Farmers of the Year and went on to win the National title as well. “We entered to benchmark ourselves against the best and also for the networking opportunities,” they say. “The networking and contact with industry leaders is unparalleled and we have used these relationships to grow our business.” . .

Farmers could lose tens of thousands as vegan activists plan fortnight-long blockade of UK’s largest meat market – Greg Wilford:

It is the largest wholesale meat market in Britain, and celebrated for selling some of the nation’s finest cuts of beef, lamb and pork for more than 800 years.

But, if vegan activists have their way, London’s Smithfield Market could be transformed into a parade of fruit and vegetable stalls without any animal produce in sight. . .


We all want clean water but

September 6, 2019

There’s no argument on the goal of clean freshwater but there’s significant angst in rural New Zealand over the way the government plans to get it.

We all want clean water, but not in a way that drastically increases the cost of farming and therefore food, destroys livelihoods and communities, and sabotages the economy.

Federated Farmers says the government’s proposals for cleaner freshwater throw farmers under the tractor:

Federated Farmers estimates large parts of rural New Zealand will have to abandon their reliance on the pastoral sector based on the freshwater proposals released today.

The Essential Freshwater announcements could lead to wholesale land use change to meet unnecessarily stringent targets.

The proposed National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management nutrient levels will require parts of New Zealand to reduce their nitrogen by up to 80%. 

“It becomes very hard to continue economically farming animals or growing vegetables under a regime like this,” Federated Farmers environment and water spokesperson Chris Allen says.   

“The long term targets for nitrogen reduction, are effectively unachievable in some parts of the country, and will end pastoral farming in these areas.”

Federated Farmers continues to be supportive of government effort to improve and maintain water quality, the use of farm environment plans and the continued shift to ‘GMP’ – good management practice policy.

“But with today’s proposals the government seems to be signalling it is prepared to gamble with the viability of food production as the major export earner for New Zealand.”

Feds has one simple message for the government, freshwater quality will continue to improve in rural areas, because farmers and growers are already doing the work.

“Lumping regional councils, with an entirely new regulatory system to implement and manage puts up everyone’s rates, and gives little additional support to actual water quality results,”  Chris says.

“Millions of dollars raised from increased rates which could have been spent on more river and waterway restoration will now be spent on hearings, lawyers and other random water experts,” Chris says.

“Basically your rates will go up, while farmers are doing the work anyway.”

Feds is particularly concerned about the proposed “interim controls” which will have untold ramifications for the New Zealand economy, as there will be an inevitable slump in land values, across all sectors and regions.

“The discussion documents say an ‘interim control’ is not a ban.  But if it stops you from doing something with your own land, without appeal or any achievable recourse, then it’s a ban, pure and simple,” Chris says.

This ban will have a significantly negative knock-on effect for all rural and urban communities where the activity of the primary sector is the lifeblood earner for the cafes, sports clubs, banks, insurance companies, car dealerships, restaurants, shopping malls and all the other people downstream of New Zealand’s largest earner.

“All we ask is for regulation that is based on science and evidence.”

Federated Farmers encourages all farmers to do their best to input into this process despite the short consultation period of six weeks and it being at the busiest time of the year for farmers.

Beef + Lamb NZ says the proposals would make sheep and beef farmers sacrificial lambs:

Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) says plans to lock down current land uses will have a disproportionate effect on the majority of sheep and beef farms that are low input, extensive systems with a light touch on the environment.

“The sheep and beef sector’s vision is for New Zealanders to continue to be able to swim in and collect food from the freshwater surrounding sheep and beef farms,” says B+LNZ’s Chairman Andrew Morrison. 

‘Sheep and beef farmers are committed to protecting the health of our waterways and we’re proud of the progress we’ve made so far, however, we know there is still more work to be done.  

“The Essential Freshwater proposals are comprehensive and will take time to assess, however, we are deeply concerned by some of the analysis we have seen – including modelling that suggests 68 percent of drystock farms in the Waikato/Waipa catchment would be converted into forestry as a direct result of the proposed regulations, while more intensive land uses largely remain the same.

Forestry isn’t necessarily good for water quality with sediment and slash washing into waterways after harvesting.

“These proposals will undermine the viability of a low-intensity sector which supports over 80,000 jobs and generates exports of $9.1 billion a year.  It risks decimating rural communities, especially when coupled with other proposed policies such as the Zero Carbon Bill.

“Ultimately, we are concerned the sheep and beef sector will bear a disproportionate impact of the proposed policies, far outweighing the environmental impact of our farming systems.”

Issues around nitrogen leaching are driven primarily by cattle stocking rates and high loadings of nitrogen fertiliser, leading to greater concentrations of nitrate leaching into waterways. 

“Most sheep and beef farming systems operate within the natural capacity of the land due to our low stocking rates and efficient, low input farming model,” says Mr Morrison.

“Our nitrogen leaching rates are low and in catchments where sheep and beef farms are the predominant farming system, nitrogen levels are not an issue. 

“The sheep and beef sector’s main water health issues are sediment, phosphorus and intensive winter grazing on crops.  We are committed to addressing our contribution to these issues and understand the need for increased oversight for activities which pose a higher environmental risk.

“However, the devil is in the detail and we will be looking to ensure any new requirements are matched to the environmental effects we are looking to manage.

“The Essential Freshwater proposals that will likely have the greatest impact on sheep and beef farmers are a range of “grandparenting” provisions that restrict land use change, and flexibility within a farming system to diversify.

“In doing this, the greatest flexibility is provided for those that currently undertake high intensity, high discharging land uses.

“New Zealand’s most sustainable and low intensity farming systems, those with the lightest environmental footprint, will have no flexibility moving forward to adapt to these and or other environmental pressures.  The success of our farming system has been the ability to adapt and diversify.”

The approach proposed also fails to take into account the other benefits that extensive farming systems provide such as biodiversity and supporting healthy and vibrant rural communities, says Mr Morrison. 

“The government’s objective of “holding the line” is understandable, but the way it would be implemented will lead to a perverse outcome where blanket limits are placed on everyone, even though individual farmers’ contribution to the problem differs wildly.

“While the government says these are interim controls until councils have new plans in place, there are no timeframes and based on our previous experience, councils’ processes will take many years. During that time, the damage will be done.”   

Sheep and beef farmers have been working to address a wide range of environmental issues, he says.  

“We are committed to addressing freshwater quality issues such as erosion, E.coli and phosphorous by working towards all farmers having land and environment plans by 2021.  Our sector has already lifted this from 36 percent in 2017 to 49 percent in 2019, and many farmers are getting involved in catchment communities.

“While there is still more to do, in-stream sediment concentrations have been improving as farmers have been planting native and poplar trees in erosion prone areas and retiring some land from production.   

“It appears from the proposal that many sheep and beef farmers will be punished for doing the right thing.  Over the last 30 years we’ve doubled export revenue from the industry while reducing our land use foot print, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30%. 

“At the same time our sheep and beef farms are a reservoir for almost three million hectares of native vegetation, making up nearly a quarter of New Zealand’s remaining native vegetation and including 1.4 million hectares of native forest, which co-exists alongside productive agriculture.” 

B+LNZ has extensive resources to support farmers in adopting best management practice for intensive winter grazing on crops and has over the last year led a pan-sector process to develop common policy solutions and build on industry initiatives to manage these activities. 

DairyNZ makes a plea: let’s all improve our waterways without destroying rural communities:

Today’s Essential Freshwater Package shows healthy and swimmable waterways are important to all New Zealanders, including dairy farmers, who share the same aspirations to protect our streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands.

DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle said the dairy sector and our farmers share the same vision communities, Maori and Government have to protect and improve our freshwater resources.

“The Essential Freshwater Package announced today provides a real opportunity for everyone to have their say in this important conversation. We know we can’t farm without healthy water and land, and we reflect this in our Dairy Tomorrow sector strategy, and we need to acknowledge the work that’s already taken place,” said Dr Mackle.

“Our dairy sector is already on the journey to improve and protect water quality and our farmers have been working towards this for more than a decade.”

Dr Mackle said at the same time it is acknowledged that, in some catchments, community expectations for water quality has not yet been met. Here, further action is required by all land users, including dairy, to halt a decline and longer-term solutions put in place to restore the health of these waterways.

“This policy package focuses not only on dairy but all land use activities, including sheep and beef, horticulture and urban activities, reflecting that we all have a part to play in improving our waterways,” said Dr Mackle.

But it doesn’t focus on bird life. The major contributor to the poor quality of some waterways is birds, for example the seagulls which nest on rocks beside the Kakanui River.

“We agree with a focus on ecosystem health and alongside this, options to better track the impact of improvements farmers are making to work towards this. However, we have serious concerns that the proposed approach of reducing nitrogen and phosphorus may not achieve improved ecosystem health and could have a significant impact on the viability of farm businesses and rural communities. We need to understand this better and what it means for our water quality, farmers and for the country.

“We know from experience that regulation is one tool, but hearts and minds are vital to create enduring change. We also want this to be grounded in facts and science, as well as economic and social analysis.

“Many things impact on ecosystem health, nutrients are often not the key driver. It will be important to recognise a catchment-by-catchment targeted approach as opposed to blanket one-size-fits all rules.

Solutions to problems in one catchment, or even part of a catchment, may not be applicable to all.

“We believe further uptake of Good Farming Practices and Farm Environment Plans across all farms, catchments and land users nationally is an effective way to accelerate further improvements,” said Dr Mackle. “Over 3000 farms already have a comprehensive Farm Environment Plan and we support that every farm has have one by 2025.

“Overall we support the intent of the Essential Freshwater Package but we haven’t been involved in its development, so we need to understand the proposed policies in more detail.

“It is important the policies contribute to meaningful improvements in water quality for the community and there are realistic expectations for all landowners.

“We believe on-farm initiatives are already contributing to maintaining or improving water quality across many catchments and the most recent LAWA report supports this, with almost all water quality measures showing more sites improving, than not.”

Dr Mackle said there is an opportunity to extend on the good work already done by promoting good farming principles across all catchments, farms and land owners. “This should build on successful sector initiatives, including the Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord, and we don’t want to see our good work undone.

“Our farmers are adaptable and have made significant changes to how we farm over the last 30 years. We will continue to learn and make changes into the future,” said Dr Mackle.

“We recognise that over time, future land use may look different than it does today. It is important that farmers have the certainty, tools and adequate transition time to continue on the journey and make the changes that may be needed over the next generation.

“Looking forward, we are encouraged by the prospect of a vibrant primary sector and rural communities, benefiting from healthy and resilient waterways.”

These proposals are typical of so many of the governments that don’t follow the science and take a balanced approach to sustainability taking into account economic, environmental and social impacts.

Water quality degraded over many years and reversing that will take time.

You can download a copy of Action for Healthy Waterways here.


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