Rural round-up

July 1, 2015

Dr Rolleston new vice-president of the World Farmers Organisation:

Federated Farmers President, Dr William Rolleston has been elected Vice President of the World Farmers Organisation (WFO) while attending its General Assembly in Milan.

The WFO aims to bring together all the national producers and farm cooperative organisations with the objective of developing policies which favour and support farmers’ causes in developed and developing countries around the world.

“I am delighted and incredibly humbled to be elected into this role,” says Dr Rolleston. .  .

 

Sheep shipment should have been handled better – Jon Morgan:

 I recall once being told that the Prime Minister gets more calls and letters about animal welfare than any other issue.

No-one likes to see an animal suffer and it appears we’re more vigilant about this than we are about anything else, including child cruelty.

The authorities act quickly and severely when cases of animal cruelty occur. Hardly a week goes by when we’re not reading of a case before the courts. Unfortunately, each year several of these are farmers and involve multiple animals.

And so the outcry over the recent shipment of 50,000 sheep (actually 45,000) to Mexico quickly escalated to hysterical levels. . .

Gisborne bull breeders on a high after $100,000 sale  – Kate Taylor:

Angus breeders Charlie and Susie Dowding are buzzing at the sale of one of their bulls for $100,000 – a record price for an on-farm bull sale in New Zealand.

The Gisborne stud’s Rangatira 13-38 sold to the Bayly family’s Cricklewood Angus, Wairoa, which will use the rising two-year-old bull itself initially and make semen available for sale in the future.

“I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling yet,” Susie Dowding said.

“We had no idea at all he would be so sought after. We had moved him up the catalogue but obviously he should have been up further. I’m not sure how many were bidding to start with but it ended up with two studs who wanted him badly.” . .

Focus on support networks – Sally Rae:

A gathering of rural professionals is being held in Oamaru next week to highlight the support networks available to farmers.

It has been organised by the Rural Support Trust, Federated Farmers, Beef and Lamb New Zealand and DairyNZ.

The organisations all had concerns for farmers, particularly in North Otago but also other areas, over the next three to four months, as they faced the effects of drought and also the low dairy payout, Otago Rural Support Trust co ordinator Dave Mellish said. . .

ECan’s future direction – Conan Young:

After five years without a democratically elected regional council, warnings are being sounded that Canterbury’s stock of capable leaders is in danger of being hollowed out.

As Insight investigated the plan for ECan to make a partial return to democracy, it was told the region is getting used to having decisions made for it by government appointed commissioners.

Environment Canterbury’s councillors were sacked by the government amidst claims they were dysfunctional and had failed to introduce a water plan for the region, allowing it to make the most of its alpine water and reap the economic rewards of large scale irrigation.

Now there’s a proposal for a partial return to democracy with a mix of elected members and appointed commissioners.

According to the government, there’s still too much at stake to risk a return to fully elected councillors.

But the head of the Politics Department at Canterbury University, Bronwyn Hayward, takes issue with that position. . .

 

Cashflow crucial for Taranaki demonstration farms – Sue O’Dowd:

Demonstration farms near Stratford and Manaia are closely monitoring their cashflow, focusing on pasture management and deferring some expenditure as they plan for the season ahead.

The Stratford Demonstration Farm, operated by an incorporated society, and the Waimate West Demonstration Farm, owned by a trust, were both established in 1917 by local farmers who wanted a model dairy farm in their area to develop and promote better farming methods. Both farms are managed by the Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre. 

Waimate West Demonstration Farm chairman John Fischer says cashflow will be crucial if dairy farmers are to manage their finances in the wake of two seasons of low payout forecasts. . .

Auditing just futile bureaucracy –  Lynda Murchison:

So much time and energy is spent managing land and water at present, with decisions around rules only the first step.

What those rules look like and how much they will cost farmers and the community to implement also needs close scrutiny. Take a couple of examples from Canterbury.

Overseer; like it or hate it, Canterbury farmers are required to record an estimate of their nitrogen losses using Overseer. Personally I don’t have an issue with that. . .


Rural round-up

June 29, 2015

Snow does little to blunt Hurunui drought – Tim Cronshaw:

Melting snow has combined with the first decent rainfall in six months to provide some relief for dry Hurunui but it would be a stretch to call it a drought breaker.

Much of the snow over the last week has thawed and gone into soils to go some way to replenishing ground moisture that has taken a hammering in the district particularly extending from Hawarden to Cheviot.

The problem is that it’s arrived too late for farmers as winter pulls the plug on major grass or winter crop growth.

Snow, sleet and rain topped up gauges by 20mm to 50mm over Hurunui farmland in the first major rain of the year.

Federated Farmers North Canterbury Meat & Fibre chairman Dan Hodgen said the snow and rain event would be of little initial help for farmers. . .

US likely to force pace on TPP with fast track in place – Pattrick Smellie:

(BusinessDesk) – The United States is likely to try and force the pace of negotiations to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the next few weeks, following a vote in the US Senate last night that all but ensures President Barack Obama will gain so-called ‘fast track’ authority to complete the controversial agreement.

One more Senate vote is expected overnight tonight, New Zealand time, to confirm Trade Promotion Authority – an essential component to resuming the 12 nation talks that have been stalled for months while Obama cobbled together a coalition of Democrats and Republicans large enough to support the measure. . .

TPP does not add up for NZ without good dairy outcomes:

The Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand (DCANZ) is firm in its view that a good deal on dairy in TPP is necessary for any deal to stack up for New Zealand.

“The facts are that dairy accounts for 35% of NZ exports. You can’t even come close to achieving an acceptable deal for New Zealand without a good deal on dairy” says DCANZ Chairman Malcolm Bailey.

DCANZ which represents the common policy interests of 11 New Zealand dairy companies, accounting for 98% of milk processed is following the negotiations carefully. . .

 

Landcorp sees NZ dairy conversion rate slowing – Tina Morrison:

 (BusinessDesk) – Landcorp Farming, which has almost tripled its milk production over the past decade, expects the rate of dairy expansion will slow as environmental restrictions, and higher land and labour costs make it less viable.

Large tracts of flat land in New Zealand once used for sheep farming have been converted to dairy as farmers were lured by higher prices for dairy products while demand for sheepmeat and wool waned. The number of dairy cows has jumped to a record 6.7 million, while sheep numbers dropped below 30 million for the first time in more than 70 years, according to data published by Statistics New Zealand last month, covering the 2014 agricultural year. . .

2015 National Award Winners: Recipients of the Gordon Stephenson Trophy:

John and Catherine own 1240ha Highlands Station – a productive and well-maintained hill-country farm south of Rotorua. Sitting within the Lake Tarawera and Rotokakahi catchments, the farm’s distinctive contour was shaped by volcanic activity which flattened forests, carved out hill faces and left the area covered in Phosphate-rich mud.

John’s father Allen began developing Highlands Station in the early 1930s and award judges noted the Ford’s “strong family history of commitment to agriculture”.

Highlands Station has a “much loved feel” and its outstanding meat and wool production puts it among New Zealand’s leading sheep and beef farming operations. . .

 Appointments to Conservation Boards made:

Associate Conservation Minister Nicky Wagner today announced 41 appointments to the 14 Conservation Boards across New Zealand.
“I want to congratulate each of the community representatives who are being appointed in 2015, particularly the 14 who will serve for the first time. I would also like to thank the outgoing representatives for their contribution to conservation in their region,” Ms Wagner says.

“A third of Conservation Board positions were open for renewal this year. The diverse range of appointees will bring a wide array of knowledge and skills to conservation management in the communities they represent. . .

Nobody’s happy with manuka honey definitions: MPI – Suze Metherell:

 (BusinessDesk) – New Zealand’s lack of definition for what constitutes manuka honey has overseas regulators worried about forgeries, with China likely to introduce a certification scheme for the honey imports, the Ministry for Primary Industries is telling the country’s beekeepers.

There is no industry-wide consensus on exactly what constitutes manuka honey, with MPI working to come up with a formal definition and a method for identification. While it isn’t a food safety issue, MPI “takes concerns about the authenticity of New Zealand products very seriously and is acting to address these,” according to its website. . .


Rural round-up

June 28, 2015

Strategic positioning down on the dairy farm – Keith Woodford:

Right now, everyone in the New Zealand dairy industry is figuring out how to get through the next 12 months without too much pain. But eventually events will turn and we will be able to think more strategically about where the industry is going.

Down on the farm, the big long term issue will be how to remain profitable while living in the new world of nutrient emission limits.

There are two ways to go. One is to farm within an all-grass system, but pull back the stocking rate and other inputs such as nitrogen fertiliser and supplementary feed. Some of the environmentally-focused people are arguing that this is the way to go, and within industry organisation DairyNZ there is a strongly held viewpoint that all-grass is where our competitive advantage lies. . .

 

Tukituki decision a win-win for environment & economy:

Federated Farmers is pleased the Tukituki Catchment Proposal Board of Inquiry has released a decision that has allowed for both the environment and economy to prosper.

The Catchment Proposal Board of Inquiry has decided to let the Ruataniwha Dam go ahead with some amendments to the conditions around nutrient management.

Ian Mackenzie, Federated Farmers water and environment spokesperson says “We are pleased the process is finally over and are 100 percent behind the Ruataniwha Dam project going ahead for the reasons that water storage is good for the environment and the economy.” . .

 

Unprecedented support for North Canterbury:

In an unprecedented first, a group of North Canterbury stock agents and meat processors have agreed to collectively work together with Federated Farmers as the coordinator and the Rural Support Trust to help farmers affected by the drought for the good of the industry.

As feed supplies in the province dwindle large numbers of stock have to be relocated elsewhere or other solutions need to be found. 

Dan Hodgen, Federated Farmers North Canterbury Meat & Fibre Chair says “The commitment from these groups to work together to help drought affected farmers is really encouraging and I thank them for it. This hasn’t happened before and it reflects how serious the situation is heading into lambing and calving.” . . .

Biosecurity pups named Fudge and Fritz:

Fudge (girl) and Fritz (boy) are the winning names for two new biosecurity detector puppies that have been especially bred to stop pests and diseases from entering New Zealand.

The Ministry for Primary Industries announced the beagle names today after running a public competition to name two puppies from its “F-litter”.

“Both names were popular choices among the entrants, and they meet our requirements for names that are short and easy to remember,” says MPI Detection Technology Manager Brett Hickman. . .

 

Aussie farmers plant more Monsanto’s GM canola:

Australian farmers continue to embrace GM technology in greater numbers and have now planted more than 1.5 million hectares of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready® canola since its introduction in 2008.
 
Despite an expected 9% drop in the size of this season’s overall canola crop, local growers have purchased a record one million tonnes of Roundup Ready canola seed, up 15% on last season.
 
More than 436,000 hectares of GM canola will be planted this year, up from nearly 350,000 hectares last year. GM canola varieties now make up 22% of the canola planted in the states that allow GM canola to be grown – Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. . .

Horticultural Industry Celebrates Bay of Plenty Young Fruit Grower Success:

More than 280 people from around the horticultural industry came together last night to celebrate the 2015 Bay of Plenty Young Fruit Grower competition which saw 26 year old Craig Ward from Apata take out the 2015 title at a sold-out gala dinner.

Craig beat seven other competitors in a series of competitive events and tests during the day and a quiz and speech competition in the evening. Craig will now go on to represent the Bay of Plenty at the national competition run by Horticulture New Zealand in Christchurch on 12-13 August.

This year’s competition received a huge amount of support from the horticultural industry through sponsorship and other contributions. . . .

 


Rural round-up

June 20, 2015

Environment Commissioner warns water quality is “not out of the woods yet”:

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, today released two reports on water quality, calling for further steps to safeguard the quality of New Zealand’s fresh water.

“To its credit, the Government has invested heavily in developing policy to improve the management of fresh water,” said Dr Wright. “The 2014 National Policy Statement is a major step forward. Some regional councils have already begun to act and there is a real sense of momentum.”

“But we are not out of the woods yet. Some lakes and streams are below bottom lines and many others are not far above them. And in many places, water quality continues to decline.” . .

PCE report constructively points to next steps in water reform:

The Government has welcomed the two reports released today from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment on managing New Zealand’s freshwater reforms.

“This report acknowledges the step change in improving freshwater management through the National Policy Statement in 2011 and the addition of the National Standards in 2014, but it also challenges the Government on the next steps. The report is timely in that it can feed into the work we are doing with iwi leaders and the reinvigorated Land and Water Forum. Our plan is to have a discussion document out on the next steps in freshwater reform early in 2016,” Dr Smith says.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has recommended six improvements to the Freshwater National Policy Statement. The recommendations are: . . .

 Federated Farmers supports PCE report:

Federated Farmers welcomes the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s report on Managing Water Quality which supports our long held position that the National Policy Statement (NPS) is a major step forward for water management in New Zealand.

Dr Jan Wright has reflected on what has been an effective couple of years since her last report, with a sense of significant momentum in the regions. She has made six recommendations which overall we agree with excluding concerns around the exceptions policy.

Ian MacKenzie, Federated Farmers Environment Spokesperson, says “We agree with the Commissioner’s recommendation for a more strategic approach in prioritising the more vulnerable catchments. To date some councils have spread their efforts too far and thin when they needed to prioritise and make some real progress on the ones that are under the most pressure.” . . .

Landcorp says 2015 earnings ‘on track’ despite weaker dairy prices – Tina Morrison:

(BusinessDesk) – Landcorp Farming, New Zealand’s largest corporate farmer, said it doesn’t need to downgrade its earnings outlook in the wake of falling dairy prices remain weak, as it sheltered from volatility by locking in a guaranteed price at the start of the season.

Dairy product prices slipped in this week’s GlobalDairyTrade auction to the weakest level in almost six years. State-owned Landcorp in October cut its forecast for this year’s operating profit to a range of $1 million to $6 million, from a previous forecast range of $8 million-$12 million, citing weaker milk prices. However the company said it is protected from some of the recent weakness by taking up Fonterra Cooperative Group’s guaranteed milk price. . .

Grass-fed infant formula venture for Synlait:

Canterbury dairy company Synlait is going into partnership with United States company Munchkin to create a new infant formula.

California-based Munchkin has seven offices around the world, and is a leading manufacturer of infant and toddler products.

Synlait’s managing director Doctor John Penno said the unique aspect of this agreement was the product will be grass-fed.

“We’re differentiating inside the farm gate and in a way that really epitomises the very good things about the New Zealand grazing system. . .

Fonterra debate on the wrong track – Andrew Hoggard:

The argument about how well Fonterra is performing is gathering pace. People are claiming there is a bloated management.  We have politicians calling for the CEO to take a pay-cut.  That CEO has just indicated possible redundancies as an outcome of an internal review.

The view seems to be that a number of support roles in New Zealand need to go and be replaced by people in the market.

Pub talk fixes on how many are earning more than what amount, and then assumes that if the pay is slashed the problem is sorted.

I think we sometimes forget how big Fonterra is.  You don’t pay small wages to top people to run a business like that. A far more sensible discussion for us to be having would be on what Fonterra pays in wages as a percentage of turnover. And then break that down by division.  Then compare with other successful dairy co-ops from around the world and see what lessons we can take. . .

Waikato Seasonal Outlook: A new drought and rainy period forecasting system is giving farmers and other primary producer a chance to adjust schedules to improve production and protect investments and livelihoods.

When it comes to climate risks in New Zealand, the bluster and rage of tropical storms can steal the stage. But what has really garnered attention over the last ten years are the recurring droughts some of which have affected not just regional New Zealand but the whole country. These events can flare up quickly, and can cause considerable economic damage and stress to farmers and the ecosystems under their stewardship.

Drought is often insidious and creeping, intensifying over many months, stunting or killing crops and limiting grass growth and quality as it develops, reducing groundwater levels and river flow and drying out water supplies. It represents a more frequently occurring and persistent climate hazards faced by New Zealand. Conversely, extended rainy periods and the occasional extreme rainfall event characterised by excessively high rainfall totals over a short duration and typically covering small geographical areas can lead to their own set of problems for the country. . .

 


Rural round-up

June 19, 2015

Beef + Lamb New Zealand not able to progress joint market development model:

Beef + Lamb New Zealand won’t be progressing a joint market development model with meat processors in the next commodity levy cycle from 2016-2022.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand Chairman, James Parsons said meat processors have decided not to progress the proposed collaborative 50:50 funded market development entity focusing on country of origin promotion. This was a proposition worked up by Beef + Lamb New Zealand in conjunction with meat companies over the past two years.

“We’ve had a lot of dialogue and constructive discussions with processors, considering how market development could be funded and delivered in the future. Naturally, after all the hard work, it’s disappointing that we weren’t able to get agreement. However, we respect processors preference for their own commercially-focused marketing given, they are the ones who sell the product. What became apparent over the two years of one-on-one meetings and workshops with meat companies was the wide ranging views on how we should promote New Zealand’s sheepmeat and beef.” . .

 

Sign dairy prices bottoming out – Sally Rae:

The latest GlobalDairyTrade auction results offers ”the mildest of encouragements” that global dairy prices might be bottoming out, economists say.

While the overall price index was down 1.3% this week, it was also the smallest drop since the latest downturn in prices began in March.

But it still ”shed no real light” on whether prices would recover enough over the course of the season to meet Fonterra’s milk price forecast, Westpac senior economist Michael Gordon said. . .

Mushroom farm faces prosecution  – Simon Hendery:

Long-established Havelock North business Te Mata Mushrooms is being prosecuted on charges carrying a maximum $600,000 fine for multiple alleged breaches of its resource consent.

The Brookvale Rd company has been the subject of regular complaints about the odour it produces which has allegedly wafted over its boundary in breach of its consent conditions.

It has also been accused of failing to build a multi-million dollar building to contain its compost-making facilities – another requirement under its resource consent. . .

Forestry standard part of Govt’s plan to simplify RMA:

A new National Environmental Standard for Plantation Forestry to simplify and standardise Resource Management Act requirements was proposed today by Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith and Associate Primary Industries Minister Jo Goodhew at Paengaroa Forest in the Bay of Plenty.

“The current system for environmental regulation of forestry is complex and confusing with thousands of different rules across New Zealand’s 78 councils. This proposed standard will simplify the rules and save the forestry industry millions in compliance costs while ensuring environmental issues like wilding pines, protecting spawning fish and erosion are better managed,” Dr Smith says. . .

 

Government decision made on raw milk:

Food Safety Minister Jo Goodhew has today announced the Government’s decision to introduce a new policy around the sale of raw milk to consumers.

“Raw milk is a high risk food, particularly for children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems,” says Mrs Goodhew.

“After extensive consultation and review, the Government decision will allow farmers to continue to sell raw milk directly to the public from the farm and via home deliveries.

“I recognise that people feel strongly about their right to buy and drink raw milk. Equally, I am also aware of the strong concerns about the public health risks associated with drinking raw milk and the potential risk to New Zealand’s food safety reputation. . .

Federated Farmers want to see fine print on raw milk:

Federated Farmers wants to see the fine print of the rules around selling raw milk before farmers will know it its worthwhile.

The Food Safety Minister Jo Goodhew has announced farmers will still be able to sell raw milk to consumers, and the government will not be implementing plans to abolish raw milk sales, restrict their volume or prohibit home deliveries.

Dairy spokesperson Andrew Hoggard says farmers value having a range of selling options. . .

 

Hort leaders connect with students to grow industry:

Although the number of horticulture students has increased, it is still not enough to satisfy demands. Now, industry leaders are connecting with Massey University in an effort to grow graduates in the sector.

Massey University offers the only horticulture degree course at university level in New Zealand. One of the partnerships it has is with Horticulture New Zealand.

Senior business manager at Horticulture New Zealand Sue Pickering gives a guest lecture to students taking the first-year Horticulture Production paper. . .

Seeka reports record crop volumes handled for 2014-15 harvest:

Seeka Kiwifruit Industries has packed a record number of trays in the just-completed 2015 kiwifruit harvest, handling more than 26.3 million class 1 export trays, compared to 20.0 million class 1 trays in 2014. The total volume of all classes of kiwifruit is expected to exceed 27.4 million trays this year. This compares to the 24.944m forecast to shareholders at ASM held on 28 April 2015.

Both Hayward [Green] and Gold class 1 volumes are up. Total Hayward packed or in store for 2015 is 21.8 million trays compared to 18.1 million in the previous year. Gold volumes in 2015 totalled 4.3 million trays and compare against 1.7 million in the previous year. Seeka also packed approximately 200,000 trays of the Zespri G14 SweetGreen. . .

 


Rural round-up

June 16, 2015

Federated Farmers water team ‘Reclaiming choice’:

Federated Farmers has launched its very own ‘Water Team’ in response to the growing challenges farmers face in securing a profitable and sustainable future. The Federation hopes to empower the provinces to negotiate their need for the natural resource which is threatened by the lack of choices and missed opportunities through ‘false dichotomies’.

Dr William Rolleston, Federated Farmers President, says “When we deny ourselves choices of how much risk we want to take we are limiting ourselves and our ability to move forward. Our challenge is to ensure regulators, politicians and the judiciary make decisions which are in line with the science, which reflect the uncertainty of the time but are not paralysed by it.

“That’s why Federated Farmers has been developing its very own specialist water team as well as science and innovation teams to help develop our policies and inform public debate.” . . .

 

Agribusiness Agenda poses challenges – Allan Barber:

KPMG’s Agribusiness Agenda for 2015 is a comprehensive analysis of the challenges faced by New Zealand agriculture in meeting the government’s target of doubling exports by 2025. In the light of dramatically falling dairy prices with little sign of recovery, what was always a big ask has suddenly become a whole lot harder.

The Agenda was prepared following a series of Roundtable discussions with a number of leading agricultural personalities from which the views of the participants have been distilled into a number of conclusions. The key finding is that there is a compelling need to add value to our agricultural output which the report admits is pretty obvious and easier to say than do. . .

Bay sheep make the news in New York – Patrick O’Sullivan:

A photo of a Hawke’s Bay flock of sheep has featured in New York Times Magazine.

It was taken by photographer and book publisher Grant Sheehan for a soon-to-be-released book on a sheep station west of Hastings, Kereru Station – Two Sisters’ Legacy.

The New York Times Magazine story was on Dronestagram, a website featuring aerial drone photography, where Mr Sheehan’s photo was featured.

Mr Sheehan, who grew up on a farm near Nelson, said sheep were very difficult to photograph. . .

Spring Sheep Dairy Takes First Step:

Spring Sheep Dairy has taken its first step, with joint venture owners Landcorp Farming Limited and SLC Group agreeing on the focus for its consumer-led marketing business.

Spring Sheep Dairy Chief Executive and Director Scottie Chapman says SSD’s long term goal is to export high value high quality sheep milk products to Asian consumers.

“We’re still to milk our first sheep so obviously there’s a long way to go and we will take a very careful and considered approach, but we are very excited about the potential opportunities this joint venture offers,” Mr Chapman says. . .

 

Auckland Signs Up For Farm Environment Competition:

Farmers in the Auckland region can now enter the prestigious Ballance Farm Environment Awards.

Awards-facilitator, the New Zealand Farm Environment (NZFE) Trust, has formed a partnership with Auckland Council to bring the highly successful competition to Auckland. The agreement means Auckland farmers and horticulturists are eligible to enter the 2016 Awards.

NZFE chair Simon Saunders says the trust is delighted to deliver the Ballance Farm Environment Awards to the region. . .

Partnership puts spotlight on dairy feed efficiency:

Feed supplier GrainCorp Feeds has teamed up with independent research and technical specialists Dairy Club to help New Zealand dairy farmers using supplementary feed to achieve maximum profit this season.

Farmers working with GrainCorp Feeds will have access to Dairy Club’s online milk prediction tool, Tracker™, which measures current milk production and shows how they can achieve maximum gain.

Dairy Club research shows that about $200,000 of efficiency and productivity gains for the average farm can be achieved using Tracker™, which is the equivalent to adding over $1.50 to the milk price. . .

 

Elders Primary Wool announce name change to CP Wool:

Elders Primary Wool has today announced they will change their brand name to CP Wool from September 2015. The brand name change follows the 50 per cent acquisition of the Elders New Zealand business by South Island based Carr Group.

The business will be identified as CP Wool in the market and will be underpinned by Carrfields Primary Wool, a play on the Carr Group transition to Carrfields which will roll out from July 2015. Primary Wool Cooperative, the other 50 per cent shareholder in the Elders Primary Wool business is represented by the Primary Wool reference. . .


Challenge of Maintaining Social Licence to Farm

June 15, 2015

Federated Farmers’ president Dr William Rolleston discusses the challenge of maintaining the social licence to farm in New Zealand in the 21st century:

The concept of a social licence to operate is the complex mix of philanthropic, ethical, legal and economic expectations that a community and stakeholders may have which enables an operation, in this case farming, to continue in a local community.

The social licence to operate was born in the mining industry where local communities may have been at odds with the disruption and effects that mining  activities were having on those communities.  In essence a social licence to operate occurs where the values of the local community and the industry align.  At the very least the social licence to operate is where a community (in the broadest sense) recognises that there is a positive balance between the benefits they receive and the disruption that may take place.

New Zealand was born on the sheep’s back.  We are a nation of farmers.  The alignment of the values between farming and the community has been implicit for the last 150 years.  Our farmers fought our wars – General Russell, who commanded our troops in the Great War and Charles Upham, our most decorated soldier were both farmers and personified our notion and pride in our rural heritage from those times.  Still today we see advertisements which reflect our rural cultural roots, although they are less common than they used to be.

So it is a surprise to many farmers today that this alignment has come unhinged and that we should even be considering farming’s social licence to operate.

I think there are two main drivers to this unhinging.  The first is the continued urbanisation of New Zealand.  The majority of our young have not grown up on a farm – some, so the urban myth goes, have no concept of milk beyond the supermarket. The second is the continued development and intensification of agriculture itself and that we are pushing up against environmental constraints.

In a sense we are victims of our own success.   New Zealanders have a concept of the heartland farmer striding out across the hills.   The longstanding success of dairying on the Waikato not with-standing, the conversion of many traditional sheep and beef farms to dairy has disrupted this traditional view.

While the original concept of the social licence to operate centred around the local community, these days in agriculture the community is wider New Zealand, not just the village down the road or the immediate neighbours.

NGOs grasped this concept some time ago.  Their campaigns are targeted not only at the public but use uncertainty, fear, opinion and often public outrage to influence the gatekeepers of our goods, namely the supermarkets, as well as our politicians.  The fear of losing market share or votes often magnifies public views in their eyes and is seldom compatible with swimming against the populist tide.

While NGOs are legitimately part of the community we have seen them erode the trust between agriculture and the national community through campaigns such as the highly effective “dirty dairying” campaign of the last ten years.  Poor performers in the industry have been held up as the typical examples and all that is wrong.  Fear and negative publicity sells.  Oscar Wild’s quip that there is one thing worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about is not always true.  Negative stories and fear get into the psyche of the public and can be hard to root out even when the facts are on the other side.

The response from agriculture has not always been helpful either.  Deep sectorial interests have often meant that our responses have been mixed giving the impression of uncertainty or even worse evasion.  Those of you at the KPMG breakfast yesterday would have heard Volker Kuntzsch the CEO of Sandfords say that in response to the negative messages from the NGOs the fishing industry said nothing which gave the impression they had something to hide. I think he has a point.

Federated Farmers took the view four years ago that fighting back against every issue was getting us nowhere and was losing us credibility and therefore influence.  My predecessor Bruce Wills stood up in the water debate and said that farmers are part of the problem but we are also part of the solution.  We said that we should work together with other parties through collaboration for better outcomes.  In parallel we also rallied the primary industries together so that we could speak with a common voice where it counted while still preserving our individual objectives.

These were lessons I learnt through the debate on genetic modification, and in particular through the Royal Commission process.  As head of the biotechnology industry organisation and then the Life Sciences Network we rallied the science and industry organisations together, coordinated our story and engaged through the preliminary meetings of the Royal Commission process in a collaborative way.  Fear and uncertainty was the currency of the day but engagement exposed the vulnerabilities and fundamentalism of the opposition view -to the Royal Commissioners at least.  The public would take more time and a track record of safety which is now emerging.

The genetic modification debate is starkly illustrative of the power of a social licence to operate.

Create enough fear about food and environmental safety in the GMO space, limit sciences social licence to operate, and pretty soon what was fear will be morphed into ethics.  We are left with a religious view and the science of safety then no longer matters.

How true that is: We are left with a religious view and the science of safety then no longer matters. Emotion, bolstered by fear, ignorance and propaganda, is very difficult to counter  no matter what the facts might be.

Water is more subtle but the use of fear and uncertainty to reduce the social licence to operate for farming is the same.

If we get this wrong then the outrage factor will trump science and translate into regulation, even legislation – the formal curtailment of our social licence to operate.

The Prime Minister’s Science Advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman, has recognised this risk.  On his website he says:

“Democratic societies make decisions and policy based on many inputs, including fiscal considerations, societal values, prevailing public views, and the ideals and vision of the government of the day.

“But democratic governments want to make good decisions and at the base of such decision making should be the use of high quality information and evidence, both in developing new policies and in evaluating current policies. Decisions made in the absence of such informed background material are, by definition, less likely to be effective or efficient and can entrench policies which may be of little value.

Thus governments can become constrained by earlier policy decisions that are not easily reversible because there may be a popular or political perception that they are effective when in fact they are not.”

So our challenge is to ensure regulators, politicians and the judiciary make decisions which are in line with the science, which reflect the uncertainty of the time but are not paralysed by it.

To achieve this we need a more science literate and savvy public who understand the nature of science and uncertainty.  A scientist said to me recently when we were talking about just how certain some activists are.  He said “certain people are right sometimes”.

Bertrand Russell put it less kindly when he said: ““the whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are so certain of themselves but wiser people so full of doubt”.

But we are seeing signs of hope.  In the public discourse on fluoridation, immunisation and 1080 we are seeing the public starting to back science and reject the worn out and unsupported rhetoric of the anti-campaigners.

The certainty of the those forces railed against farming in the water debate will also struggle to stand up to the test of time and evidence, but it is not an easy battle and we need to recognise that they will be right sometimes and it would be hubris of us to think we are always right too.

We hear a lot about our markets and what they think of New Zealand.  In my view this is an extension of the battle to restrict our social licence to operate.  “New Zealand should be 100% organic” we hear “our customers are demanding it” they say.

We need to resist these constraints.  New Zealand has operated successfully in an open economy.  There are many forms of farming.  At one end there is organics but there is also integrated pest management, conventional agriculture, no-till farming, conservation agriculture and modern biotechnology including genetic modification and precision gene editing.  It is my view that farmers should have the choice to use those approved techniques and technologies how they see fit.

Our overriding goal should be to produce products which contain enduring value propositions such as safety, integrity, value and quality.   Clean and green (in other words our environmental credentials) represent a bottom line, a ticket to the club if you like, but research shows they are not the values shoppers have at the front of their minds when making purchasing choices.

If rightly or wrongly our social licence to operate is determined by the public view we have two choices.  We can either accept whatever the public, or those who claim to represent the public, are saying, and simply work within those constraints no matter how painful they may be or we can seek to understand the public point of view and how they got to that point of view.  We can engage to ensure our view is persuasive.  We can also repackage our message to fit the expectation.  In other words we can either follow public opinion or seek to mould it.

Other players have done the latter with great effect.

At a time when the Greens were chastising farmers for growing biofuels because it took up valuable food producing land, wine production, was left alone.  A glib message of sustainability helped but the fact so many enjoy the indulgence of a good wine not infrequently represents one benefit in the social licence to operate equation.  If you like we can all be hypocrites when it suits us.

Air New Zealand has also flagged a message of sustainability to maintain its social licence to operate.

Scandinavian scientists are using new precision gene editing techniques – the successors to genetic modification – to “rewild” food crops with beneficial heritage traits.

And we heard yesterday that Sanfords are wanting to rebrand their image from an extractive company to a food company.

Agriculture can learn from these examples.

Our challenge into the 21st century is to recognise that our changing demographic means our social licence to operate as farmers must be earned.  We must seek to ensure that licence is as broad as reasonably possible within the bounds of our scientific knowledge.  We must meet the challenge through engagement, understanding, honesty and clarity with the backing of sound evidence.

We must cultivate a public who understand that the environmental effects of the last hundred years cannot simply be reversed in half a generation. We must cultivate a public who understand that we can make good progress when times are good and that while it is not acceptable to go backwards, when times are hard progress is going to be slower.

Agriculture has a good story to tell and a great part to play in New Zealand’s future.  The rules which constrain us must be reasonable and sound.  The outcome is in our hands.

The social licence to operate  can’t be taken for granted.

Agriculture does have a good story to tell and  a great part to play.

The challenge is to ensure the  story is heard and that farming’s ability to play that great part isn’t handicapped by unreasonable and unsound rules based on emotion rather than science.

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,649 other followers

%d bloggers like this: