|Not a member? Sign up now!|
Speech by Willy Leferink, Federated Farmers Dairy chairperson, to Federated Farmers 2012 Dairy Council in Palmerston North on 16 February 2012
Dear representatives, observers and other interested parties.
Before I set the scene for today, after a very successful tour yesterday, I would first like to acknowledge you, the hard working representatives of Federated Farmers Dairy.
Federated Farmers is an independent advocate for dairy farming. We aren’t in the pocket of our biggest processors and nor are we swayed by levy politics.
When things need to be said, we are prepared to say them. We are independent.
Of course, that would be impossible without our dairy farming and sharemilking members, who have kept New Zealand from following Greece, Ireland, Iceland and others down the economic plug hole.
I would also like to thank the excellent staff support we have from Federated Farmers, both in terms of dairy policy and legal support.
We have not only squared away a major revision to the sharemilking agreement that needed Parliamentary time, but environmentally, we are making progress by being involved in the Land and Water Forum and other multi party bodies.
Tomorrow, here, you will all be able to help further develop the agricultural management tool, Overseer, and also have your say on what the new Clean Streams Accord should contain.
And later today, we will hear from Professor Nicola Shadbolt and Sir Henry van der Heyden on the state of the dairy industry worldwide and Fonterra’s place in it. They will be followed by Minister David Carter on reforms to dairy regulation.
The current kerfuffle over the DIRA is about Fonterra Cooperative Group’s day to day business environment.
Trading Among Farmers is about Fonterra’s future as a cooperative. About the family silverware.
You will have the chance to ask the questions that need to be asked.
Demand the answers that must be given.
And while we’re talking about asking what needs to be asked, I’ve got a message for our bureaucrats and the non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) focused on agriculture and dairying in particular.
I ask them to back off.
We are being forced by these people into unproductive processes driven by a bunch of white lies, so convincing, we are almost starting to believe them ourselves. These cost the country millions of dollars in undesired outcomes and Environment Court hearings.
It has now gone as far as having Environment Court judges writing district plans.
One example is the way Fish & Game put the dairy industry in its crosshairs with two words I know you don’t wish me to say. You know what those words are so I won’t say them.
This campaign whipped up the media by pandering to what it “thinks” dairy farming is. We know the picture they created is a far cry from reality.
We invited all members of the parliamentary press gallery to see farming for themselves yesterday and got several to attend, which is absolutely great, but where are the rest?
They’ll be the ones who’ll follow politicians every word but they won’t come out with farmers to see innovation, effluent planning and even climate change response in action.
I just don’t think it is good enough when two simple words can turn the wider community against a key part of the New Zealand economy. Something I believe Fish & Game is responsible for.
I guess we can be thankful we haven’t been blamed for the Black Death or the Gulf Wars, at least not yet. As it stands in the media over the past year we dairy farmers:
I could demystify all of the allegations that featured in our national media, but it does not help as the damage has been done.
The damaging tax allegation splashed all over page one in the Dominion Post deliberately picked on our worst year for profitability. Its reporters couldn’t even tell the difference between revenue and profit.
I totally endorse media freedom, but with freedom come responsibilities.
The excitement to sensationalise, to beat the bloggers and other papers to a scoop misses something critical. It’s called perspective. Is it right to denigrate a section of community for being mildly successful?
If it bleeds it reads. Apologies on page six do not cut it for me. Actions speak louder than words.
So what are some of the issues?
Before I go any further, I want to give New Zealand’s dairy farmers a generous pat on the back for becoming far more responsible citizens in the community with respect to the environment.
We read a lot on where we fall short, but get only a little mention when we make progress on reducing dairying’s environmental effects.
We all hear about the 10 percent who didn’t achieve, but few talk up the 90 percent who did.
If we dairy farmers have an accident we’re instantly criminals. If a council does the same thing its bad luck.
I’m going to read you one council’s response to a letter criticising the Manawatu District Council applying to dump treated effluent into the Manawatu River. A river some NGO’s already claim to be the most polluted in New Zealand.
I directly quote the response written by the Infrastructure Group Manager for Manawatu and Rangitikei District Councils:
“Total exclusion of treated effluent being discharged into the river is an admirable goal but ratepayer affordability is also a critical factor which is always taken into account when assessing council initiatives…”
Do not get me wrong. Deliberately putting poo in a creek should be punished. But that needs to be equal between farmers, factories, councils and other members of the public.
Imagine if we tried the council’s “admirable goal” line above? We’d be laughed at and pilloried, but the councils’ comment got printed and no one in the media batted an eyelid. Where, I need to ask, are the Greens paddling their canoes up to these sewerage outfalls?
I believe dragging people in front of the Environment Court and turning them into a criminal two years after a breach or event is totally dysfunctional.
Instant punishment is a real deterrent.
If you know you are going to face a $20,000 fine if you put poo into a creek, you make darn sure you don’t. It’s like when you see flashing blue lights in your rearview mirror followed by a large fine; it tends to make you stick to the speed limit.
So what are we going to do about it?
I think we will need an enormous campaign to put us back on track with the general public.
So when I read all the provincial reports and nearly all of them state that we have to pull up our socks, I am all the more excited about what we can achieve in the future holds.
I want to challenge the bureaucrats and the NGO’s to stop thinking about how to slow down or block progress and ask them instead to find a better use for their time and energy.
Some regional councils think they can stop pollution by writing thousands of pages of policy to constrain farming.
What we need instead is new thinking where we all work together like the Canterbury Water Management Strategy, which is creating solutions for all parties involved. In several years Environment Canterbury has gone from loathed zero to a business partner hero. If it can do it, Southland and Horizons can as well.
Rather than ‘once burnt twice shy’, the focus should be on outcomes.
Society has to understand that we farmers live in the same environment we work in. If you excuse the language to make a point, “we do not shit in our own nest”.
We want to make sure our kids can live in that environment as well. Our farms are also our homes.
In the end there are only a few serious issues when it comes to dairying. They are:
I suggest we build some basic negotiated rules around these followed by tailored implementation at a regional level. I do not say this will be easy, but Rome was not built in a day either.
The key is not to have blinkers on when it comes to solutions. We may have to treat and feed our cows differently in the future to meet these objectives. Innovation and research may have to pave the way forward but a big part of this is also educating our future workforce.
In the future we cannot accept the uneducated dropouts of the school system anymore. There is too much at stake in bringing the dairy sector up to a level of expectation the general public has of us. Not to mention increasing our productivity
Most Kiwis understand how important dairying is, but poison pens are driving a wedge that has some thinking that the entire retail price in a litre of milk comes to farmers, or that as I said earlier, we don’t pay tax.
So what are we going to do about it?
It starts by us all working together. There are so few of us in the primary sector. If there is anything the Resource Management Act (RMA) does, it opposes working together. So we have to work together to find solutions to some damn difficult problems.
The RMA is 21 years old and is all about submissions, objections, hearings and further submissions and objections until you hit the Environment Court. All because parties cannot agree on the policy developed in an office by people whose job it is, to write policy in a language few of us understand.
In the business world we negotiate deals. I fail to see the word negotiate when it comes to policy.
Could a bunch of interested parties, working together with the best science available and mitigating negative and downstream effects, not create a better future for us all? Isn’t taking the whole community along a far better way to get to desired outcomes?
The RMA was written by lawyers for lawyers, an industry New Zealand, as a small trading country, cannot afford it. Those with the big wallets will always win in the Environment Court
So I want to “mitigate” the effects of the RMA on our lives.
It is time to look around the world for better and smarter policy development systems.
As ECan’s radical transformation has shown, where there is a will, there is a way to work together for the betterment of us all. To achieve this they had to overrule the RMA on several rules.
As a few final words I want to thank you the delegates. You have made worthwhile contributions to improve your environment and tried to create some sense in Regional Policy Statements.
Most of these improvements are easy on paper, but we know they involve blood, sweat, tears and a lot of time
And, to those who do not care, “please pull up your pants” as you are all dragging us down.