Thursday, July 7, 2022

Farmers will have to change regardless

Sustainability is an economic issue, not just an environmental one, and dairy farmers are going to have to change, willingly or unwillingly.

That advice is being given Paul Gilding, veteran Australian environmentalist and former head of Greenpeace, to meetings of New Zealand dairy farmers called by Fonterra Shareholders Council.

The Grow Your Mind series was conducted throughout dairying regions last week, not without protest from dairy farmers annoyed at a Greenpeace activist being given a platform by Fonterra, council chairman Ian Brown said.

While not excusing his green credentials, Gilding emphasised his past 20 years as a sustainability adviser for large businesses worldwide, including Unilever and Fonterra, and his belief that markets drove adaptation, not central planning.

After a century of extraordinary economic growth and wealth creation we were running up against constraints – resources like land, water, energy and nitrogen would no longer be cheap and abundant, he said.

“It’s the end of an era. Change is coming and we have to adapt.

“Technically we can adapt and this is not the collapse of civilisation.”

The huge emphasis on sustainability would be advantageous to NZ dairy farmers in three ways, he said:

  • Pasture-fed production, the more natural the better.
  • Co-operative industry ownership, conferring trust.
  • New Zealand’s clean and green reputation, a lot better than most countries.

“Furthermore most farmers are much better environmentalists than they are perceived to be,” Gilding said.

“This sustainability issue is not going to be easy. In fact it will be messy and a pain in the butt. But the only choice you get is to change proactively or reactively.”

Warming to his specialist topic when questioned in Whangarei, Gilding said the prices of solar panels have dropped by 80%, putting them in reach of every farm dairy roof.

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