The UMR Research conducted survey found 46% of farmers were confident in the future of New Zealand’s sheep and beef industry compared to 58% in the previous survey in May.
Meanwhile, the percentage of farmers who expressed low confidence in the industry was up 6% compared to last quarter at 15%.
Farmer confidence was down in all regions except for the northern North Island, where it remained steady at 47% (up 1%).
The southern South Island experienced the largest fall in confidence, dropping 27% to reach 32%, followed by the central South Island at 42% (down 19%), and eastern North Island at 50% (down 16%).
B+LNZ chair Andrew Morrison says sheep and beef farmers are increasingly concerned at the speed and scale of government-led reforms.
“We are hearing that a key factor behind the fall in confidence is the Government’s recent essential freshwater rules, but also concerns about the cumulative impact of law changes in the last couple of years, such as the Zero Carbon Bill, and changes to the Emissions Trading Scheme that has led to a surge in the conversion of sheep and beef farms into carbon farms,” he said.
He says farmers are also worried about the potential impact of significant policies such as the National Policy Statement on biodiversity, which have been parked until early next year.
Other things affecting confidence are the lingering impacts of drought across parts of the country and uncertainty in export markets as a result of covid-19.
He says while sheep and beef farmers recognised they had a role to play in improving their environmental performance, there were concerns the policy settings around freshwater and proposals on biodiversity are not workable or practical at a farm-level, nor will they necessarily lead to better environmental outcomes.
“We want to work with the incoming government on improving the rules that have already been introduced and then focus on their implementation,” he said.
The survey follows a similar survey from Rabobank released in September, which also reported a fall in confidence in the sheep and beef sector.
“The fact that they are so aligned validates what we are hearing,” Morrison said.
He says farmers could generally cope with on-farm issues such as weather extremes, however government policies tended to create huge uncertainty for farmers. It eroded their confidence when they could not see a clear pathway through.
“If farmers can’t see a way through something or can’t understand how they are going to do it because the policy doesn’t align with the delivery – that’s when they lost confidence,” he said.
The siloed approach from the Government was frustrating where the solutions to lowering carbon emissions are presented separately to those for freshwater and for biodiversity.
“In a farmer’s mind and in my mind, all of those solutions are the same, but the policy settings don’t transpose that,” he said.
Morrison had no doubt that low confidence was linked to mental health because people low on confidence do not look to invest in solutions.
B+LNZ is a member of the Ministry for the Environment’s (MfE) Freshwater Implementation Group and will be exploring options to improve some of the new essential freshwater rules and to ensure the implementation of the rules are fair and just.
“We are also keen to see continued funding for practical on-the-ground environmental work such as support for farm plans, catchment communities, pest control, and native tree planting,” he said.
“We want to continue investing in environmental improvement in a way that lifts productivity gains.”
UMR Research surveyed 660 farmers between August 21 and September 9. The margin of error is about 3.8%.