Monday, February 26, 2024

Landcare homes in on farmers’ regulation headache

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Surprising results as Crown agency digs into what really bugs producers and growers.
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The regulations headache so often cited by farmers as being the bane of their farming business have been dissected in more detail by Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research.

The Crown agency’s sixth biennial survey on rural decision-makers says farmers and growers cite regulations as one of the key stress factors in their land-based businesses. 

Lead researcher Pike Stahlmann-Brown said the last survey in 2021 found levels of stress among farmers and growers was high, but farmers were good at coping with it.

“But invariably stress gets to them. This year we looked at the sources of stress. In 2021 they had told us regulations were stressful, so this time we wanted to look at what type of regulations were the stressors.”

The survey interviewed 5200 land-based operators, with the survey population including 26% sheep and beef farmers, 33% lifestyle block owners, 12% dairy, 2% arable, 5% grazing operators and 3% foresters.

“What we found was really interesting was to look across the different sectors and their relative response to regulations.”

Over 70% of arable farmers ranked regulations as “negative” to “very negative”, followed closely by livestock farmers at about 60%  and horticulture coming in at 40%. Foresters were the most relaxed about regulations, with less than 30% ranking them as “very negative” to “negative”.

While regulations were most often cited as a key stressor for land owners, the Landcare survey revealed different farming sectors have different levels of concerns over regulations.

Digging further into what it was about regulations that stressed operators, a very different profile emerged between sector groups.

Among arable farmers the biggest stressor was regulations relating to the environment, including freshwater rules. 

For livestock farmers, climate change and greenhouse gas regulations were the trigger for over 60% of respondents in that land use category. For almost half  the orchardists and horticulturalists, employment and labour rules were the bugbears.

“It was interesting to see how some of the regulations we hear about as being stressful, such as rules around NAIT and biosecurity, were not actually what came out.”

Six out of 10 of the respondents said they lack confidence in the people making the regulations, and struggle with regulations that do not make sense to them.

“But what was quite surprising to me was that it was not 10 out of 10, that there is not more consensus on what the issue is.” 

Stahlmann-Brown said going into the survey he thought farmers and landowners would be more stressed about the consequences of noncompliance with regulations. 

However, the survey revealed this was only a key regulatory stressor for two out of 10 respondents. 

Interestingly, paperwork, often claimed to be a major time killer for farmers, was cited as a struggle for only four out of 10 respondents.

The survey contains a mix of quantitative and qualitative results, which Landcare intends to release over coming months. 

These include landowners’ assessments of their farm’s environmental performance, how they think they are perceived by urban populations, and how they rate urban centres’ environmental performance.

The first key results sheet can be found here

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