Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Meetings show farmer frustration

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High farmer turnouts at meetings trying to explain the Government’s freshwater proposals show the degree of frustration the sector is feeling, Central Hawke’s Bay farmer Sam Robinson says.
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Robinson, who attended a meeting a meeting in Napier that attracted 300 to 400 farmers and growers said he and just about everyone else there do not disagree with the proposals’ objectives. It is the approach causing frustration among farmers.

Frustration was also the overwhelming feeling at a meeting in Carterton, targeted specifically at farmers and growers, Farmers Weekly columnist Alan Emerson said.

Emerson said more than 400 attended and the atmosphere was prickly, with questions from the floor not being answered to farmers’ satisfaction.

That led to farmers going away from the meeting frustrated, thinking it had been a waste of time.

The attendance spoke volumes.

“It’s right in the middle of the busiest time of year so to get that number out is massive,” he said. 

“Farmers are obviously pissed off.”

Robinson said the proposals are being pushed from the top down with little consideration for their effect on people.

The approach of the discussion documents is counter to that of the Resource Management Act, he said.

The RMA is affects-based legislation, where rules and regulations consider the overall impact on the environment without getting into minute detail of telling farmers what to do.

Much of the freshwater package sits within the RMA ambit but instead of following the Act’s outcome-based approach it calls for detailed, blanket specifics such what is permitted on particular degrees of slope or the depth of pugging.

“It’s really getting into telling me how to run my farm.”

One of the biggest disappointments is that when the proposals were drawn up a decision was made to not consult industry groups like Beef + Lamb and DairyNZ about what is already being done and the best way to build on that, which Robinson said shows a lack of common sense.

The goals of the freshwater reforms are significant and achieving them would be better served by taking a more realistic approach.

“If you’ve got to eat an elephant then it’s best to do it in bite-sized chunks rather than try and do it in one go,” he said.

By and large farmers understand reputation is important to help market their produce overseas and includes having a good story to tell about how they look after the environment. A lot is already being done but is rarely if ever acknowledged and that needs to change.

“Let’s look at some of the good for once.”

Robinson said the short time for discussion on the proposals at many farmers’ busiest time of year is an insult.

Reforms are being foisted on farmers when they are already under pressure from a number of areas.

The danger is what that sort of frustration might lead to because alienating farmers means they are less likely to be engaged in what the proposals are trying to achieve.

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