Thursday, April 25, 2024

Survey reveals dairy farmers’ biggest concerns

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Government regulations and the speed in which these new rules are being implemented are the biggest concern for dairy farmers surveyed in DairyNZ’s annual View from the Cow Shed report.
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DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle says the View from the Cow Shed survey indicated that while farmers are making on-farm changes to improve their environmental management and their workplaces, they are feeling under pressure from constant regulatory changes.

Government regulations and the speed in which these new rules are being implemented are the biggest concern for dairy farmers surveyed in DairyNZ’s annual View from the Cow Shed report.

Changing government regulations were causing stress to 57% of farmers surveyed, with 55% also saying the perception of dairy farmers by the public and in the media was also keeping them up at night.

A further 67% of farmers feel there isn’t enough support for farmers dealing with mental health issues.

The survey of 425 farmers was carried out in April and May of this year. DairyNZ drew up 10 recommendations from its results and feedback from farmers.

These included slowing down the speed and scale of regulatory change around freshwater; pushing for the split gas approach when calculating carbon emissions; helping the sector better overcome its workforce challenges; having a better R&D strategy; and improved rural broadband services.

DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle says it was a paradox that despite the high milk prices, there was still a strong feeling of concern and uncertainty among farmers about their future.

He doubted the survey results would have changed radically if it was undertaken after the recent lift in milk price forecasts.

“I don’t think it’s all about the money at all for farmers. It’s showing there are other concerns like being down on staff and this tsunami of regulations all coming at once. I think those things override that in many ways,” Mackle said.

“It highlights for farmers that it’s much more than how much you get paid for your milk. It’s about the lifestyle and it’s about the long-term future.”

He says the survey indicated that farmers are making on-farm changes to improve their environmental management and their workplaces, but are feeling under pressure from constant regulatory changes.

“We want to see more focus on ensuring regulations are fair, practical and don’t overburden farmers with too many different requirements,” he said.

He denied the recommendations showed that DairyNZ was resistant to change. The majority of farmers thought regulations were happening too fast and the policy settings needed to be right.

“We are not saying no regulations – regulations have their place – the key issue is to slow it down. There’s too much too soon, all at once and that’s been the feeling all of this year,” he said.

Another of the recommendations was to push for the NPS on indigenous biodiversity to be reworked.

“We’re not saying don’t do it, we’re saying rework it and consult with farmers,” he said.

DairyNZ chair Jim van der Poel says the sheer pace, scale and breadth of changes that are being asked of the industry over such a short time period was starting to feel relentless.

“This sentiment is captured in this year’s View from the Cow Shed report, which builds on the report we released in 2020,” Van der Poel said.

He says too many regulations, many of which are disconnected from each other, changing over too short a time period is having a huge impact on farmer wellbeing.

“We have reached a point of regulatory overload and it’s causing serious fatigue and frustration in our rural communities and the pressure continues to build. The issue isn’t so much the regulation itself, although there have been elements that simply aren’t pragmatic or practical behind the farm gate,” he said.

The report revealed 70% of farmers surveyed had a farm environment plan (FEP), while 62% said being short-staffed was causing them stress.

“We are a few staff members down this season and it’s putting huge pressure on both our family and our wider team who are having to work some really long hours, with less days off on their roster,” one Waikato farming family wrote in the survey.

“We had our first child six months ago and I’m lucky if I can see her for 30 minutes a day. We love farming, but this just isn’t sustainable,” they said.

Mackle says the constant attacks on the industry from NGOs were also having an effect on farmer morale.

“It cuts pretty deep,” Mackle said.

The recommendations and the report will be given to all members of Parliament and request meetings to discuss the findings.

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