Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Under-siege farmers must engage

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Sheep and beef farmers are under pressure on several regulatory fronts but still need to engage in the process, South Canterbury farming leader Mark Adams says.
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“It’s really important that individual farmers get into this arena that they’re not comfortable in to convey their views and situations to the people making the decisions. 

“Those people need to hear from farmers on the ground.”

There will be positive as well as negative impacts from the environmental change process, one positive being the use of carbon footprint audits to bring about production efficiencies so they can turn the exercise into a value proposition.”

Fairlie farmer Adams is a former South Canterbury Federated Farmers president who heads the Beef + Lamb environmental reference group as well as chairing his local water catchment group in the wider Opihi/Opua area.

“Farmers are overwhelmed and overly sensitive and they feel like they’re under siege.

“There’s just so much policy, science and economic detail to get their heads round,” he said.

“But if we’re not careful we could miss some key messages that we need to engage and need to lift our game on the environment.”

He is, like all farmers, an owner-operator and when he is in the office reading policy papers and preparing submissions he isn’t on the farm working.

While he accepts the need for further improvement, he’s frustrated sheep and beef farmers are not being given credit for what they’ve already achieved.

“This needs to be acknowledged by the people making the rules.

“We are being measured on what was happening 15 years ago, not on what we’re doing now.”

Adams has just completed his submissions on ECan’s plan change 7 on land and water management – a big enough task on its own – and now has to start working through the national freshwater policy, thankful that at least there’s a two-week extension to the submission period.

He says there’s been a cumulative impact on farmers from the raft of regulatory changes – national, generational and sub-regional – over the last several years, topped off by Mycoplasma bovis and firearms legislation.

“I’m a farmer, not a policy person, so I have to read a policy several times to understand it and that is very time-consuming. 

“Then writing a submission needs time as well to make sure it’s accurate or in case you’re not pitching it right.”

While a lot of the change is interconnected, the processes aren’t, with each policy being quite defined.

“It’s important we engage but it comes at a cost to our businesses. That’s not a complaint but a reality.”

A major problem is that the various policy statements have no economic analysis behind them, no information on the impact on farm businesses.

“There’s no rigour on the economic side. 

“We can do our own numbers but we’ve only got an idea of what they might be. We don’t know exactly so it’s like throwing darts at a dartboard.”

In that situation farmers were less likely to prepare submissions.

One aspect he’s sure of is that local and central governments need to encourage farmers to set up and run their own catchment groups, rather than imposing measures on them.

His Otop catchment group, broadly covering Opihi, Opua, Pareora and Temuka, is a top-down structure put in place under prescriptive rules by ECan. The result has been an anaemic outcome with very little innovation and farmer goodwill and that should be a lesson to the Government.

Though the group is a long-way from where it should be Adams believes it will get there in time with a lot of work at community level.

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