By Wayne Langford, Federated Farmers president
If the new Government is serious about restoring farmer confidence, it will need to hit the ground running in its first 100 days – and that needs to start with listening.
The past six years have been incredibly challenging for farmers, who have been overwhelmed by the pace, scale and impracticality of change pushed down on us from politicians in Wellington. The pressure has been unrelenting.
At times that frustration has boiled over, but the tragedy of it all is that a lot of the regulatory mess we’ve found ourselves in could have been avoided entirely if the Government had actually listened to grassroots farmers to begin with.
Any farmer worth their salt could have told the Government that their freshwater reforms were unworkable, that their methane targets went too far, or that the ‘Ute Tax’ would unfairly impact those who lived rurally. In fact, we did, but our concerns were completely dismissed.
Sure, there may have been a lot of ‘consultation’, but was any of the feedback truly taken on board? Looking at where things have landed, I think the answer is a resounding ‘no’. The end result is record-low farmer confidence.
For Federated Farmers, this election was all about restoring that confidence, putting the fun back into farming, and getting our communities humming again. That’s why we released a rural roadmap that included 12 policy priorities for the next Government to pick up and run with.
The good news for farmers is that National, ACT and New Zealand First have all adopted a number of those policies and have campaigned on a platform of reducing red tape for farmers – but these were just campaign promises.
We know all too well that the job is only half done, and the real work starts now. It’s now up to Federated Farmers to hold the new Government to account. We need to make sure those campaign promises translate into real change – and there is a lot of change needed.
Farmers will quite rightly expect to see a new Government move quickly to deliver on their promises to reduce red tape and compliance costs, and the freshwater reforms need to be the first regulations put under the microscope.
The Government needs to take a much closer look at things like unworkable wetland rules, input controls like the fertiliser cap, and the need for winter grazing resource consents. Freshwater Farm Plans should be a workable and affordable alternative to a resource consent, not an expensive duplication.
All these issues could be resolved quickly through simple amendments, and with immediate effect.
There is also a need to urgently put a stop to David Parker’s highly restrictive 2020 National Policy Statement for Freshwater, which requires all 16 regional councils to have new freshwater rules in place by 2024.
Otago has been first to release their draft plan under the new rules, and it paints a grim picture of what could be to come for farmers across the country if there isn’t political intervention.
The national direction is so restrictive that Otago’s proposal requires a fertiliser cap of just 100kg of nitrogen per hectare (much less that the 190kg national cap) and a stocking rate cap of 2.5 cows a hectare in most catchments across the region.
These requirements would completely undermine our rural communities and leave thousands of farming families across Otago first, and then the rest of the country, unable to make ends meet.
Farmers have been calling for change for a long time. I just hope we now have a Government who are prepared to listen.
Federated Farmers, New Zealand’s leading independent rural advocacy organisation, has established a news and insights partnership with AgriHQ, the country’s leading rural publisher, to give the farmers of New Zealand a more informed, united and stronger voice. Feds news and commentary appears each week in its own section of the Farmers Weekly print edition and online.
In Focus: Election 2023 brings winds of change
General election 2023 saw the country turn blue, with National given the task of forming the next government. Bryan talks to Federated Farmers president Wayne Langford who hopes a change of government might bring about a change in mood for farmers. Listen from the 22.52 minute mark.