By Kate Acland, chair of Beef + Lamb New Zealand
We have just completed 50 feedback sessions around New Zealand, giving farmers a chance to get things off their chests and share what’s on their minds.
A wide range of issues were discussed, including fair and practical regulations, emissions pricing, production and profitability, farmer input, advocacy, attracting people to our industry and telling our story.
Inevitably some farmers questioned the role and value of Beef + Lamb NZ (BLNZ). That’s fair enough – we are here to serve our levy-payers and we’re accountable to farmers for how we invest their funds, and what benefits we deliver. Every six years, farmers also get an opportunity to vote in a referendum.
A Farmers Weekly correspondent raised this very question, in the August 7 issue: “What does my levy buy me?”.
He argued that BLNZ is “always quick to support the government”, “never says no to anything … and almost seems to be working against farmers sometimes”.
That’s disappointing to hear, and we know we need to do a better job of explaining to every farmer what we’re doing.
But it certainly doesn’t reflect the hard work that been going on in the past few years – on the ground, but also behind the scenes in discussions with officials and the government.
We have led the campaign against the wholesale conversion of sheep and beef farms into carbon farms, we’ve been at the forefront of the fight against the National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity and we have publicly expressed our opposition to regulating Freshwater Farm Plans and the way the government plans to implement these.
On climate change, we’ve argued that there is no justification for pricing emissions because we are on track to meet the targets.
We’ve been clear that farmers must be recognised for their sequestration, that we must avoid emissions leakage, that there need to be viable mitigations and equity across industries, and that targets must be reviewed using the latest science that recognises methane’s unique warming impact.
We’ve urged the government to focus on a farm-level measurement and reporting system that is beneficial to farmers and will work in the marketplace.
Clearly, a number of policies have been imposed on us by the government, but we also accept we need to do a better job of explaining why we have taken the policy positions we have.
But our advocacy work is just a modest part of our mission to support sheep and beef farmers in New Zealand.
Farmers at the feedback sessions have told us they value BLNZ’s research and extension investment. At 40% of our overall budget, we’re focused on delivering tangible research outcomes so sheep and beef farmers can increase productivity and profitability.
We’ve helped get the tools and information from this investment into the hands of 15,000 farmers at 500 events over the past year. A further 29,000 downloaded information off our website.
BLNZ’s research portfolio is diverse and includes programmes across animal health, productivity, genetics, environmental health, mitigations (greenhouse gas) and landscape management.
Our genetics programme is world-class and has delivered tangible financial benefits to the New Zealand sheep sector through productivity gains. We’re now using what we have learnt from our sheep genetics programme to do the same with our beef industry. The ground-breaking Informing New Zealand Beef programme aims to increase the uptake of the use of high-quality genetics in the beef industry.
The recently completed Hill Country Futures programme has been focused on future-proofing the profitability, sustainability and wellbeing of NZ’s hill country farmers, their farm systems, the environment and rural communities.
This programme included an emphasis on forages and providing decision-making tools to help farmers select the best forage option for different land types and climate.
As well as our own extension activities and courses, farmers’ levies directly support a huge number of initiatives such as Young Farmers NZ, the Growing Future Farmers Cadet Scheme, Primary ITO sheep and beef training and Farmer Time, where our farmers take farms into school classrooms around NZ.
Through our funding of Beef + Lamb New Zealand Inc, beef and lamb is being marketed to Kiwis and a range of nutritional studies are providing us with the very best data to demonstrate the important role red meat plays in a healthy balanced diet.
We’ve also been working on behalf of sheep and beef farmers to improve trade access and that’s paid dividends with the recently signed United Kingdom-NZ Free Trade Agreement.
Our ongoing trade advocacy work helps make sure our global markets remain free and open in an increasingly protectionist world. Our staff in the United States and UK are also working hard to reduce those tariff and non-tariff barriers that impact the returns we get in market and subsequently on farm.
We know that BLNZ can never hope to please every farmer, but it’s important to recognise that while the domestic advocacy work we do gets a lot of the attention, it is just a small part of what we do. Our door is always open for all farmers, large and small, to ask questions and let us know where we can do better.
That’s why these feedback sessions with farmers over the past few months have been so valuable. The meetings have been about listening and generally having a catch up face to face. We’ll be providing farmers with a full summary of the sessions and the actions we’ll be taking.
I encourage anyone with any questions or concerns to get in touch with their farmer director or Farmer Council in their area – they’re here to help.