Beef + Lamb NZ is suggesting its Farmer Council conduct a review into its advocacy role, an issue that looks like coming under intense scrutiny at the board’s annual meeting later this month.
Farmers have lodged nine remits to be discussed and voted on at the March 30 meeting in New Plymouth, indicating a heightened level of frustration by some levy players.
Those remits cover issues of weighted voting, consultation, transparency and a call for BLNZ to leave the He Waka Eke Noa (HWEN) partnership.
But its advocacy functions have attracted the most interest.
North Otago’s Jane Smith is seeking an independent review of BLNZ advocacy, how it secures a mandate that reflects levy-payers’ wishes and the effectiveness and transparency of that advocacy.
“Many of the positions that have been taken by BLNZ on behalf of levy payers over the past three years have not first gained a full and transparent understanding by farmers of all potential impacts and have included consultation processes with limited ability for levy payers to raise further questioning to influence further discussion or to propose alternative pathways,” she writes in support of the remit.
In explanatory notes, LNZ responds that it welcomes scrutiny but warns an independent review could cost $500,000 plus another $100,000 of staff time.
The board suggests instead that the Farmer Council, with an independent facilitator, could lead a review into policy procedures and decision making, and identify areas of improvement with the results available to all levy payers.
The process would still cost an estimated $100,000.
Other remits addressing advocacy include one from Bay of Plenty farmer Rick Burke, who calls on BLNZ to prioritise advocacy of the sheep and beef sector if it finds itself conflicted while advocating alongside the dairy sector.
In explanation, BLNZ says its advocacy strives to achieve the best possible outcomes for sheep, beef and dairy farmers and that in most cases the interests of all pastoral farmers are aligned.
Jason Barrier from Waikato wants BLNZ to exit HWEN so it can advocate for what he calls “a more sustainable and equitable emissions reduction proposal”.
In response, BLNZ says it does not intend leaving the partnership, adding there are greater downside risks to the sector from withdrawing than from staying.
In a similar vein, Rangītikei farmer Roger Dalrymple wants BLNZ to commit to “ongoing, unrelenting advocacy” to achieve a different greenhouse gas pricing mechanism than HWEN, one that follows principles he has set out.
BLNZ says this is something it continues to seek, noting that the government has recognised HWEN has a disproportionate impact on sheep, beef and deer farmers.
Graeme Gleeson from Waikato wants BLNZ to adopt best-practice consultation with levy payers before committing to a policy or recommendation that has significant ramifications for levy payers.
He cites HWEN as an example of farmers having little input or understanding of the far-reaching ramifications.
In response BLNZ outlines the consultation process it followed and says it is committed to continuously improving it.
A remit from Otago farmer Hamish Carswell calls for a review on the impact of weighted voting and whether it allows bigger farmers to have undue influence, which leads to inequitable decisions.
In an explanation, BLNZ says no single entity has livestock numbers that can influence elections or its decision making.
South Otago farmer Hamish Bielski is calling for greater transparency of farmer councils and councillors and an assurance that councillors and Farmer Reference Group members are not constrained in what they can say when reporting to BLNZ on farmer feedback.
BLNZ says other than terms of reference that restrict disclosure of sensitive information, councillors are free to promote contrary positions to the organisation’s.