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Chairman’s Address to AGM/Conference 2006

Frank Brenmuhl
Chairman, Dairy Farmers of New Zealand
Chairman’s Address to AGM/Conference 2006
Mercure Hotel, 345 The Terrace, Wellington

Welcome to the conference and annual meeting of Dairy Farmers of New Zealand (DFNZ), the dairy industry group of Federated Farmers of New Zealand.

Dairy farmers recognise the specific roles of the organisations and businesses that they own, or are members of. They also have clear expectations of these organisations and businesses.

The roles that Dairy InSight, Dexcel, processing companies and DFNZ play in New Zealand’s largest industry is clear in farmers’ minds – even though some of our industry leaders try to blur and merge their roles, contrary to the mandates that they have been given.

This past year we have seen the birth of Dairy 21 and Pastoral 21. The growing pains experienced in the development of these organisations would have been lessened if recognition had been given to the specific mandates that farmers have given to some of the various entities involved.

That some good work has resulted from the reasons behind these developments, has to an extent, been overshadowed by the political machinations at the time. This was unfortunate, and I look forward to better processes being utilised in the future.

At the heart of all of this is the unwillingness to consult with farmers before deciding on a particular course of action that will affect the livelihoods’ of farming people.

The failure to report properly and to consult effectively with shareholders, owners, and beneficiaries gives rise to uncertainty and a sense of wrongness.

Dairy farmers throughout New Zealand have expressed concern over these issues, both publicly and through personal phone calls to me.

We expect our elected representatives to take heed of this in future. Failure to do so may result in dairy farmers having no choice but to pass their mandate to newly elected people.

During the last month I had the privilege of meeting with many Federated Farmers’ members at several provincial annual meetings around the country. The hard work done in the provinces by farmers with support from Federated Farmers of New Zealand staff is often unrecognised by especially those whose attitudes and ideas we strive to enlighten or change.

Without it we would cease to command the respect that we have with the regulators, bureaucrats and single issue groups that would, if unconstrained, kill the cow that they have milked for many years.

Recently I attended a conference discussing “The Environmental Effects of Land Use on the Coastal Marine Environment”. The first speaker was the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. The tenor of his speech was that agriculture was to blame for the parlous state of the coastal marine environment. Farmers were responsible and they would have to accept responsibility for solving the problems.

Subsequent speakers gradually spelt out the issues and the picture became clearer –that agriculture was a small contributor to the environmental problems being discussed. Urban development, human behaviour and replacement of trees with roads and paving were the biggest contributors to the damage to the coastal marine environment. The following facts came out.

In Auckland alone, 1000 hectares a year of new land is forecast to accommodate expanding urban development. Sediment runoff is the major issue. Auckland Regional Council responds to 1,200 pollution callouts a year, and 20-30 beach closures a year are the result.

The effect of agriculture is generally in decline in the coastal marine environment.

At what point will reality prevail over myth? Why is the cost of urban development and urban behaviour not discussed in the same terms of sustainability as we in dairy farming are subjected to daily?

We have as an industry and as individuals made a substantial daily commitment to meeting the ever present challenge to deliver sustainable farming practice. We have yet to see similar steps being taken by the larger community.

Our representation on regional and national governing bodies is reducing in line with the increase in urban population. We risk developing a nation of decision makers who fail to recognise the nation’s reliance on the income that we farmers produce.

Democracy is not only about allowing individuals to vote. It is also about ensuring there is no taxation without representation. However, poll driven politics has allowed an increasing urban population to live in highly modified and changed environments whilst they ask rural people to keep the rural environment unmodified.

Urban people recognise the trade offs they are making. They are prepared to live with a view of houses, the sound of traffic and waterways buried underground in pipes and culverts for the benefit of employment, education, etc. Yet they expect rural people to make a living without impacting on the environment. New Zealand can not afford to ignore the economic effects that would occur if a balance is not struck between the wants of the many and the justifiable requests of the well informed few.


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