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Chairman’s Address to Meat and Fibre AGM 2006

The following are the speech notes for the opening address to the New Zealand Meat and Fibre Producers conference and AGM. The speech was delivered this morning (June 20).

FEDERATED FARMERS OF NEW ZEALAND (INC)
Ian Corney
Chairman, New Zealand Meat and Fibre Producers Council
Chairman’s Address to AGM/Conference 2006
Mercure Hotel, 345 The Terrace, Wellington

Good morning and welcome to the annual general meeting and conference of the New Zealand Meat and Fibre Producers Council, the meat and wool industry group of Federated Farmers of New Zealand.

This is my last speech as your Chairman. As I am retiring after the completion of my three year term, I’ll seize this opportunity to reflect on my involvement in farmer politics.

But first I would like to acknowledge the support of Federated Farmers’ sponsors, who help fund this meeting. The national sponsors are Bayleys, Ravensdown, Rural Post, National Bank, Gallagher, and Telecom.

I especially would like to acknowledge PGG Wrightsons, who have just become a new industry group partner for Meat and Fibre. Welcome aboard.

Federated Farmers is an issues-driven organisation. Indeed, it’s fair to say that most people get involved in organisations like Federated Farmers because of a single issue. In my case I became involved because of a single issue that at the time placed the viability of my farm at serious risk.

At that time, 1994, we had not long exited the dairy industry, and had moved from a 240 hectare farm near Taupo to a 600 hectare farm north of Taumarunui. To make up the short fall in stock numbers we topped up with around 600 dairy grazers. We were then asked by MAF to take a herd of dairy cows from the Waikato.

After agreeing to take the herd, the stock duly arrived and then we were informed a week later the cows had to be Tb tested.

We’d just done our annual test so I protested, but to no avail. So the test went ahead.

You guessed it, two positive reactors in the herd from Waikato. I was then thrown to the wolves. I was told that the reactors quote “must have picked up Tb on your farm, because we don’t have Tb in the Waikato” unquote.

So I had 600 dairy grazers, and a herd with two Tb reactors. We couldn’t move any cattle and no one wanted to know. More importantly, I had to inform the owners of the dairy grazers about the Tb, and white tag the stock before returning home.

This was the issue that started my 12 year process through the ranks of Federated Farmers.

The first thing I learnt about was Tb. The second was it needed to be wiped out so that cattle farming would remain viable. I also realised at that time that Tb was the problem of no particular province but more a country wide issue.

In my opinion, the Animal Health Board has to date done a good job reducing reactor numbers throughout the country. They have achieved this by testing cattle, making sure that where necessary cattle are pre-movement tested. They have also achieved results by having the use of 1080 poison for vector control.

I expect that the very mention of 1080 stirs people’s emotions, but the reality is that it still remains the most cost efficient way of dealing with vectors.

I also expect that there will be some unfortunate deaths of birds, deer, etc, from eating poison. That said, I have witnessed first hand the effect of 1080 drops in neighbouring pine plantations and native bush. The pellets land where they should land, and the bush is now repopulated by tuis, bellbirds and many other birdlife species, and revitalised by regenerated undergrowth.

Education around the use of 1080 lies firmly at the feet of the AHB. They need to continue to use 1080 to keep their programme on track. But they also need to crank up their PR machine and proactively educate farmers.

The primary objective of the national pest management strategy overseen by the AHB is to reduce the number of Tb-infected cattle and deer herds in New Zealand to a 0.2 percent annual period prevalence rate by 2012/13. The AHB needs to start working on a maintenance plan for after 2013, otherwise the good work of the past will be placed at serious risk.

So, as you can see, the last three years have been very interesting.

While Tb has been an important issue, The Big One was getting rid of the dinosaur producer boards. This was an interesting challenge. My first foray into the board room of Meat New Zealand pointed out something I hadn’t known. They were mainly members of the Federation and weren’t bad people with a similar passion to myself for improving our industry.

The referendum was passed and we now have Meat and Wool NZ, which is a much more focussed and communicative body. We have been proactive in working with them to solve issues in a pragmatic and constructive way.

I make no apologies for mostly avoiding public stoushes with Meat and Wool New Zealand and other groups within our industry. I have taken the view that we can get a lot more done by working with other organisations, rather than stoking bitter debate which entrenches positions and delays outcomes.

As Chairman of the Meat and Fibre Producers I was fortunate to visit Australia, USA and Canada. When in Canada I met cattle industry representatives. This was not long after the BSE outbreak in Canada. At the time their industry was in dire straits, and New Zealand’s image as a producer of safe food became more important.

As a direct result of the outbreak, Canada moved very quickly to implement an animal identification scheme. If this had been in place earlier, a lot of needless cattle slaughter could have been avoided.

Last year we had a Foot and Mouth hoax, and if any good was taken out of that exercise it was to highlight the importance of improving animal ID and other biosecurity measures.

When in the United States, Canada and Australia, I met with leading people in these countries’ industries and the US Department of Agriculture. I have also been active in the Tri-Nations Lamb Group of sheep producers from the US, Australia, and New Zealand.

I can’t emphasise enough the importance of meetings such as these. To adequately represent farmers you need to have first hand knowledge of what we are up against in the market place.

The Tri Lamb forum is in my view very important to New Zealand farmers. Grass roots farmer dialogue should never be underestimated.

New Zealand’s approach to livestock farming, both in terms of productivity, animal welfare and food safety is now so highly respected we no longer have to travel to the ends of the earth to get international attention. They come to us.

European, American and Asian farmers and bureaucrats are coming to our farms and offices by the busload. For this reason I am proud to have been involved in an organisation which pushes for sound agricultural policies that make New Zealand highly competitive.

Here I will leave you with an important content from a recent parliamentary speech, listen very carefully to the quote:

“The backbone of the NZ economy will continue to be our primary industries”

I will finish where I started, talking about issues. For every issue we win, a bureaucrat will dream up another two or three. For the sheep and cattle industry to remain viable, effective leadership is essential.

Good luck to the new Chairman, his Executive, and the 2006/7 Councillors. I will watch your progress with interest.

I look forward to continuing to represent the livestock industry as Chair of the Animal Identification and Traceability Governance Group. I will work to ensure that the cost to farming is kept to a minimum, and that whatever system is agreed upon works well and stands the test of time.

Thank for your support.


ENDS

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