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Vote for farming


16 November 2011

Vote for farming

Speech by Bruce Wills, President of Federated Farmers, at the opening of Federated Farmers 2011 National Council in Wellington

Good morning and welcome to Wellington for Federated Farmers 2011 National Council.

Three years ago, when we met at Te Papa, you may recall that the Hon Phil Goff gave his final speech as the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, while John Key gave his very first speech, as Prime Minister elect.

Three years on we will hear from both men today and tomorrow. Last election, our Council took place after the polls close but this time, it falls in the penultimate week of the 2011 campaign

Whatever happens on November 26, or the days and weeks following, the political fortunes for one of these leaders will change forever. Then again, Kevin Rudd may reply, “never say never”.

As the President of Federated Farmers, I am mindful that whatever we say or do in the next few days will be read and analysed.

We are apolitical. We play the policy and not the party, or rather, we don’t care who is in power, as long as they agree with Federated Farmers.

This election offers the clearest policy choice since arguably 1984. That 1984 election itself came after the 1981 Springbok Tour, which so divided New Zealand.

So I want my term to be one of uniting. Agriculture is important; it pays a large chunk of this country’s bills. If Agriculture is successful, New Zealand is successful. But we need all of New Zealand to help achieve this success.

We all want farmers and Federated Farmers to be respected for solutions rather than conflict. For delivery rather than blocking. For doing rather than talking. To have a focus not on problems, but on sensible outcomes.

The vast majority of farmers embrace the right to farm but also know they have an obligation to the environment.

Every farmer I have ever spoken to wishes to make a reasonable living for them and their family. They have a desire to leave their farm better than when they found it.

We want good quality water too. It’s vital for us, our stock and our crops.

It is tough forcing higher standards onto dairy farmers, if other farmers further up a catchment allow hillsides to erode putting nutrients into water. It is frustrating, if farmers are expected to reach a much higher standard than what is expected of business, councils or of the wider community.

Water is a catchment issue and solutions need to be community focussed.

We are heavily involved with the Land & Water Forum and are pleased by the proposed Environmental Reporting Bill.

We all share the environment but for farmers, it is our front and back office. It’s also the place we call home.

I said earlier that the 2011 election offers the most party differentiation since 1984 and a number of significant policy announcements underline this.

The ETS remains a hot issue. We are pleased by the pragmatism and common sense being shown by some but remain in disbelief, at the penalties others would impose on farming when mitigation options are few and the rest of the world is not following suit.

These penalties will not make the world a better place to live in. They will merely pass our agricultural competitive advantage to others.

The Arab Spring wasn’t sparked by rising sea levels in the Gulf of Tunis, but by bread prices. Climate change is now less of an issue than global population growth. Population is one of the biggest challenges we face as a species.

Just the other day, we passed the seven billion people mark and the United Nations reports than up to one billion of these people go to bed hungry every night.

This month, the number of babies born will equal the population of Portugal. The number of people who will die equals the population of Norway. The difference between the two is in fact equal to the population of Libya; approximately six million people. That is the number by which the human race will grow in the next 31 days.

Food production is what we are good at. It is our competitive advantage as a country.

It provides New Zealand with one of our more proven options to close the gap and catch our Aussie mates.

In recent days we have achieved more good news on the trade front. Although Doha might be struggling, the TPP or Trans Pacific Partnership, has got wind in its sails. The nine countries involved include half of our top ten export partners, including three of the top four.

This group has a combined population in excess of half a billion people and some $23 trillion of the Gross Domestic Product generated by Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation countries. Japan is showing interest and now Canada and Mexico are keen to talk too.

A successful TPP could boost our exports enormously. The sky is the limit given HSBC Bank says our trade with the rest of the world could grow 83 percent in the next 15 years.

What Federated Farmers strives for is profitable and sustainable farming and we must achieve both. Our challenge is more food from less land with a smaller environmental footprint.

With all of the policy pledges to date, a Crown water company is one of the very few policies about exports, jobs and growth. While a multibillion dollar central Auckland rail loop moves people, without export earnings, there will be no jobs to move to.

Water storage just makes sense. It’s an opportunity lost, if some 95 percent of all the water that falls on this land, is left to run out to sea unused by people, crops or animals.

City life would be impossible without water storage so the proposed Crown water company applies this principle to rural land and is another significant policy win for the work we do.

It’s no hand-out as some have claimed.

It will be a series of commercial investments and once schemes are up and running, the stake will be on-sold. We hope the proceeds will be used to invest into more schemes. Farmers will also have to buy into these schemes to access water.

The other charge is that this will be a recipe for ‘more pollution’.

My response is that if a scheme can’t get past the planners, it won’t be built. Canterbury’s environmental award winning Opuha Dam proves what is possible and is an asset for the entire community.

Opuha and schemes that will be built like it help to generate national wealth and national wealth creates spending choices. One of these future choices could very well that inner city rail loop for Auckland.

I farm in the often dry parched hills of Hawke’s Bay. A lack of water is a common problem to many in this region but we are soon to build a dam. It will cost $180 million with a dam wall some 77 metres high and it will cover 400 hectares.

It also has the potential to lift our current irrigable area from 6,000 hectares to over 20,000 hectares.

It will mean we can maintain important river flows during dry periods, it will provide immense recreational opportunities and it will provide prosperity and jobs for the Hawke’s Bay and well beyond.

The first turf is yet to be turned but community-wide engagement is well underway. A lot of science is being done to find solutions and answers now to the more intensive agriculture that will follow its opening.

This is an exciting opportunity

A flipside to water storage will be legislation requiring that our lakes and rivers be ranked and monitored.

Federated Farmers believes legislation that will give effect to monitoring is long overdue. Consistent scientific monitoring of our waterways will help cut through the assumed impacts agriculture has upon the environment.

We need to debate things on scientific fact as opposed to inconsistent measurement or worse, just blaming agriculture for everything.

There should be no room for ducking and diving, either inside the farm gate or outside it.

As for our work plan for the next Parliament, it is all there in Federated Farmers 2011 Manifesto; a positive statement of intent and engagement. A good read as you will know.

All in all, the farming community is in pretty good heart. Our near neighbours are growing in size and wealth and want our food and fibre. We have some exciting trade developments on the horizon to extend this even more.

With more water, faster broadband and better science, New Zealand’s opportunities are immense.

The safest bet for New Zealand, come Saturday week, is to vote for farming.

Vote for the policies that clearly support the entire agricultural sector; on-farm, in the factories and in the research labs.

Support agriculture. Support a vibrant and growing economy.

Thank you.

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