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Quit blaming farmers for NZ’s environment woes


Quit blaming farmers for New Zealand’s environment woes, ag expert warns

Consumers will feel the pinch if farmers continue to be blamed for New Zealand’s environmental woes, Director of Massey Agriculture Professor Jacqueline Rowarth is warning.

The launch of the second national State of the Environment report this month resulted in a flurry of comment, much of it against the farming sector, Professor Rowarth says, and the attack will have long term consequences.

“Pointing the finger of blame, lambasting the farming sector, is short-sightedly focussed on the coming election rather than on the long-term potential of the country’s development.”

Polluter pays policies including issuing emissions permits had a chilling effect on innovations.

“People become more cautious and less willing to take risks and experiment – why develop new processes if you could be accused of polluting the environment in five years’ time. All of this ultimately feeds back to the consumer as the price of production is handed down through greater commodity costs. Applying this logic to the individual farmer, smaller producers will be driven out, larger producers will not risk innovation and consumers will pay more. This is all very unfortunate when adopting innovation is vital and consumers are already battling higher food prices.

“A major problem mentioned in the State of the Environment report but which has not been drawn into the spotlight is the increasing numbers of consumers. New Zealand has increased population from 3.3 million in 1987 to 4.1 million in 2007. Lifestyle expectations have also increased, with cars getting bigger despite families getting smaller, people travelling further and demanding more, for example energy-wise to heat or air condition their homes. The energy requirements of the world are also impacting on food prices, not just the increasing number of people that need to be fed.”

A further issue was of attracting young people into agriculture.

“Future agricultural development relies upon the fresh ideas and skills of new recruits,” says Professor Rowarth. “Why would bright people come in to the agricultural sector if they are then seen to be the perpetrators of all environmental ills? Members of the Y generation do not wish to have ‘heir good name associated with anything dodgy, dubious, or doubtful. Quite the opposite, in fact: they want to be stars’”

Professor Rowarth believes that agriculture is New Zealand’s star, and working in the sector can provide the Y-generation with many of the things they say they want from a career – responsibility, challenge, variety, money, work-life balance, caring for the environment, and doing social good, for instance, as well as the excitement of working for a dynamic and expanding sector.

“Maintaining production without affecting the environment requires a complete redesign of New Zealand farming. It will take excellent people doing research leading to scientific discovery, development of innovative technologies, and then technology transfer to savvy farmers. Choosing to study agriculture, agricultural science, agribusiness or food technology at university is not the easy option. Unless society shows that it values what those in agriculture actually do in managing the complexities of the land and underpinning the economy, students will make other choices.

“If we have top people working in the areas of importance, New Zealand’s position as a leader in agriculture production can be regained. We’ll also have positive steps for the environment report in five years time.”


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