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How are we going to turn the regulation boat around?

3 July 2013

How are we going to turn the regulation boat around?

Speech by Willy Leferink, Federated Farmers Dairy chairperson, to Federated Farmers 2013 Dairy Annual General Meeting at the Hotel Ashburton, Ashburton

Dear fellow dairy farmers and welcome to my part of paradise.

For those of us who travelled to this year’s Fieldays in Hamilton, we were among 125,127 people who did the same thing. Maybe it was warmer weather but the mood was up beat.

It makes me wonder why we cannot take the positivity you get from Fieldays and roll it out every day of the year. You can easily add in the other major Fieldays in Northland, Central Districts and the South Island too.

They are Disneyland for grown-ups, with journalists from around the world attending them.

At Fieldays, I was interviewed by journalists from both North and South America, all set up by New Zealand’s trade man from the embassy in Brazil. What they couldn’t understand is how we farm without hand-outs, without aid and without financial protection.

I know President Bruce will touch on this, but Europe’s direct hand-out to its farmers is now slightly less than total the New Zealand Government spending. The multi-year US Farm Bill is costed at a cool trillion, yes, a trillion US dollars.

Against this backdrop and by 2025, our government wishes to increase New Zealand’s primary exports from $32 billion to $64 billion.

Just as JFK said the United States would put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960’s, this challenge is our economic moon shot.

Can we do it? Yes we can. Can we do it on current policy sideshows and in the current policy turmoil? No we cannot.

My message to this government and future ones is that food is the new black. Food is the new gold rush but like any goldmine, it is just dirt unless you get a shovel out and start to dig.

The fundamental question governments must ask themselves is this: do we have the policy settings to double primary exports within 12 years?

If we can get them, the prize benefits us all. Yes, it benefits me but also factory and warehouse workers in South Auckland, machinery operators in Porirua and builders up in Levin.

Imagine what is possible, domestically, if primary exports were to double by 2025. So if we are to shoot for the moon what then are the opportunities and the impediments facing us?

It’s a guess, really
Other than for the weather, life in dairy land is bliss again. Fonterra’s forecast of $7 for a kilogram of milksolids, with similar projections from Westland and Tatua, not to mention Synlait and Open Country Dairies, makes you feel good to be a dairy farmer.

Like all forecasts, a lot of water needs to go under the bridge before the money is in the bank. The last thing we thought we’d face at the end of January was the worst drought in 70 years covering much of the North Island.

In recent weeks, a 200-year rain event right here in Canterbury was the most rain I have ever seen. After such events you usually get a break but we then plunged into record snow. Some ‘experts’ have latched onto global warming as an excuse for the best ski base at Mt Hutt in 20 years.

For me this may just mean seasons are returning to normal. I mean, a drought in summer with rain and snow in winter are signs of it being, well, summer and winter.

The good news is that the rest of the world is seemingly moving to a new normal over climate change policies. How can we go wrong if New Zealand is on the same page as President Obama and the United States?

Locally, some still want to include farm biological emissions in the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

My message to politicians who believe the world’s gaze is on our every move is that it isn’t. Look at what has genuinely brought us international attention this year and what has not.

Slapping our biological emissions into the ETS is like putting a hair-shirt onto the economy. It won’t do a jot to save the planet but it will cause carbon-leakage to less efficient systems who will be all too pleased to pick up the slack from us.

Now where’s the global good and the global leadership in that?

So let’s drop the negativity and embrace the positivity of Fieldays, the New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards and the Ballance Farm Environment Awards. As an industry we have a great story to tell, as those international journalists I spoke to at Fieldays told me, so let’s get it out there and say it loud and proud.

Asking the ‘where, what, why & how’ questions
New Zealand’s commitment to agricultural greenhouse gas research is world leading because it is about finding solutions and not problems.

Boosting that research is a huge opportunity but this is where we run into policies that boost urban transport in Auckland, yet starve some great scientists of the money to make that brighter future and big breakthroughs. It also starves the rural areas of good infrastructure to transport the produce we are expected to supply in order to double our exports by 2025. I can’t see much, going by the inner Auckland rail loop.

I can even understand why the media go to some academics and politicians for outrageous sound bites about our industry. Claims which grow more outrageous daily.

In recent weeks, those same critical academics and politicians were very quiet when Wellington City accidentally put 6.2 million litres of treated effluent into its harbour. Followed, weeks later, by a smaller spill by another council into the Hutt River, a river Andrew Hoggard points out is far more polluted than the Manawatu. On top of this came news that Porirua Harbour’s quality has continued to decline.

The common theme here is an absence of cows. So why is it that when a farmer or a farming company is convicted, I get heaps of media calls? These farmers are named, shamed and pilloried, even on television.

When it isn’t cows, sheep, goats or farm animals, but a council instead, who is being held accountable? One answer comes courtesy of Eugenie Sage who tried to blame poor drinking water all on dairying. What next?

Here in Ashburton we are surrounded by cows and guess what? The water you are drinking is top-notch. Down in Southland, all water there met the standard for bacteria but not so up in Martinborough, which, correct me if I am wrong, is known more for wine than milk.

How can councils, daily, breach their resource consent conditions and get away with it if justice is meant to be even handed? Farmers cannot use ‘systems failure’ as a get out of jail free card but councils do with almost no critical comment from the media or high profile academics.

We hope reporters will lift their game and start asking the where, what, why, when and how questions, not only of us, but of those who throw stones at us.

Take our friends from Fish & Game who were party to a long overdue Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord. This, I can tell you, took a lot of negotiation to get to a meaningful outcome of improving water quality, but guess what?

At the eleventh hour and 55th minute, our friends decided it was not for them so they packed up their toys and ran for door. It has me questioning if Fish & Game truly has the environment at heart or, as their less than cuddly unofficial moniker, “Hook & Bullet,” suggests, more interested in license fee revenue for pulling a trigger and casting a line.

I am not being the redneck here but I do not know if they know what the word sustainable means. We are making a massive effort, we are investing and the science is well underway.

Could it be like the courtroom scene from A Few Good Men? We farmers are like Tom Cruise saying “we want the truth” but facing us are organisations snarling back, “You can't handle the truth!” as Jack Nicholson did. The moral point here is that someone’s notion of ‘truth’ doesn’t have to mean it is based on fact or reason.

So where are the most polluted waterways in the country? How many are rural, how many are urban and how many are badly affected by what lives in and on top of them? Importantly, what do we know and what do we not know?

If media are in doubt call us and we’ll show you what we do and how we get things done.

New paradigms for dairying: land use
Regional Councils are rushing to control our industry and all the while forget we are farming on less land than ever before while having to meet tougher and tougher resource conditions.

Councils got the NPS freshwater management message loud and clear but somehow missed the memo about doubling our exports. This baffles me. Doubling our exports would give these roosters heaps of money to work on decent outcomes for freshwater management. Money gives you choices, just as a lack of it robs you of choices.

Our policy makers have an unhealthy obsession with nitrates, lawyers and the Environment Court. To save New Zealand from Farmergeddon “Overseer” is the magic solution. Wait a minute. Isn’t the most basic thing about selling, that the customer is always right?

New Zealand is knocking back the green Kool-Aid and taken its cue from Narcissus by falling head over heals in love with its green reflection. Do not get me wrong, “Overseer” is an important tool but it isn’t the whole toolbox. The disconnect is that in the regulators’ eyes, Overseer has become the solution to all evil

Earlier this year, confidence in New Zealand milk was rocked in China by the nitrification inhibitor, DCD. While DCD’s are safe and standards are being worked up, its discovery was a bolter for our customers there. DCD came about because of New Zealand officialdom’s fixation with nitrates. DCD was ‘green tech’ to the Green’s Dr Russel Norman and Ministers at the time, but at no stage were our customers asked if they shared our obsession.

If we had bothered to ask our customers what was important to them, we would have discovered words like ‘safe,’ ‘wholesome,’ ‘nutritious’ and ‘trustworthy’. Fonterra, after all, has found that 72 percent of people in Asia see dairy as an important part of a balanced diet but less than half eat dairy on a daily basis. What is important to them, counts.

DCD could still be a useful tool in the future, but our policymakers’ view of how the world ought to be led to rushing it out into the field. We didn’t show the same thoroughness on DCD as say Dung Beetles are being put through right now. Somehow, I don’t think our overseas customers would have the same problem with a dung beetle!

We also need New Zealand benchmarks for New Zealand water. That we don’t have them is a national scandal and means a fish, not native to New Zealand or even this hemisphere, is the benchmark.

Ladies & gentleman we have native fish that ought to be our canaries; not introduced trout. I also suggest that if we to look at reform, why don’t we re-survey the world to ensure we have the best possible planning system. I mean, the RMA wasn’t one of the commandments handed down to Moses, was it? It is a document designed by lawyers for lawyers when lawyers were still affordable. Those days are long gone

Just add water
Billions for rail in Auckland has politicians clamouring for credit, yet a few hundred million to fast track water storage generates a political kafuffle. Why? Do we like impoverishing regions forcing their young to grow Auckland ever larger?

Water storage is to New Zealand what iron ore is to Australia. Yet when times go bad there, you can leave ore in the ground but not so with food as everyone eats. This and other droughts have cost us billions in lost exports, so water storage is a huge paradigm-shift for our economy, our environment and our farm system, if we have the will to grasp it.

It is absolutely key to doubling primary exports and generating the money Auckland and other centres need to have world-class infrastructure. It all starts with storing H2O.

While we are at it…the RBI, 4G, Google Project Loon and better satellites
Yet why should our cities have what we don’t.

Later on you will hear a fantastic talk on precision agriculture or, as Dr William Rolleston would describe it, farming’s ‘silicon revolution’. Our internet connectivity is appalling but Vodafone is committed to 4G and that is super. Clearly we need much more because we won’t make that doubling of exports if we cannot quickly get the results or data to and from our farms for precision agriculture.

Perhaps the biggest guardian against environmental degradation is efficient resource use and I can tell you the internet is vital for us to deliver that. If the government can find the billions for inner city rail, then surely a few hundred million more to align the rural and urban broadband initiatives is in order. You can but ask.

As it stands Rural Broadband Initiative suffers from a lack of ambition hence why we are backers of Vodafone, Google’s Project Loon and anything else which will improve our connectivity to the rest of the world.

You see our infrastructure ought to start from the farm and not to the farm. I also ask why Google gets it but not our own policymakers.

Putting it all together
Regulation is being hijacked by bureaucrats and lawyers. Under the demand of a National Policy Statement, the public submits on it, commissioners listen to the arguments, make a ruling and then the real game of thrones begins in front of the Environment Court. Here, millions of dollars are squandered on lawyers and consultants. All in the fear of a draconian plan that nobody wants, let alone, understands.

There is a disconnect here and if instead all this energy and money was put to a good cause we’d be one of the richest nations on earth, with water bodies the envy of everyone. Rotorua’s formula of “Councils+Farmers+Community = Results” will be outlined tomorrow by my mate Neil Heather at the Plenary Day. There’s a template for progress.

So how can we get some sense in this debacle?

• First off, get involved. Do not sit back and let others clean up the mess. Federated Farmers needs all the brain power we can get to fight the silly behaviour that comes our way because farmer inertia lets it in.

• Second, we must work together as the primary industries. In politics the weak must unite against the strong and we may be 72 percent of the exports but we are a mere 14 percent of the people.

• Third, we must stop infighting on nonsense issues such as the rights or wrongs of PKE. Instead we must influence those we elect to put in place policies that give us what we need to farm better and more productively.
• Fourth, it’s “the science stupid”. We need science to tell the truth not activists twisting it for a quick headline. Science helps to get some factual sense in the debate while giving farmers the tools we need.

• Fifth, get on the front foot with the bureaucrats before they design plans locking us into 2072. We need horizon visions for our own industry so policymakers can take us into account about where we want to go and how we intend to get there.

• Sixth, education. Maybe this should be the first to create a new generation of smart educated and articulate farmers. We see them at our awards but we need the award standard needs, to become the new normal. We also need a lot more scientists and academics to create a smarter New Zealand.

We are working to common stances in the primary industry by working together in the Primary Industry Regional Partnership in Canterbury and submitting jointly to Ecan’s Land and Water Plan. Nationally, ‘team ag,’ is working together in the Land and Water Partnership to take us beyond the Land and Water Forum. Ironically, the prodding of ‘team moan’ is getting ‘team ag’s’ act together.

Perhaps a seventh is for our members to look in the mirror and ask, if not me, who?

Get involved in our industry as a leader. When a vacuum is created by lack of leadership it will be filled by bureaucrats and government officials who will tell you how to farm. Call us on 0800 FARMING (0800 327 646) or get in contact with your local Feds.

As it is only a month to go before the new season kicks-off, get some R&R, take some time out to reflect and get ready for the new season. Once she starts, the next rest day isn’t until Boxing Day.

Thank you.


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