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Sutton: Speech to Fed Farmers national council

Jim Sutton speech to Fed Farmers national council

Hon Jim Sutton Member of Parliament for Aoraki

9 November
Federated Farmers national council meeting,


Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for the invitation to speak today.

Last week, I told your meat and fibre section, as I have said before many times and I say it again today: the livelihoods of all of us in New Zealand, rural and urban, depend on being able to sell our products in the markets of other nations.

More than 80 per cent of the meat, dairy products, wool, and other products from our land-based industry are exported.

However, this does not mean that New Zealand is a rural society.

Times have changed considerably. More than 80 per cent of our population live in towns and cities. Most of the processing of primary products is done in those towns and cities.

It was once that we almost all had close relatives on the farm, aunties and uncles, and we'd stay with them and learn about rural life, experiencing the great outdoors and the environment. That too has changed. Milk and meat come from the supermarket. The role of farmers seldom comes to mind.

All this means that rural people and organizations that represent them, such as this one, have to explain and promote themselves to the rest of the population. Often, that requires quite sophisticated methods and messages.

One thing is for sure: you cannot just expect that people will understand all about rural life.

Eminent philosopher Cardinal John Newman said that "while on the higher plane it is different, here below on Earth, to live is to change". Often, that change is hard, and difficult to get used to, but change we must.

Here in New Zealand, rural industries are unusually swift to adapt new ways of doing things and new technology. Examples of this are seen throughout our history, from the early adoption of refrigeration technology which enabled the start of our frozen meat trade through to the use of computerization to streamline production on dairy farms.

Modern farming is certainly more intensive than in the past, and that brings with it issues that need to be dealt with.

One such issue is the recent report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment on the sustainability of agriculture, "Growing for Good: Intensive farming, sustainability and New Zealand's environment".

This report is an important contribution to an ongoing debate in our country. The environmental impacts of farming don't stop at the farm boundary.

But I don't think any of the issues in it are new or really a surprise to anyone. Dr Williams confirmed this to me when we met to discuss his reports findings.

But don't get me wrong: the issues surrounding sustainability were important,.

That report is a good overview of the sustainability issues facing New Zealand farming. The report takes a broad perspective on sustainability and overviews a range of issues which are likely to stimulate considerable debate.

The Government had already implemented many policies in the areas in the report, under a focus on sustainable development.

A key one was the agreement facilitated between the dairy industry, local government, and central government - the Clean Streams Accord - that addresses certain issues of intensive dairy farming.

A recent survey of all dairy farmers carried out under the Dairy and Clean Streams Accord found that:

- 62% of farmers have stock excluded from farm waterways; - more than 50% of regular crossing-points have bridges or culverts; - 99% of suppliers who require resource consents for dairy farm effluent have them; - 17% of dairy farmers have an input/output nutrient management system; and - where regionally significant wetlands have been identified, more than 50% have been fenced.

The Sustainable Farming Fund has funded 101 specific projects addressing the issues the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment raises in his report, with a total investment of more than $17 million of taxpayer funding.

MAF also have a significant history of leadership in sustainable agriculture, notably:

- Development of a sustainable agriculture position and facilitation programme from 1993; - Initiation and development of Overseer (a nutrient balance fertilizer management programme); - Initiation of the "Focus Farm Programme', which spawned amongst other things, the "Kiwi Green Programme' and the pipfruit Integrated Fruit Production (IFP); - The OECD position on Sustainable Agriculture; - The Dairy and Clean Streams Accord; and - Joint leadership for the Water Programme of Action, which has underway a close study of irrigation.

Rather than aggressively dismiss the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment's report out of hand, farmers and their organizations would be well-advised to study it closely to see where further improvements can be made.

Climate change is another area of environmental risk to farmers, that needs to be addressed now.

I note that Australia farmers are seriously concerned about the effects of climate change on their livelihoods.

At the Climate Change and Business conference in Auckland last week, Garry English, spokesman on land management issues for the Western Australia Farmers Federation, urged farmers to "wake up". "Of all the threats to our industry, this is the biggest," he said.

After his workshop on land use and resource economics, English said too many farmers dismissed global warming as an environmental issue, rather than a serious issue facing the industry.

"We've been told it's a green issue in the past, but it's well beyond green. The bottom line is it's going to have a major impact on our future business."

Climate change was already starting to bite farmers in Western Australia where there was less rainfall than in the past and it was less predictable. Rising temperatures and evaporation compounded the threat to the area, which received only just enough rain to make farming viable.

English said New Zealand farmers, who received about 114cm of rainfall each year, might be able to afford to lose up to 25cm.

But any loss in Western Australia was serious, he said. "We're right near the threshold and haven't got any leeway to lose more." Western Australia produced about 40 per cent of Australia's grain, and rainfall changes would affect not only farmers but supporting industries and Australia's export wealth.

"I'm concerned we're 50 years too late," said English. "We've known about it for more than a decade but we're still procrastinating about doing something about it."

English said he was disappointed that Australia was not ratifying the Kyoto Protocol.

"I am a strong supporter of Kyoto because it is the first step and only mechanism at an international level that we have to address climate change.

"It's not going to solve it all completely, but in Australia we're not even taking this first step so we're on the outer."

Australia's lack of support was contradictory, he said.

"Any hint of an external threat to a primary producer's ability to carry out their business would normally be objected to in a most strenuous fashion."

Farmers needed to be prepared to change their ways dramatically, and the longer they left it the higher the costs would be, English said.

"If we don't pick up on this we'll end up wearing the very serious implications of climate change, which will eventually mean we have to change our career full stop. It's that serious."

Perhaps, it just goes to show that all farmer organizations like to oppose the policies of their own governments!!

Ladies and Gentlemen: as I said before, change can be difficult. But this Labour-Progressive Government does not expect you to do it all on your own.

Since the Labour-led Government was elected in November 1999, we have focused our efforts on returning services to the rural community.

We have established the Heartland Services Centres, returning essential government agencies back to rural and provincial areas. I want to pay special tribute to Steve Maharey in this connection. He is an unsung hero of rural New Zealand. The policy may well have sprung from the rural affairs portfolio, but the money was sprung from the social development budget by Steve.

We've provided extra funding to help retain and recruit GPs in isolated rural areas, providing for a rural premium, a Rural Locum Support Scheme and the Rural Practice Support Scheme. We have funded mobile surgical units to reinforce services in rural areas.

We have also introduced a scheme for paid parental leave, and have extended that scheme to seasonal workers who have been in work for at least 6 months, a measure assisting particularly meatworkers. I am hopeful that we can ultimately extend that to the self-employed, so that farming families will be able to get assistance as well.

There is the Sustainable Farming Fund, which has funded more than 300 projects around the country, including world-leading research. This fund works with community funding as well, but would not have been possible without the Government's funding.

Independent research estimates that the potential benefits flowing from those projects will be around $300 million to $500 million per year - not bad for an annual investment of $10 million of taxpayers' money!

On the business side, we're helping extend broadband internet access to people wherever they live, something that will improve rural young people's education, but also the efficiency of farm businesses. ACC is developing programmes specifically for rural customers, and is promoting the Farmsafe education scheme in order to reduce the appalling number of farm bike and ATV accidents. They are also working on an incentives system to recognise the efforts that some farmers are making.

Since Labour became government in December 1999, we have often provided money to help farmers deal with the adverse effects of climate on their businesses. While implementing measures as part of an international drive to reduce human impact on the world climate, we have largely exempted pastoral agriculture from those measures, because of the sector's importance to the economy and the current unavailability of practical technology to reduce methane and nitrous oxide emissions.

We've facilitated farmer-supported statutory restructuring in the dairy, wool, meat, and wine kiwifruit, and hops industries.

There are many other things this Government has done that help rural people, at the same time as helping urban people too.

Ladies and Gentlemen: We've done this because pastoral agriculture, forestry, horticulture, the whole primary production sector is vital to us and to New Zealand as a whole. To ensure that rural economy is sustainable, we deploy the resources of Government to support the sustainability of the rural environment and social services.

Thank you.


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