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Carter: Federated Farmers National Council

Hon David Carter

Minister of Agriculture

Minister for Biosecurity
18 November 2010 Speech
Address to Federated Farmers National Council meeting Wellington

Good morning. Can I firstly acknowledge Federated Farmers' President Don Nicolson, Vice-president Donald Aubrey, National Council members and CEO Conor English.

I work in an ever-changing environment. What I was going to discuss with you today has changed significantly over the past weeks, and days.

Unfortunately there is no better example of this than the situation that kiwifruit growers find themselves in battling with the kiwifruit vine disease, Psa.

This is a very serious situation for New Zealand’s billion dollar kiwifruit export industry. We know Psa has devastated crops overseas, especially in Italy.

A programme of aggressive containment is the immediate action and the key to this is a collaborative approach between Government and industry.

The Government is fully committed to working with industry and has this morning announced a $25 million package, subject to a dollar-for-dollar match from the industry, to initiate an urgent aggressive containment strategy to fight the disease.

I know yesterday Don Nicolson repeated calls for an independent biosecurity conduct authority.

As I have said before - we already have better - The Biosecurity Ministerial Advisory Committee. It is an independent group of talented individuals that gives me advice on the performance of the total biosecurity system and MAF. I’ve extended an invitation to your biosecurity spokesman John Hartnell to attend the group’s next meeting and he has accepted.

On issues such as this, I am regularly in contact with Federation representatives.

Mostly, Federated Farmers and this National-led Government agree.

In saying this, over the past two years, we’ve disagreed on some things – and that’s fine, we live in a democracy.

This Government has faithfully met its election promises and in doing so, has delivered substantially to your agenda too.

I was reminded of this just the other day at a function in Christchurch when a lawyer approached me about South Island high country farmers. He said: “You guys have been brilliant.”

On reflection, this is an area we should celebrate more.

I’m really proud to have led the charge for the fundamental property rights of our high country farmers.

The way the previous government treated these farmers was a disgrace. It took a huge toll on the very essence of that rural community.

Happily, we are now in a much better place. We’ve been able to ensure our high country farmers both certainty and a future.

We have reversed the previous government’s plans to charge extortionate rents, and honoured our promise to base rents on the income earning capacity of the land. We hope to introduce legislation on the rents in the next few weeks.

This story is a good example how, after years of frustration and stress, we’ve been able to deliver a pragmatic and sensible solution for your members.

Today, I want to take the opportunity to address some other challenging areas we’re working on. These are: the Emissions Trading Scheme; animal welfare; environmental sustainability; water; and strong wool.

So to start - the ETS

Clearly there was some angst amongst some of your members leading up to 1 July this year. I acknowledge the ETS has imposed a cost to everyone, but farming has not collapsed in its wake.

The next challenge farmers are anxious about, and I heard that loud and clear at the Federated Farmers Meat and Fibre meeting recently, is 2015 when agriculture is scheduled to come into the scheme.

The Government is listening to you. The Prime Minister, Nick Smith, and I have all said we reserve the right to review the date of introducing agriculture into the ETS. We have no intention of putting you at a disadvantage to our trading partners.

But, be aware, most other political parties think when it comes to addressing New Zealand’s emissions record, agriculture is not being hit hard enough. And as I said earlier, we live in a democracy.

Now to animal welfare

Last time I spoke to Federated Farmers National Council, serious allegations were raised about MAF animal welfare inspectors visiting Southland dairy farms.

I responded with an investigation.

The investigation is almost complete. There will be lessons to be learnt by all, but we must all accept the findings and move on.

We all know that good animal welfare is critical to New Zealand’s reputation. Allegations of breaches of New Zealand’s animal welfare laws will be investigated. No one is above the law.

I now want to talk about environmental sustainability.

Recently I attended the World Dairy Summit in Auckland - the biggest conference that New Zealand will hold this year.

This summit was devoted to the challenges the international dairy community faces around public perception, feeding the world, and environmental management.

There, I met with Heather Jenkins, a senior Waitrose buying executive. She carried the same message – if we want Waitrose to buy our products, we must meet its standards and expectations around animal welfare, food safety, and environmental management.

These events have left me in no doubt that sustainability is not a fad. It’s an enduring trend that’s here to stay.

It is clear to me there are some farmers well ahead of others in this area. But the lesson is clear, if New Zealand wants to sell its products to premium markets we must abide by the requirements retailers impose on us.

It will not be the Government that sets standards but the retailer who reflects its perceptions of customer demand, and ups the anti, chasing a competitive advantage over other retailers.

Water.

I want to take this opportunity to thank Federated Farmers for its consistent message on the need for water storage. It is an area we’ve been working really well together on. Of all the issues in my portfolio, this is one of the most important.

We are all aware that effective water management is becoming one of the defining issues for farming, especially in those regions where changing climate conditions are putting pressure on water resources.

For the economic sustainability of the entire country, we need to work together to make water management work for the agriculture sector.

This process is underway with the Land and Water Forum, in which Federated Farmers has had an active, vocal, and constructive role.

Now its report is out, we need to make sure the collaborative spirit of the Forum is carried on as decisions are made at a community level.

For our part, the Government is committed to ensuring fresh water management is linked to our growth agenda.

In the primary sector, irrigation is the biggest opportunity we have to increase economic growth. All of us here are well aware that irrigation cannot occur without significant investment in water storage. I’m working hard to get some very real results in this space.

Now, I don’t have time to dwell on all the sectors today, but I want to finish with some brief comments on strong wool.

When wool growers voted no to continuing the wool levy last year, this illustrated to me a huge loss in confidence by the sector in its product.

It is true wool growers have had it rough and there are big questions around how farmers’ money has been spent over past decades.

However, this product is too good to give up on. It does have a future. It ticks all the boxes consumers are demanding – it is natural, it is sustainable, it is renewable, it is functional, it is cool in summer and warm in winter, it is flame resistant. The benefits just go on.

There is no synthetic fibre that can match all these benefits.

Prince Charles has agreed to be Patron of a Commonwealth wool initiative. It’s imperative we grab this opportunity to promote the benefits of this fantastic fibre.

To conclude, the shared interests of Federated Farmers and this Government are many.

Federated Farmers wants farmers to have profitable, sustainable farming businesses and so does this Government.

We want farmers to prosper because that means every New Zealander prospers, the economy prospers, and our standard of living rises.

We will have issues in the future, but my door is always open to Federated Farmers.

I’m not interested in grandstanding or media stunts. I want to hear constructive ideas. If you think there are things we could be doing - to help your farming businesses, our agricultural sector, and the New Zealand economy - then let’s hear them.

ENDS

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