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Federated Farmers High Country Conference

Federated Farmers High Country Conference Chairperson's address

Federated Farmers High Country Conference opening address, Christchurch 10 June 2011

The theme for this year's High Country Conference is "Sensible Solutions".

This could be viewed by some as being a bit optimistic. After all, this sector has been seeking sensible solutions for nearly 70 years and has found it an uphill struggle, particularly when faced with bureaucratic reticence and political ideology.

However, I believe we have seen more forward progress in the past 12 months in a variety of issues, than has been evident for many years. There is still much work to be done on a number of matters, but the fact that many people are constructively involved in that work is a positive sign.

We hope that as the various speakers make their presentations over the course of this conference, you will see that progress is being made with the issues being addressed and that you will see opportunities where we can reach all sensible solutions.

Let's have a look at some of the areas where progress is being made.

Your Chair's address last year lamented the prices being received for our meat and wool. Among the many stories of overseas successes we were hearing of the Aussies were getting $5 per kilogram for mutton.

The comment was made that we needed the price of wool to double, to get $150 for lamb and $5 per kilogram for beef, in order to slow down the dairy invasion.

12- months on and we are almost there. This progress has been made in spite of the high Kiwi dollar. But I do think that the cow cockies have kept their lead on us.

Later in the conference, we will be hearing from both the strong wool and the beef and lamb sectors. This is about some initiatives designed to improve the situation even further, maybe bringing in some fundamental changes locking in robust systems to serve our industries well into the future. Then we can get on with what we do best and that's producing the commodity.

Land tenure has always been a central issue for the High Country and this committee.

Perhaps our biggest challenge was signalled some 10 years ago with the introduction of the then Government's High Country objectives. At the time, the Government appeared to have consulted with everyone except the High Country in drawing up its objectives.

As time went on our worst fears began to materialise. Dealing with the issue became such a time consuming and complex issue that the High Country Accord was formed specifically to deal with it.

Achieving a sensible solution here has been a time consuming and costly exercise and the commitment of Jonathan Wallis, Kit Mouat and their team cannot be overstated enough.

We will be hearing from the Accord tomorrow morning and are confidant that positive progress will be reported. If we can get this matter resolved once and for all, it will mean that our pastoral lessees can plan for a sustainable future with fair and stable tenure.

It will also herald the roles of the Accord and the Federated Farmers High Country merging once again.

I did say earlier that work still needed to be done on some matters and perhaps the most obvious matter in this category, is the Ministry for the Environment's proposed National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity.

No-one would argue against protecting our native biodiversity but some of the content in the Ministry's proposal is alarming for hill and High Country Farmers. This is potentially the biggest threat we face, particularly in higher rainfall areas.

This document has the potential to become a major tool for council planners to actively discourage indigenous vegetation clearance. The right to remove re-growth shrub is essential for pastoral farming on many of our farms. Without it, we will lose most of our grazing within a generation or so. It is that simple.

This is an ideology that could have a huge and negative impact.

One really perplexing part of this proposal is that the Crown is specifically exempted from its provisions. This seems very much like a case of "do as I say" rather than "follow my example".

We have made a submission on this document and have suggested that when the authors of the proposal return to the planet they want to save, that they could look for more sensible solutions. Crown land, for instance, could be used for offsetting vegetation removal elsewhere.

On a more positive note, we recently met with the Minister's of Conservation and Biosecurity promoting the advantages of grazing in conjunction with conservation on retired pastoral land. We gave four advantages for returning stock.

§ Economic
§ Weed suppression
§ Reduced fire risk
§ Disease monitoring - Tb vectors.

The response we received from the Ministers and officials was encouraging.

Subject to Department of Conservation (DoC) investigating carbon sequestration opportunities and some concerns about grazing wetlands, we were in agreement that there are win-win opportunities. DoC indicated that it will look at any lease proposal on a case by case basis.

It is my belief that weeds will become the major problem on retired land.

I cannot see a government department ever having the single minded, long term determination required to keep weeds out. There are just too many variables. Income from rentals, grazing pressure and regular monitoring to treat outlying plants by stock managers will help. Most of us farm downstream.

So welcome to your 2011 Conference here in Christchurch. A city Federated Farmers High Country is proud to be holding our conference in.

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