Hot off the Press- Federated Farmers Media Release "The Time to claim back our future is right her,right now." Don Nicolson open address

These speech notes are quite lengthy but worth a read.


9.45am, 17 November 2008

Don Nicolson opening address to Federated Farmers National Council

The time to claim back our future is right here, right now.

Icon, Te Papa Wellington

Good morning and welcome to National Council 2008.

This is your national council and my first as your president.

It is perhaps auspicious that we start this council on the birthday of George Gallup, the American pollster, for the theme of this conference revolves around politics.

The importance of farming and Federated Farmers is underscored by the Prime Minister-Elect, John Key speaking in his first major public engagement since the General Election. Later today you will hear from Jeanette Fitzsimons and tomorrow morning, the new Leader of the Opposition, Phil Goff. We had Rodney Hide from Act speaking tomorrow but he sends his apologies as he is now required in parliament to be sworn in. The Maori Party also sends their apologies.

So why are the political leaders coming to see us?

It is because they know that New Zealand will not turn the economic corner without us.

We are the engine room of the economy. 65% of everything we sell to the world comes from our land and sea.

Stand tall. We farmers seem to be an under appreciated group of over achievers standing between recession and a deep depression.

Despite years of economic experimentation the importance of farming to our economy has grown, not diminished.

In saying this I am reminded of a Chinese curse that goes ‘don’t wish too hard for what you want as you might get end up getting it.’

We now have a government that is making the right sounds.

My pledge to you is to ensure this election results in tangible benefits for farming.

Treat us with respect and dignity and economic prosperity is assured. Don’t and the future is bleak.

Wasn’t it amazing that farmers got only one mention in a leaders’ debate, and that was in response to the video question, ‘why is New Zealand the only country on earth to include farm animals in an emissions trading scheme?’

Yes indeed.

Frank Brenmuhl along with Conor English and I, have just returned from meeting with the International Federation of Agricultural Producers.

They too asked us why New Zealand is going down this track when Kyoto doesn’t ask for it, doesn’t require it and doesn’t expect it. They are shocked and concerned.

This is bad in a world with 800 million hungry people and with world food reserves down to a mere 35 days.

To prove it is not a third world issue, in May, the United States had only enough bushels of wheat in reserve to make one loaf of bread for each of its 300 million citizens.

We have been too defensive as a profession, for we are a profession.

Our politicians and media too are inward looking and I guess, we are all guilty of being a little bit too kiwi.

It seems a peculiarly New Zealand disease that we can’t recognize a good thing when we see it.

Let us remind ourselves how Chris Trotter described us in his weekly column earlier this year:

“Backbone of the nation; earners of our overseas funds; selfish; insular; and possessed of a sense of moral superiority over everyone whose front door looks out upon a street instead of a paddock.”

Stand tall farmers. The Oram and Trotter prophets of doom are wrong.

We are the sunrise industry. The alpha and omega of New Zealand’s future. The once and future driver of the New Zealand economy.

We are a good for the world.

I’m not just talking about the tens of millions who look to us to sustain their families. I’m talking about our environment, locally and globally.

In this I wish to send a clear and unambiguous message to the environmental lobbyists. Those who do, farm. Those who don’t, don’t and generally couldn’t.

It’s high time to tell our story and what a compelling story it is.

The new government must prove to us they are pro economic advancement and not economic regression. Farming by permit would be disaster.

I am heartened to see the new National led government listening to farmers on the Emissions Trading Scheme.

It was our concerted campaign over the last few years that now has the ETS undergoing review.

Not only that but we also won a policy commitment to amend the much loved resource management act.

Sadly the review of compensation is to take place after the first 100 days. We’ll keep a close eye on this but my message to the government is to act with decisive resolve and do what is right.

Give us the full authority over our own land.

I wish to pay tribute to former president Charlie Pedersen and his team and more latterly, to my team, for convincing National and Act to amend the RMA and that the inclusion of farm animals in the ETS is high folly.

I don’t want you to think the ETS is dead, gone and buried.

Both the National and Labour blocks have embraced climate change.

I know there are sceptics here but we must live in the world of political reality and National is signed up to an ETS of some form.

In 1985 New Zealand agriculture went cold turkey on subsidies and embraced the original ETS, an Efficiency Trading Scheme. Aside from your Federation, no one recognised this in the lead up to the emissions trading farce.

At the time we were told the world would follow.

23-years later we are still waiting. New Zealand remains the western world’s only beacon of unsubsidised agriculture.

Our mission as your Federation is to ensure the new ETS does not replicate the same mistakes of the one rushed through Parliament with indecent haste in the lead up to the general election.

A root and branch review is one thing.

Ensuring it does what it is meant to do is another. A badly constructed emissions scheme will be the death knell for agriculture in New Zealand. This is not melodrama but fact.

There is no room in any way, shape or form for farm animals in any Emissions Trading Scheme.

To gauge how wrong the last government got it, speak with your colleagues from Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa. Last week, in Canberra, they shook their heads in utter disbelief at why farm animals were included in our ETS.

Our efficiency as farmers means we farm with the lowest carbon footprint in the world.

New Zealand’s farmers act globally by farming locally. I’ll repeat that, New Zealand’s farmers act globally by farming locally.

I have a loud message for the incoming Government and for the Opposition. Do not include or advocate for farm animals in any emissions scheme.

23-years after we got off the subsidies drug the situation for agriculture has flipped.

Farmers face the perverse situation that people are being subsidised to fight farming and infrastructure development, through the Environmental Legal Defense Fund.

Councils are telling us what we have to do with our land ‘for the benefit of wider society,’ but with no requirement to compensate us for loss of productive land or productivity.

Even our export processors are demanding animal tracing and identification so that they can have a marketing advantage with NAIT. Guess who’ll subsidise this? Yes us yet again. Will it provide the guarantees they claim, no it won’t.

This is why I return to the emissions trading scheme as it illustrates the mountain we have to climb.

Before the review our lobbying won, it was a plan to redistribute our efficiency to the rest of the world. We were being touted as the first in the world yet again to create a so called marketing advantage, sound familiar?

I ask why should we be a farming light brigade charging blindly into an emissions trading valley of economic death?

With the ETS you can’t get better by producing much less. With the ETS you can’t pay for schools, healthcare and social services with agricultural production in reverse gear.

Your Federation and I have much to do on both sides of the Treasury benches.

This work has to be bipartisan.

We have to work with Labour as much as with National to take the politics out of agriculture.

There is little point in winning with one party only to lose when the other takes power three, six or nine years later.

While I applaud National and David Carter’s appointment this is muted for the moment. Let’s wait until 14 April 2009 to review the changes of the first 100 days.

There are big expectations of delivery and RMA compensation is to be looked at after this first 100 days.

In the meantime, you and I, must convince the government’s urban MPs and those of the Opposition, that New Zealand’s on-farm efficiency means we are a climate force for good, in a world that needs more food, not less.

We need to get our MPs on side to see the day-to-day issues that block us from realizing our fullest potential. We must front foot our dealings with politicians and turn them from spectators to cheerleaders.

We need our marketers, producers and promoters to tell the world the good story New Zealand’s farmers have crafted over generations.

We also must actively dispel the myth that we can make more money with less production.

Less is not more in agriculture and while loathe to quote Stalin, I think he had a point when he said ‘quantity has a quality all of its own.’

New Zealand’s farmers have uniquely responded with both quality and quantity.

Despite this our sheep and beef farmers have suffered the worst prices for five decades and the commodity outlook for dairy is uncertain.

Supermarkets, whether in New Zealand or London, have seen their profits soar.

As our returns have imploded theirs have exploded.

This is what puts a fire in my belly and a passion to fight for a better industry. To New Zealand’s farmers it seems like too many are having an ever increasing chunk of the ‘hand that feeds’ the economy.

The increasing volume of regulation encourages employment in the state sector to expand adding extra costs we farmers all pay for.

I wish to put this at a human scale.

In 1999 government cost every man, women and child in New Zealand $9,382. By 2007 the cost of government had soared to $17,019. $17,019 for what?

Did the health and education system improve by such a rate? Did we suddenly find our society was a much safer place to live? Did our productivity magically double?

The result of this means we farmers have to squeeze more from the environment we work within.

Farmers know that they must work the land in a way that does not compromise future food production potential by damaging the environment.

We run ecosystems. They’re called farms.

It angers me to see lobby groups suggest we farmers are not paying our fair share and that we ignore the environmental costs of our farming operations.

These groups make spurious claims that the use of natural resources is actually reducing the wider community’s quality of life.

I’m so pleased to say that we caught out Fish & Game and Forest & Bird on this score with our peer review on their report into water quality. The lack of denial on their behalf is deafening.

Federated Farmers will not accept spurious claims and pseudo scientific research on my watch.

We must challenge these badly constructed reports with facts and reason. If we don’t it impugns our reputation as one of the most trusted professions in New Zealand.

Stand tall farmers.

We farmers will no longer accept a policy nexus that has retarded us from farming to our full potential.

Policies such as the RMA, inflexible employment law, under investment in training, a lack of infrastructure investment in roads, rural broadband, water storage and much more, all means we are probably farming only at 60% of our potential.

Each week, incrementally, it is getting tougher to farm. That has to stop. It will stop.

Your Federation’s response is to work for a policy environment that will enable farmers to get on and produce food. That started in the week of the election with a manifesto that is now in the hands of John Key, Phil Goff and our other political leaders.

The secret is that we have no agenda aside from producing food that families eat. Food that is exported to the world creating wealth here in New Zealand. Food that defines our soul and our character as a nation.

We are the ultimate greens and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Stand tall farmers; the time to claim back our future is right here, right now.


  1. "We are the sunrise industry. The alpha and omega of New Zealand’s future. The once and future driver of the New Zealand economy."

    "We are the ultimate greens and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise."

    "We run ecosystems. They’re called farms."

    Apart from the splash of cliches used (open up a book of quotes, close eyes, pick a few, sprinkle liberally into speech) -- farms aren't always "green" and they aren't always "ecosystems". Is this devolving into a playground spat between the Feds and whoever seems to be against them? "I'm greener than you are!" "No, you're not, I'm greener!" "Says who?"

    For farmers to be the "ultimate greens", they would have to discard a range of industrial-age products and revert almost back to pre-1750 style agriculture. No one in this day and age is an "ultimate green" unless they live in a cave somewhere and chew lentils or something along those lines.

    I agree that primary industry is still of great importance to our economy, nearly 60 years on from the start of rapid urbanisation. But, just like any other mucky business in our environment, it needs to address that, calmly, and be part of a rational consensus of solutions. That means the bony finger of blame can't be pointed solely at agriculture either.

  2. I posted this while I had Gillian here. A little overboard as you quite rightly point out on the cliches there. I sort of thought as I have glanced at it that it was a little over the top on things. Ah - yeah. No farms aren't always green or ecosystems. I suppose a paddock is one in a way with bacteria and whatever else is in the pasture. This one I've held off commenting too much about. Less politics I say and more proactive stuff there.