Dairy on the up - Speech notes Lachlan McKenzie

Dairy on the up

Speech by Lachlan McKenzie, Federated Farmers Dairy chairperson, Hotel Ashburton 17 February 2011

Welcome to our council meeting. What a great opportunity we have in these three days to look at dairy farming issues in Canterbury and New Zealand. To consider what we are going to deal with over the coming months and seasons.

Water quality issues have been around for a long time. The old Ministry of Works built many schemes in the 1960’s as the government of the day recognised the benefits of storing water.

These schemes essentially used border dykes or irrigation built into a slanting paddock. The majority have now upgraded by farmers to spray irrigation with a corresponding improvement in water use efficiency and a reduction in nutrient losses. This is a very good story.

But people outside of agriculture who don’t understand this, now see big shiny alloy structures spraying water with concern. Before, they would never have noticed water running off the border and down the drain along with the nutrients we are working hard to minimise.

There is still huge potential for dairy growth in many parts of New Zealand.

The issue we all now face is the growing requirement for nutrient management. I acknowledge that intensive food production can have more nutrient losses than broad acre or extensive farming. But we also have to acknowledge the world demand for food is increasing. Government articulates the importance of dairy to our economic and social wellbeing.

We have several challenges as representative of our dairy sector.

§ How do we show we understand the community’s views?

§ How do we articulate our goals and aspirations to our communities?

We have to show we have similar aspirations and goals. We know in the minds of some that irrigation and dairying creates irrational fear and anxiety. We also know some lobby groups play on this fear for their own political and financial benefit.

Part of our role as farmers is to understand these fears and concerns to better explain the true picture. We need to use sound science, facts and an absence of emotion to show how we are focused on solutions and progress.

It frustrates me that in our modern and highly educated society that some so-called scientists and regulators exhibit a narrow mindedness. They fail to comprehend the complexity of the issues involved in the land and water interface. Some are of our industry’s making but most environmental impacts are not.

Yet their only solution is to literally shut down dairying.

All too often and before such solutions are proposed, the real issues have not been clearly articulated, documented or not even discussed with farmers who are the resource manager and the most affected party.

As a nation we have just started to address the issues of eutrophication, or excess nutrients that stimulate aquatic plant growth.

Yet when it comes the catchment scale there has been an absence of forward thinking because what we are talking about is truly intergenerational. As for sound analysis, we face too many assumptions over our industry’s impact pushed by some politicians for personal aggrandisement. I refer specifically the Green Party. We want to talk science and reason and they prefer the sucker punch.

Getting soundness around this is a role for Federated Farmers. We need to work within and outside of the industry to turn this thinking from assumed links to factual evidence.

I have personally done the numbers in some catchments and converting just 1.5 percent of the farm area into intensive wetland plants such as water cress and then harvested could half the nitrogen and phosphate loss to water bodies.

Where is the old kiwi “can do attitude” in solving these issues?

Animal welfare:

Unfortunately many of you will have had experience of external agencies coming onto farms to enforce their beliefs on what is correct animal welfare. I acknowledge there is the odd case of complete incompetence within farming and these people should not be in charge of animals, but that is not the case for the vast majority of farmers.

I am hopeful with a new Director General of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry that Federated Farmers can assist in educating their enforcement officers to understand the complexities of farming. To help them distinguish between the effect of a snow storm and what is willful neglect of farm animals. To help them identify what farm systems will work or if farm systems are likely to fail. To ensure their behavior is appropriate as an officer of the Crown. All too often prosecution is seen as the solution but really it is just punishment for what? A snow storm?

As leaders you will all have to get involved in this space, DairyNZ and Federated Farmers will have to work closely together for the sake of all our reputations.

We do have a great pasture based system that is relatively low cost but it is not simple. We all run very complex biological systems. The modern dairy cow is a lot different in its demands and ability to milk than the cows I first starting milking.

In conclusion, as leaders within our industry we all have to play a part in educating regulators, enforcement officers and communities of the complexities involved in the farm system.

Our strength is in working together and talking within our organisations.

We all have to continue to lobby for sensible solutions that will deliver our shared aspirations of economic prosperity, social justice and resource management to ensure we all have an environment that enables future generations to prosper.

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