The idea that tougher environmental rules are a long-term route to greater export riches for farmers is a myth, says Federated Farmers president Charlie Pedersen.
In a speech on environmental issues in Wellington last night, he attacked what he called three myths about farming and the environment.
It followed his broadside at environmentalists in July by castigating them for putting environmental concerns before national economic wellbeing.
His latest speech said tougher environmental rules forcing more costs on farmers might produce more export earnings if all buyers of our produce were wealthy and cared about such things.
"The reality is most of our consumers are keen to buy as much as they can for as little as possible and price is the driver. If this were not true, supermarkets around the world would not be rolling out house brands.
"It is very rare that consumers will pay a margin for honourable food, and where they do this is a relatively small market."
His comments contrast with those of others at a recent forum sparked by his earlier speech. Agriculture Minister Jim Anderton, for example, said it was crucial our clean, green brand was protected.
Pedersen said the suggestion dairy farmers made $30,000 a year each because of that image was based on very limited and questionable research on New Zealand products in Malaysia, commissioned by the Ministry for the Environment.
The results had then been applied to other global markets to come up with the $30,000 figure. Federated Farmers has also made the point that much of New Zealand's pastoral farming produce is not identified as coming from this country.
Pedersen dismissed a suggestion that farmers did not care about the environment or the downstream effects of farming.
"We understand that there are some areas of farming where we need to work harder to reduce the depth of the environmental footprint."
But reducing productivity was not socially acceptable in a country where the standard of living depended on agriculture's continued success.
* Farmers do care about the environment.
* A suggestion dairy farmers earn $30,000 a year from NZ's "clean, green" image abroad is based on flawed research.
* Tougher environmental rules are not a guaranteed route to greater export riches.