Work ahead for Farming Federation

By Felicity Wolfe

New Zealand overwhelmingly voted for aspiration in the 2011 General Election.

While poles apart policy-wise, National and the Greens both ran campaigns which tapped into Kiwis' desire for a better future in the face of some very uncertain times.

In contrast, the Labour Party and ACT's negative campaigns may have contributed to the low voter turnout. Federated Farmers has certainly taken this lesson on board, with national president Bruce Wills seeking to engage more with urban New Zealand during the next three years.

On the flip side, he also wants urban politicians to give a bit more thought to their rural constituents. He acknowledges the raft of policies antagonistic to agriculture proposed by Labour at the election makes the thought of any Left-led government a worrying proposition for farmers unless their policies become a little more business friendly.

Although policies around agriculture advocated by Labour and the Green Party will not be implemented this time round, Wills says the Federation will be doing a lot of work to build relationships with all political parties to ensure anti- farming policies don't reappear on the political scene in three years.

Labour and the Greens said before the elections they supported family- owned farming over corporate and foreign owned but some of their policies suggest otherwise.

Unfortunately, many urban-based MPs have misconceptions about agriculture, based on practices now improved.

"The Federation will be looking at ways we can engage with these politi- cians so they can get a better under- standing of agriculture's importance to New Zealand and what farm business owners need to ensure they continue to make the maximum possible contribution to New Zealand's economic per- formance," Wills says.

"I do applaud both parties, however, for their focus on environmental stewardship. Farmers already strive to achieve this because we are farming not just for ourselves, but for many genera- tions to come."

After the roller-coaster ride of the Global Financial Crisis, Heartland New Zealand has been buoyed by increased global demand for protein and fibre. As a result agriculture is in one of its strongest positions in decades.

That could have changed if there had been a different outcome from last year's General Election.

Federated Farmers has a strong fundamental principle of working with all political parties but it is no secret the election's outcome was a relief to most farmers.

"It was clear this time around, National's policies were much more supportive of small businesses and exporters than those of Labour," Wills says. "National had a number of policies which were aligned with Federated Farmers' own, due in part to the good working relationships the Federation has built with central Government."

The Federation looks forward to working positively with a National-led government for an even better three years ahead. The Federation welcomes the formation of the Ministry for Primary Industries.

This new 'super ministry' will combine the forestry, fisheries and food safety portfolios with agriculture. Amalgamating the related inter- est areas is something Federated Farmers has championed for many years.

Having Banks Peninsula farmer and former Minister of Agriculture, David Carter, continue as the Minister for Primary Industries ensures farmers will have a knowledgeable hand at the industry's helm.

The Federation has a good working relationship with Carter and the staff in the former Ministry of Agriculture and looks forward to developing these links further.

There has already been a handful of achievements under the second term National-led government. The Federa- tion recorded its first win from the Federated Farmers' 2011 General Election Manifesto within days of its launch in November, before votes were cast.

The National Party promised it would, if elected, amend the Climate Change Response Act to ensure farmers were not herded into the Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) ahead of their international counterparts.

The deal was to keep biological emissions out of the ETS until at least 2015 and include it only if scientifically-proven technologies were available for mitigation and if other countries were also including their farmers.

This promise, which is what the Federation wanted was cemented in place when National won a convincing majority to lead the 50th Parliament on November 26. Wills hails the new conditions which would have to be met before biological emissions were included in the ETS as a victory for economic common sense.

At a time when New Zealand is increasingly reliant on farmers to keep the economy buoyant, he says the entire country would have suffered if New Zealand farmers had become the first and only farmers in the world to pay for animal emissions.

He says Labour's enthusiasm for including biological emissions as soon as possible makes little economic sense when there is little farmers can do to change ruminant stomachs.

"It would have been economically wrong to force animal biological emissions into the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS)," he says. "We have consistently put this viewpoint to the various political parties and will continue to do so over the next three years."

"New Zealand is a world leader in the scientific research on mitigating pastoral greenhouse gas emissions and Federated Farmers supports this as the long-term solution. However, any tools developed from this research are still some way off.

"With no realistic means for farmers to mitigate biological emissions and with no other country likely to follow us on biological emissions, our farmers would face costs less efficient producers wouldn't."

Wills is also pleased that the Government seems to share the Federation's belief that water is the greatest asset New Zealand has and that more needs to be done to store and conserve it.

Water has been a fraught agriculture issue but the majority of farmers are investing large sums into fencing off streams, culverting and riparian and hillside planting.

While the perceptions of the urban public are taking some time to catch up, Mr Wills is confident the vast majority of farmers take water quality seriously as they also value clean and fresh water on and off farm.

While there is always room for improvement, aspects of the Environ- ment Reporting Bill are close to what the Federation has sought in terms of policy.

"One of the problems has been the difficulty in reporting on environmental improvement with the available tools," Ian Mackenzie, Federated Farmers spokesperson on water, the environment and the Resource Management Act (RMA), says.

By laying out the framework for developing and implementing consistent water-quality measures, the Environment Reporting Bill should get rid of some of the preconceptions around agriculture's environmental effects.

Getting water policy right is critical as it is reliable access to water which will ensure production can grow with the forecast demand for New Zealand produced goods.

This demand means agricultural trade is projected to continue as one of New Zealand's key economic drivers for far longer than the next three years.

Farmers increasingly want more water storage infrastructure which would vastly reduce the impact of droughts which periodically hit swathes of the country. "One of New Zealand's competitive advantages is our abundant fresh water, so it makes sense to invest in developing our ability to use this resource," Mackenzie says.

With water infrastructure projects proving that they carry economic benefits far beyond the farm gate, Federated Farmers will continue to encourage government interest in playing a facilitation role encouraging new ones.

Central Government has indicated water infrastructure is a priority and the Federation will be making sure it stays at the top of the list. In contrast to Labour and the Green Party advocating for resource rentals on water use, the Federation backs the National Party's support around the idea of water storage in some of our most drought-prone areas.

Water resource rentals would instead have made farming uneconomic for many smaller farmers. Some parties regularly express concern about dairying's environmental effects; resource rental charges advocated by these parties would have perversely led to even more dairying, due to the inability of other land users to pay the hefty proposed charges.

Resource rentals on water to pay for pollution remediation, as proposed by the Labour and Green parties, would have been a tax on predominantly South Island irrigators to benefit urban polluters. As a consequence it would not have changed the polluters' behaviour, but severely penalised the irrigators.

Labour also wanted to introduce plans for a capital gains tax which the Federation believes would be an ex- pensive and cumbersome way to raise a few more tax dollars. This was a tax which found little favour with the rural communities who would be unfairly penalised by this form of taxation if it were introduced.

The gulf between various parties' policies shows there is plenty of work to be done ahead of the 2014 election.

"Exporting is vital to building our national wealth. In very simple terms, more exports allow New Zealand to have more hospital operations, teachers and police," Mr Wills says. "Despite the campaign sideshows, I believe it was by touting policies focussed on building trade by support- ing small businesses and, with that, agriculture, that National had such strong support."

While its plan for asset sales was almost universally unpopular, he believes voters chose National's more fiscally responsible approach over Labour's 'tax and spend'.

Wills applauds National's strong focus on building more free trade deals for New Zealand which will offer huge potential benefits for the economy.

Perhaps most importantly for most voters, including farmers, was the stability National offered in a world still teetering on the edge of another serious recession.

While the Federation was happy with the outcome of the latest election, Wills says it is important to remember, despite suffering their worst defeat in 80 years, Labour is bound to bounce back bigger and stronger in 2014. "Federated Farmers will be preparing for this over the next three years and ensuring there are plenty of policies that shout ''go farming''.

- Hamilton News

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