Federation gears up for a busy new year

By Felicity Wolfe


From rolling out rural broadband to keeping the biological emissions out of the Emissions Trading Scheme, this last 12 months has seen major issues and projects get under way.

"Federated Farmers is developing relationships across a diverse range of sector and interest groups, especially in sharing farmers' commitment to protecting and improving the mana and ecological health of our land and waterways, as well as our farms," Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills says.

Real action ahead on water

Following the passing of the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management in 2011 requiring water quality and quantity be managed within limits, water has been a major issue.

"Ongoing issues remain but the focus is moving to detailed policy development and practical implementation strategies," Wills says.

Farming throughout the country would be revolutionised by guaranteed, year-round, access to water. Federated Farmers' successful lobbying of the Government resulted in $435 million of financial support for developing adequate storage and distribution systems so New Zealand's farmers are not held hostage to climate.

This will make a huge difference to New Zealand's farms, economy and environment.

There is an expectation that significant progress will be made next year on the Hawke's Bay's Ruataniwha Water Storage Project which could effectively drought-proof 20,000 ha of farmland.

Water quality is equally important. Since 2009 the Federation has been in the Land and Water Forum (LaWF), developing collaborative water quality solutions alongside iwi, recreational users and environmentalists.

"LaWF's reports provide a road map for setting limits to protect and improve the nation's waterways," Wills says.

"Every New Zealander, rural and urban, must take responsibility."

Farmers' practices needed to change, but so will urban communities, councils, businesses and individuals.

"Action needs to happen and in 2013 we will continue to communicate expectations arising from this process to our members and also help find solutions which work for them," Wills says.

The Federation does not blindly accept regulations from Government or councils, instead working with all parties to ensure the possibilities and limitations are clearly defined, ensuring reasonable and achievable outcomes for agriculture.

Where farmers' real needs and capabilities are not heeded, the Federation continues to stand up for its members.

"We decided to appeal the recent Environment Court decision on the Manawatu-Wanganui Regional Council's One Plan to the High Court," Wills says.

"The decision sets aside the decisions made by independent commissioners, after wide community consultation.

"The economic implications of the One Plan on farmers and other businesses in this area did not seem to have been taken into account. We believe this contravenes the Resource Management Act's requirement for regulation to consider not just the environmental, but also the economic, social and cultural implications."

Wills assured farmers that Federation work on this and similar regional plans throughout the country continues, but said farmers cannot ignore environmental concerns.

"Sustainable farming practices make sense, not least that they can save us unnecessary costs in the medium to long-term. Also, we must do the right thing for future generations and the Federation is increasingly supporting our members in doing this."

Broadband rolling out and emissions not


Last month the Government passed amendments to Emissions Trading Scheme legislation (ETS), which Federated Farmers campaigned long and hard on, removing a date for including agriculture's biological emissions from the scheme.


"Farmers can breathe a bit easier knowing they will not be hit by this potentially punitive tax, at least until there is viable mitigation, or other countries start including their agri-sectors in ETS type schemes," Federated Farmers vice president Dr William Rolleston says.

New Zealand farmers pay about $3000 a year on the ETS, around inputs such as fuel and energy. This figure could have been closer to $30,000.

"Our key motivation was the negative environmental impact having biological emissions in would have on climate change," Rolleston says.

"Replacing efficient food production in New Zealand with less efficient food production elsewhere doesn't make sense environmentally."

The Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) had also made progress throughout 2012 with many rural people starting to benefit from the increased infrastructure funding of $300m, which the Federation lobbied for.

"Farmers are starting to experience the difference high speed broadband can make in farming operations and education opportunities. Politicians need to remember those five important words 'rural people are people too'," Federated Farmers chief executive Conor English says.

"Thanks to the RBI, the rural community is closing the digital divide which is critical for New Zealand's future."

Other big issues

The Federation's general policy and advocacy manager Mark Ross knows the frustrations of local government intimately - his team of policy advisers submit on more than 90 per cent of the country's annual and long-term plans.

"The Local Government Reform Bill will be huge for the Federation and for agriculture," Ross says. "Regional plans matter. They can significantly influence what a farmer is able to do as a custodian of the land and water."

Average rates rises of 7 per cent, per year, in the last decade, are also unsustainable for everyone.

The Federation backed the Government's reforms aiming to refocus councils on providing local infrastructure, public services and regulatory functions.

"We also want reform of the rating system itself, which relies heavily on land valuation, rather than ability to pay," Ross says.

Next year will see more native biodiversity and landscape protections and the Federation is working to ensure farmers' ability to farm are not restricted.

The Federation is also working with the Ministry for Primary Industry on biosecurity readiness and response procedures and to keep New Zealand's animal welfare codes ahead of global consumers' expectations.

"Many farmers don't realise that during the year we deal with between 300 and 500 issues at international, national, regional and sector level," English says.

"Other critical issues include; urban-rural relationships; energy, road and telecommunications infrastructure; water - ownership, allocation, management, quality and storage; farm succession; biosecurity; animal welfare; property rights, capital availability, and a myriad of others affecting income and expenditure. We did almost 100 submissions in 100 days - a lot of advocacy."

Sustainable leaders

New Zealand's efficient farming methods are gaining widespread approval worldwide. In its recent United Nations report, agriculture research organisation CGIAR challenged the popular concept 'buy local', telling British lamb consumers it is better for the planet to buy New Zealand, rather than British product.

Taking a 'fertiliser to fork' approach to calculate lambs' environmental impact reconfirmed that New Zealand's product, even when flown around the world, is better for the planet because of more efficient agricultural practices.

This report followed the October announcement that Hawke's Bay deer farmers Tim Aitken and Lucy Robertshawe were British chain Marks & Spencer's 2012 Farming for the Future Champion of Champions.

"This award was a huge endorsement of Tim and Lucy's farming systems and of the esteem New Zealand agriculture is held in internationally," Wills says.

New Zealand's ability to grow high-quality and sustainable protein means success for agriculture and the country going forward.

"The growing global population means demand for New Zealand's high-quality protein, whether dairy, meat or fibre, almost assures a bright future ," he says.

"Sure, we have some issues. One of the biggest is farmers having difficulties with the present high currency, which is due to the weakness of the European and US markets. But as those markets improve, we will see greater rewards.

"Every week there are more than a million more mouths needing to be fed. New Zealand has to play its part in helping to feed these people."

Agri-science's role

Science is a vital component in making sure New Zealand contributes to global food stocks in a sustainable, profitable manner. Rolleston says the agricultural sector has to ensure there is plenty of investment in science.

One of the upcoming projects Rolleston sees as important is a Government plan to commit $60m to fund between four and eight National Science Challenges during the next four years.

Federated Farmers has taken part in setting these challenges and Rolleston hopes farmers will contribute their ideas, before December 10, on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's website. "Agriculture must be included in the programme of science challenges, as they are likely to inform the Government's strategic policy on science funding," he says.

"If we do not have representation, agricultural sector research, from wool production to environmental mitigation improvements, could miss out on funding."

The bright future

Overall, Wills says the next year and beyond is an exciting time for New Zealand's agriculture sector. He believes it is important to focus on the good stories.

"Sure we have some issues and challenges facing us but this Government is very supportive of what we are doing for the economy and we are working to build non-partisan relationships with all the major political parties.

"For many years Australia was called 'the Lucky Country', but, long-term, the luck is on our side," Wills says.

"About 72 per cent of the Australian economy is based on finite resources. Seventy per cent of our economy is based on renewable resources - farming, fishing and forestry - which, to my mind, gives Kiwis the upper hand."

 

- Hamilton News

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