Farmers worldwide face same issues

By Alistair Polson


The flagship business enterprise for the New Zealand Farm Environment Trust is the Ballance Farm Environment Awards. These awards operate in nine regions of New Zealand and it's the Trust's objective to have them in all regions.

We are currently in discussion with two further regions to provide their farmers with the opportunity to enter these prestigious awards.

The 2013 awards started in Bay of Plenty on February 22 and the results from all the regions will be announced in the next six weeks. There will be extensive media surrounding the announcements, but if you wish to get immediate notification, email info@bfea.org.nz to be added to the media advisory list.

Each year the Ballance Farm Environment Awards delivers an array of outstanding farmers who are great advocates for the Trust's objective of promoting sustainable farming practices to protect and enhance the environment. The good practice that underpins their successful farming enterprise makes me proud to be a farmer and chairing the Trust is an added bonus.

Since taking on the role of chairman in October 2012, I have been greatly encouraged by the support the Trust and the awards programme receive from businesses and government agencies.

Our work is seen by them as the right thing to do. Having an independent organisation such as the New Zealand Farm Environment Trust advocating for and highlighting good farming practice goes a long way to dispelling the myths that still exist in relation to agricultural production in this country. However, the Trust cannot achieve this alone, which is why it is important to have the support of farmers and key stakeholders.

In my role as New Zealand's Special Agricultural Trade Envoy for the New Zealand Government, I have recently been in Alberta, Canada and three northern states of the United States - Montana, Minnesota and Michigan - and I also attended the 16th round of the Trans Pacific-Partnership negotiations in Singapore. I received a warm welcome from the farmers and farming organisations I encountered.

Farmers in the US, especially those growing corn, wheat, barley or soya beans, are making plenty of money and there are a lot of new tractors and farm sheds in evidence.

The livestock industries, such as beef and pork, are suffering from high corn prices and other grass-based feed stuffs whose cost and availability is further affected by drought. Most of the sectors I saw don't need subsidies. Indeed, current price support levels are quite low, but we should not overlook the protective tariffs industries like dairy, sugar and cotton enjoy.

I was struck by the similarity of the issues we face as once we had touched base on the usual topics of the weather, prices and the cost of local government, discussion quickly turned to the environment, sustainable land use, water, effluent disposal and the pressure urban expectations were placing on farming.

This last point ranged from animal welfare, the smells from the spreading of cow shed waste through to providing habitat for wildlife. There are, in the states I visited, a growing number of quality assurance schemes that attempt to deal with, and exemplify, best farming practice. But there is nothing like the Ballance Farm Environment Awards that can showcase leading farmers to their industry, customers and the general public. It would not surprise me to see the development of something like our awards programme in the future. Perhaps Jim Cotman could be persuaded to share some of his knowledge and expertise with our American friends?

All farmers worldwide face a growing creditability gap with their urban cousins and a renewed common concern about the pace and extent of finite resource use. Farmers strive to get it right for their communities, for their own families and businesses because the consequences of failure in the long term do not bear thinking about.

On June 22, the Trust will host the National Sustainability Showcase in Hamilton. The gala dinner will showcase the nine regional supreme winners and this year's national winners will be announced. This is a wonderful event and if you would like more information about attending, email info@bfea.org.nz.

- Hamilton News

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