Farmers hoping for better New Year

By John Maslin

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POSITIVITY NEEDED: Dairying is that sort of business.PHOTO/FILE
POSITIVITY NEEDED: Dairying is that sort of business.PHOTO/FILE

It has been a tough year for Whanganui's farmers but one agricultural leader suggests it's not the first time they've endured hardship nor will it be the last.

A Federated Farmers survey of 1100 of its members just before Christmas showed only about a third of them were confident their lot would improve in 2016. More than half of those polled did not believe any relief would be coming in the next 12 months.

But Brian Doughty, president of the Whanganui branch of Federated Farmers, said the influences affecting farming during the past year were typical of what the industry faced every year.

"If you're not positive, then it's probably not the sort of business you need to be involved in," Mr Doughty said. "I'm hopeful things will improve and that includes both the weather and milk prices."

He said 2015 had thrown farmers "a curve ball" but, again, that was not unusual.

"The floods of June were certainly a setback and not what anyone wanted but those farmers I've been speaking say they're handling the impact of that event. The thing is putting things right in the rural area after the floods will take time."

He said there was still pressure on farmers across the district "but they're getting on with it" while support packages from the Government had helped a lot. "But in general I'd say everyone's looking for 2016 to be better than 2015," Mr Doughty said.

The farmers' survey showed confidence was greatest among dairy farmers, who are continuing to battle low milk prices.

Among that sector 41 per cent were predicting improved market conditions compared with 19 per cent for the meat and fibre industry and 17 per cent among arable farmers. Dr William Rolleston, Federated Farmers president, said 2015 will be remembered as a year of low milk prices and adverse events such as droughts and floods that have impacted on farmers' bottom lines. He said there had been some "wins" including advancement of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, agreement at the World Trade Organisation to abolish export subsidies and the prioritisation of food production at the COP21 climate change talks that will deliver long term benefits.

"It's encouraging to see relatively higher levels of optimism among dairy farmers after what they have faced in 2015.

However, we need to remember the degree of optimism for improvement reflects the current market for dairy products verses sheep and beef - the latter having fared better than their dairy counterparts in the last year. More generally this result suggests we have another tough year on the way and that's certainly the way it's set to start in much of the South Island where the El Nino summer is creating a drought that grows worse by the day," Dr Rolleston said.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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