Comment: Farmers face a lot of levies, some that may sneak up on them, but the Feds provides bang for their buck, writes Federated Farmers Dairy Chair, Chris Lewis.

A reporter picked up on comments I made a few weeks ago at the Federated Farmers Dairy Industry Group AGM that the combined levy take paid by farmers to Dairy NZ, Beef & Lamb and the Foundation for Arable Research was roughly $100 million a year.

That's $1 billion over ten years, with the government chipping in additional money for research.

My simple question was, 'are farmers receiving value from this?'. It generated a lot of feedback.

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Since then, the Mycoplasma bovis levy has been firmed up - roughly $240 million; a climate change levy will cost farmers $50 million per year; and a new biosecurity levy is being proposed. We also pay a NAIT levy.

A number of Federated Farmers members let me know that I missed out some stuff.

Primary producers pay 32 different levies to industry organisations, though farmers aren't involved in all of those.

Wow! I honestly didn't realise the tally was that high. That's the value of feedback from Feds members. It keeps the board and staff in touch, and on their toes.

The amount of levies we all cough up do sneak up; you pay them almost subconsciously without questioning the value as often as we should.

Some of these charges are taken off farmers before they get paid by processors for their meat, wool, dairy, etc. There's little accountability, members said to me in emails.

Okay there's the odd vote to approve it but it can seem like a fait accompli, and the farmer turnout is usually low.

A few years ago, when people got really brassed off with wool industry group, farmers kicked it for touch in a vote.

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But what generally happens, members told me, is that farmers could say no in a vote, the industry group gets a bit of a wake call, and they're back a year later with a revised plan for another vote. The levies keep rolling on.

So thanks everyone for the feedback; I learned some new stuff. My apologies for not replying to everyone; there were just too many.

You may ask if I run the same 'value for money' ruler over Federated Farmers. Yes, I do.

Staff probably roll their eyes sometimes at the amount of questions elected leaders ask them but the main role of any board member is not to be a "Yes, Minister", but to take that close look at things, and to ask the hard questions.

We are not so much staff-driven at Feds. Rather we're an elected farmer-led organisation with awesome staff in support. A truly grass roots led, political advocacy group.

We don't do science and research. You wouldn't trust science from us, or Greenpeace, or Forest and Bird out of concern that ideology might intrude on facts. That's why Federated Farmers relies on other independent organisations for that.

We also heavily rely on feedback from members. Yes, those pesky emails, surveys, meetings and time talking directly to members has a major influence on development of our policies and actions.

While we don't tell you how to farm, feed your cows, etc., we do a bit of education and at times share advice.

So, if you want to influence Federated Farmers policy, to help us get it right, we welcome input.

Give it to us by phone or email, or even better get involved with the meetings and leadership at one of our 24 provincial branches. Your voice counts.

We are one of the only organisations that is grassroots and put farmers before politics and dollars. We are independent and don't rely on other sources of income.

As a Waikato members texted me in relation to the $100 million levy tally from other industry bodies, "It makes the Feds membership looks cheap."