Dairy farmers, and their industry mouthpieces, love to regale the public with stories about what environmental angels they all are.

They tell us they're head down, bum up getting on with spending a billion (unquantified) dollars on the business of cleaning up their waterways.

Any critics of their angelic ways are considered by them as variations on an evil theme. They're either totally misguided, covert vegan activists, ignorant townies, or they just plain hate dairy farmers. Or cows. Or some other paranoid delusion.

Even the slightest detractor is labelled quickly as one of the above, while the farmers are portrayed as the ultimate nice guys. To their black and white collective minds, they are wilfully misunderstood and picked on.


Oh, and butter wouldn't melt in their mouths.

Except that whopping big globs of the yellow stuff are too often found to be dripping down their chins.

It is with great disdain that I report the latest from the farming industry's lobby group, Federated Farmers.

They represent only a small proportion of fee-paying farmers, but they punch well above their weight in the "tarring all farmers with the same brush" stakes.

The comms people at Feds have been working overtime on their latest gaffe. To be fair, they do work very hard to outdo their latest gaffe with another, even bigger and better one next time. And they're succeeding.

National board member Chris Allen has excelled himself, even by his standards, by calling on farmers via an open letter to "stop the open season on farmers". My reading of the letter is the unsaid part of what he says is that farmers should shut their gates on duck shooters and trout fishers.

What he does say is that "in some regions the Fish & Game licence revenue has been used to make the life of landowners more difficult. As a result, some Fish & Game licence holders may not face the same friendly welcome by their farmer friends this year.

"Many farmers are tired of being blamed for New Zealand's poor water quality, and it has been 'open season' on them for the past few years," Allen opined.

He went on.

"In the Horizons region, for example, Wellington Fish & Game took the regional council to court on a legal technicality."

Hmmm. Is that the "legal technicality" whereby the Environment Court ordered Horizons to comply with its own One Plan back in 2014, and which they pointedly refused to do?

The one where Horizons relaxed nutrient leaching limits, and cited economic hardship for dairy farmers as the reason?

The one that Federated Farmers fought tooth and nail to stop Fish & Game and the Environmental Defence Society from winning? And failed?

Because that's the problem, isn't it? The bitter li'l divas who lost - not once, but twice - want to make them pay. One way or another. And if that means making life hard for Fish & Game licence holders, that's what they're going to damn well do.

The feud goes back a way. Fish & Game took the term "dirty dairying" and ran with it. It was beyond effective, and is now an established part of the mainstream lexicon. In other words, its use changed the freshwater game.

I'd argue until the cows come home, that Fish & Game has been the single most effective organisation at raising awareness of New Zealand's freshwater degradation issues, and dairy's massive role in that.

The organisation has shouldered the burden of fighting for freshwater - which is part of their statutory role - financially and politically for some time now.

Purists say that they only do it to protect the trout they want to catch. Frankly, I don't care if that's true or false. I find it hard to imagine what state our waterways would be in if they hadn't been doing the hard yards. It doesn't bear thinking about.

Sometimes in life, as in conservation, there are trade-offs to be made. Trout and healthier rivers, or no trout and worse ones. I'm with the trout.

In 2011, dairy section chair Lachlan McKenzie made an outgoing speech to fellow dairy farmers. In it, he attempted to lay the blame on trout for poor quality waterways. Not cows, trout.

Since then politicians, who should know better, have even tried it on for size. Environment Minister Nick Smith trots it out on occasion. Anything other than dairy as a cause is always asked to publicly dance.

The open letter by Allen is nothing short of vindictive. If this is the level of leadership in our farming industry, it wouldn't take too much to stage a coup.

Because it's crystal clear, that for all their talk about cleaning up their water act, they favour revenge and payback over constructiveness and collaboration.

Bad blood appears to be thicker than bad water.