Comment: The sheep farming term "hamstrung" aptly describes what the Government's latest policy package will do to agriculture, writes Simon Davies, President Otago Federated Farmers.

Today, while crutching my breeding rams, I was considering the latest policy package from central government.

To be fair there was not a lot of constructive thought undertaken as this task is a fairly intense activity as those of you who have done it know.

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For those of you who have not, crutching rams (removing the wool around the tail and between the legs for hygiene purposes) is a bit like wrestling 80 to 100kg sacks of potatoes that fight back.

As I was struggling with a sore back the term hamstrung came to mind.

In sheep farming this describes a situation in which a ligament in the hind leg of a sheep is accidentally cut or damaged, while shearing or crutching.

This scenario, which all efforts are undertaken to avoid, usually results in the animal being permanently handicapped. As a result, generally the sheep is humanely euthanised.

I believe this term "hamstrung" quite aptly describes what the central government's latest policy package (fresh water national policy statement and new environmental standards) is likely to do to the pastoral agricultural sector.

The sector will be permanently handicapped by policies which, while having commendable goals, have unrealistic and in some cases unnecessarily harsh bottom lines in terms of fresh water standards.

President Otago Federated Farmers, Simon Davies. Photo / Supplied
President Otago Federated Farmers, Simon Davies. Photo / Supplied

For some in the agricultural sector, it will be the equivalent of economic euthanisation. This is more commonly called being made bankrupt.

Yes Minister for Agriculture, these policies are going to force some farmers and support businesses to the wall.


Government MPs need to spend more time talking to farmers who actually move electric fences and handle stock, as opposed to those who move board papers and handle media comments.

Hopefully - and for the benefit of all regional New Zealand – most in agricultural sector will survive, albeit some badly handicapped.

When the science and monitoring tells us that water quality in our rivers and lakes is by and large stable or improving, but is degrading in one third of waterways, logic would suggest going hard in those catchments where the trends are negative.

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But no, rather than targeted rules, they've gone for a one-size-fits-all approach.

To be fair, all fresh water is covered by this policy. So urban residents beware! The water quality standards in these policy package will be applied to your storm water and waste water discharges. That's going to mean large infrastructure improvements that will hit ratepayers hard.

You may ask 'how much?' Certainly that's what I asked at the freshwater consultation meeting in Dunedin.

I was told the minister is working on that. In their kind of bureaucratise, I surmise it will be a "significant cost".

Read more from Federated Farmers here.

What I am sure of is that urban ratepayers will how no idea of the cost (handicap) of this policy to them until at least after the next general election.

On that point I have to commend the Labour Party on its politics ...

They (as losers of the last election) can sign, seal, and implement this policy package (these policies can be simply signed off by the Labour cabinet without discussion in parliament), permanently handicapping regional New Zealand.

The result is a policy win (and potentially more urban votes) before the next election while avoiding any of the financial implication of the policy until after we vote.

At least I know I would humanely euthanise a permanently handicapped animal, while this government is quite happy to leave regional New Zealand alive to battle along permanently handicapped.