Yesterday on The Country, Jamie Mackay interviewed Mossburn farmer and local Southland councillor John Douglas about a stand-off between farmers and activists over winter grazing practices. Initial reports claimed a Mossburn farmer staged a barbecue with friends across the road from an environmentalist's property after the activists had been confronted taking photos at night on a farm.
After hearing the interview, environmentalist Angus Robson, who recently launched a campaign against winter grazing practices, contacted the show to respond to the claims. He spoke to Jamie Mackay on today's show to clear up any confusion, tell the environmentalists' side of the story and to have a frank discussion about winter grazing.
Mackay: Just before we talk about what's happening in Southland - what's your background?
Robson: My background is a mechanical engineer, business owner, exporter, innovator. I've sold machinery all over the world and, when I come back to New Zealand, this is the place to live.
I got involved in about 2012 with looking at water quality issues in New Zealand and figuring out what to do about it and since then I've spent about 6000 hours of time learning what the problems are, what the solutions are and basically how to steer a better path.
Listen to Part One of Robson's interview below:
Mackay: What the hell's going on down in Southland amongst your lot versus the farmers down there? Because I can tell you the farmers are up in arms at the moment.
Robson: If I was a farmer I'd be up in arms as well. But I don't know if I'd be turning all my guns on the environmentalists. I would've been led by Fonterra and DairyNZ and the government of the day into a gold rush which left me over-borrowed, over-committed, under-staffed and not making much money.
I would've been led by a regional council to say there'd be no rules, and an MPI that said we're not going to chase you on animal welfare.
And the suddenly - it all went wrong. I can't control Fonterra or the banks or the weather or MPI or anybody, because those are just out of my hands.
So if I'm going to get angry. I'll get angry at something I might have some control over.
Mackay: What's a Waikato engineer doing picking on Southland farmers? Why don't you have a crack at the Waikato farmers?
Robson: I do have a crack at some of the Waikato farmers. But if you look at where the biggest problems are: some of them are in Canterbury with massive nitrate losses into stony soils and those aquifers have been wrecked; some of them with feedlots in Hawke's Bay; and some of them with winter cropping in Southland.
Mackay: Let's have a look at this Southland impasse over the weekend. Is it true that your guys were out filming on farmers' properties at night? Let's clarify that one for starters.
Tensions escalate over winter grazing in Mossburn
Why SAFE may have gone too far in winter grazing criticism
They were told on some Facebook posts that these cows were put to bed at night somehow, which we all know to be not possible and not true.
So at 7 o'clock on Friday evening they went out, which is just after dark, to take a ...
Mackay: No, no, no Angus, let me correct you there. It's pitch black in Southland at 7 o'clock at night, but carry on.
Robson: Well, it's not pitch black, but it's dark. Just to prove that those cows aren't moved from their normal paddock. And you and I both know that they don't get moved.
It was to make a point that cows don't suddenly come right at night.
"Some of my best mates are farmers. What I dislike above all, is the good guys being dragged down by the bad guys".
Mackay: Well, look I absolutely agree. I'm not sure where you got the information from but most cows on winter crops stay there 24/7 unless it's really, really wet. But it still poses the question - were your guys trespassing doing this?
Never. They've never been over a fence or into a farm. They've only ever shot from public roads.
Mackay: What about the nonsense where they suggested that they were filming grass. Isn't that a bit of a smart-arse answer to a farmer who is perhaps under stress at this time of the year? It's wet, he's up to his eyeballs in mud, he's calving and then he gets these guys coming onto his farms, saying in a smart arse manner, "I'm filming grass".
Robson: Well, we just established that they're not coming onto his farm. Nobody went on anybody's property, and that whole comment about filming grass is made up. Like a whole lot of other stuff we've heard.
Mackay: So what happened on Saturday, or was it Sunday, because I'm hearing conflicting stories regarding the farmers and the barbecue and your blokes stuck in a house.
Robson: Well, they got rammed on Saturday at about midday when they were taking a photo from the public road again, of a cow up to its guts in mud. The guy followed them all the way back to Mossburn and, when they got there, there was a whole lot more guys parked outside.
They let them in to the property and then they basically blockaded them in all day. Every time they made a move these guys stepped up to the fence and the cops were called.
But, honestly Jamie, this isn't the real issue. I don't want to talk about a few guys who got hot-headed.
I did my best with the local Federated Farmers reps to cool the temperature ... this is not about a few guys outside a place in Mossburn.
It's a bigger issue about leadership of dairy farming in New Zealand which I think is the thing we should be talking about.
Listen to Part Two of today's interview to hear Robson discuss the alleged use of drones to film farms, whether he wants fewer dairy cows, if he is being too tough on Southland's winter grazing practices and urban versus rural pollution.