Southern sheep and beef farmers have experienced their worst fall in confidence in a recent survey by Beef+Lamb New Zealand, as the Government's freshwater rules are cited as a major factor.
Nationally, confidence dropped to the lowest recorded level since August 2017 with less than half — or 46 per cent of farmers — confident in the future of New Zealand's sheep and beef industry compared to 58 per cent in May.
Farmer confidence was down in all regions, except for the northern North Island, and the largest fall was in the southern South Island at 32 per cent (down 27 per cent), followed by the central South Island at 42 per cent (down 19 per cent).
In a statement, B+LNZ chairman Andrew Morrison, a Southland farmer, said sheep and beef farmers were increasingly concerned at the speed and scale of government-led reforms.
"We are hearing that a key factor behind the fall in confidence is the Government's recent essential freshwater rules, but also concerns about the cumulative impact of law changes in the last couple of years such as the Zero Carbon Bill and changes to the emissions trading scheme that has led to a surge in the conversion of sheep and beef farms into carbon farms," Morrison said.
Farmers were also worried about the potential impact of significant policies such as biodiversity, which have been parked until early next year. There were also lingering impacts of drought across parts of the country and uncertainty in export markets as a result of Covid-19.
"Sheep and beef farmers recognise they have a role to play in improving their environmental performance, they have made significant gains in a range of areas in recent years and know there is more to do.
"But farmers are concerned the policy settings in areas such as freshwater and proposals on biodiversity are not workable or practical at a farm level, nor will they necessarily lead to better environmental outcomes.
"We want to work with the incoming government on improving the rules that have already being introduced and then focus on their implementation," he said.
Southland-based rural advocate Olivia Ross said this week's snowfall in Otago and Southland showed the new cultivation rules could not be met, despite farmers' best efforts.
Paddocks for winter grazing were to be resown by October 1 — or November 1 if in Otago and Southland — and, with the past month's weather being worse than winter, that was "totally unrealistic".
Since September 1, parts of Otago and Southland had received between 80mm and 150mm of rain with minimal drying days. In the past few days, the average farm in the region had received 10cm-25cm of snow, bringing extra water to already wet pastures. Heading out on to those wet pastures would cause a raft of detrimental effects, she said.
Meanwhile, Southland Federated Farmers and the Southland Chamber of Commerce have teamed up to organise the Town and Country Hui in Invercargill on October 9.
Southland Federated Farmers president Geoffrey Young said the Town and Country Hui was not a protest but a show of unity and of camaraderie.
"The three key messages we'd like to get out to Southlanders are: the best solutions to Southland challenges will be developed in Southland; Southland can balance a healthy economy and healthy freshwater; and cultivation and planting will happen when conditions are appropriate," he said.
It was about uniting town and country to enable people to learn about the implications of the freshwater legislation, how to be resilient as a province, and to celebrate what was already happening.
Running between noon and 2pm at the Gala St Reserve, it would include a panel discussion. Laura Douglas, from The Fairlight Foundation, would speak about mental wellbeing and resilience to address the low morale.
There would be a barbecue, entertainment and child-friendly activities.