Opinion: New year but same challenges for farmers

  • Opinion
  • 11/01/2019

By Katie Milne, president of Federated Farmers of New Zealand

OPINION: We're into a new year but some of the challenges Federated Farmers and our members will grapple with over the next 12 months are a spillover from 2018, and even further back.

The cattle disease Mycoplasmas bovis caused widespread heartbreak and huge expense last year.  While we won't achieve eradication in 2019, there are positive signs that by year's close we could see ourselves coming out the other end. Hopefully, we'll see a slowdown of infected property notifications and more farms coming off Restricted Place Notice than coming on.

Even if that is the trend, the reality is it will still be several years before it could be claimed New Zealand is free of this scourge. Meantime, the priority for Feds (noting good progress has already been made) is to continue liaison with members and MPI to reduce the time it takes for affected farmers to be paid due compensation, so they can get on with re-building their businesses.

Feds will be closely participating in the review of the Biosecurity Act.  

In particular, we're looking for clarity around equity and compensation, and ensuring that legislation drives positive behaviour by all parties to reduce threats to human livelihoods, and our native flora and fauna.   

The priorities should be protection, fast communication and greater awareness and information around threats. That's way better than spending tens of millions cleaning up the mess later on.

We also need a system where someone who is worried about a pest or disease symptoms they have observed can be confident they'll be supported by the industry and NZ Inc, and thus has no reason to hesitate about reporting it to authorities.

Other big issues in 2019 include the review of the Dairy Industry Restructuring Act (deadline for submissions  February 8) and ongoing debate about climate change. 

The farming sector has a particular challenge around nitrous oxide emissions but there is growing evidence that methane is something of a red herring. Small but sustained reductions in methane burped by livestock will ensure that gas does not add to global warming. New Zealand's and the world's clear priority is slashing the carbon dioxide spewed into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuel-based products.

The continuing drive for water quality improvements is another 'biggie' for farmers in 2019.

We take issue with those who lay all the blame on the dairy industry. Keep in mind, only 15 percent of the nation's streams and rivers run through dairy farms, and monitoring consistently shows the worst waterway pollution is adjacent to urban areas.

But we don't quibble with one of our critic's recent assessment that many farmers understand the need for action and are making the necessary changes to how they use their land. But some others are slower and need to get with the play, and stop letting the wider sector down.  As everyone shifts up the standards ladder there are always some left on the bottom rung  but hopefully it's a higher run that is was a decade ago.

Keep your eyes also on the report back by the tax working group next month. Sir Michael Cullen and his colleagues are under pressure from some quarters to come up with some form of capital gains tax (CGT), yet there is plenty of evidence that will do nothing to take the heat off house prices and will have huge implications for super funds, KiwiSaver, retirement village operators (who will pass on costs) and ACC levy investments.

Katie Milne is national president of Federated Farmers of New Zealand.