Farm advice: A year in review

By: Dr Tim Mackle, DairyNZ chief executive

With 2019 drawing to a close, Dairy NZ chief executive takes a look back at the past months

The year is now drawing to a close and it has been a busy and challenging for us all.  Significant new policy proposals have come at the dairy sector throughout the year.


I’m proud of the fact that DairyNZ and farmers have united as a sector to put forward well considered, constructive ideas on how we can respond to big issues such as freshwater policy and an emissions framework.

We were pleased to achieve a major win for farmers recently when the government announced that agriculture will not be entering the Emissions Trading Scheme. Instead, they have accepted an industry proposal – He waka eke noa – to build an enduring farm-level emission reduction framework.

This is a great outcome for dairy farmers – and for New Zealand. The government has listened to the views of dairy farmers, DairyNZ, and our primary sector partners. We can now focus on working together to achieve behaviour changes on-farm, which are practical and impactful rather than imposing a broad-based tax. 

Putting agriculture into the ETS would have taken money out of farmer’s pockets at a time when it would be better invested on-farm to prepare for and start the process of managing emissions. 

We also recently lodged our submission to the government’s Essential Freshwater package. The proposal is of huge significance to both farmers and to New Zealand. Concern about some aspects of it has been clear since the first public meeting in Ashburton where 350 people turned up; we saw similarly strong turnouts at other meetings.

Over the past three months, DairyNZ staff has attended more than 40 Essential Freshwater meetings and events from Northland to Southland.

As well as attending Ministry for the Environment and farmer-organised meetings, DairyNZ also hosted farmer meetings, held submission drop-in sessions to support farmers with submission writing, and hosted webinars to explain the proposals and gather feedback. We have had a record turnout of more than 2100 farmers and rural professionals attend the events we hosted or presented at.

There were a number of proposals in the package that we agree with and support. We support making farm environment plans mandatory, along with requiring stock exclusion for significant waterways. We also support the setting clear of interim standards for swimming in summer.

At the same time, there are a number of policies that DairyNZ does not support because we believe the government’s water quality and broader emissions reductions objectives can be achieved with less stringent reforms and at a lower cost to the New Zealand economy.

The economic modelling included in our submission indicates that the Essential Freshwater package could reduce the New Zealand’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) forecasts by $6 billion by 2050.

This would equate to more than $80 billion over 30 years. The resulting economic effects will be felt by all New Zealanders. Many farmers and local councils have joined us to express their concerns that the package does not assess the true impact of the proposals on rural and urban communities. 

The proposed nutrient limits included in the package are based on overly simplistic causal relationships and are not supported by robust science.

We support expanding the scope and scale of existing Good Farming Practice initiatives, and carrying out prioritised and targeted catchment-scale actions. This approach can achieve reduced contaminant losses, and improve biodiversity, ecosystem health and water quality throughout New Zealand. We have seen that it has already been effective in improving water quality in Taranaki. 

We all want to see healthier waterways and farmers have been active on their own farms adopting new practices to improve water quality. Dairy farmers have been on this journey for many years, with significant changes undertaken on-farm as part of the Sustainable Water Accord, which are already delivering improved environmental outcomes. We know this work must continue.

Water quality is a complex issue and we need solutions informed by science as well as by practical experience of what is achievable and effective on the ground in rural and urban areas.

That’s why we have appreciated so many farmers taking the time to attend Essential Freshwater meetings and make submissions sharing their thoughts on such an important issue. 

You can read DairyNZ’s submission online at DairyNZ has also been on the road in the past few weeks talking to farmers about what the future focus for your levy investment should be and providing an update on the results DairyNZ has achieved over the past year.

With Christmas and New Year only a few days away, I hope you and your team have the opportunity to enjoy some time with your family. Farming is often stressful and taking time to relax and enjoy time off the farm where you can recharge for next year is so important.
All the best for a great 2020.

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