Stuff.co.nz 1 August 2016

Farmers are natural problem solvers.

Every day complex issues face us as we run our farm and business.

Recently I’ve been to many farmer meetings about environmental topics. I would like to commend farmers for getting involved and asking in-depth questions about Waikato’s environmental future.

Most people know Federated Farmers as an organisation which represents the views of its membership. That’s why staff, elected representatives and I attend meetings to listen and ask questions and convey the responses back to members.

We look for answers and learn from great examples of farmer problem-solving of complex issues. We aim to find the middle ground and practical solutions that will be best for all.

Our guidance comes from policy positions agreed to by our national council and national board. The policies tell us how to represent our members across all the primary arable, sheep, beef, goats, and dairy industries.

Environmental issues are not cut and dried.

One of the more topical environmental issues is river water quality or ‘swimmability’. Farmers accept our industry plays a part in the state of the environment and that we are part of the problem.

We firmly believe in local solutions for local problems. And Federated Farmers is not alone in this thinking.

Jan Wright, who is the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, recently delivered a critique of the 2015 national State of the Environment report.
She was critical of lumping data together at a national level. Location matters and an issue which may be important in Canterbury might not be in Waikato.

Decisions about water need to be made on science-based information that is mature and robust. Data should test scenarios and the economic, environmental, social and cultural impact on the community.

Not surprisingly, Wright noted if models were used, their limitations should be explained and any modelled results should be ‘ground truthed’ whenever possible – meaning the theory should be tested in a real-life situation.

One of the outcomes at Federated Farmers’ national conference was an appeal to the Government to take an alternative path to the nutrient allocation, tax and trade package.

Many contaminants contribute to water quality – nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment and E.coli.

Until a benchmark is completed, it is prudent to delay farming intensification until informed decisions can be made.

Federated Farmers will continue to push for the use of flexible good farm management practices as a better solution to dealing with nutrients, including an immediate focus on high-risk areas. Controlling allocation alone unfortunately is not the silver bullet often suggested.

Federated Farmers and wider communities need solid scientific evidence on which clear positions can be established.

Interestingly, Wright noted that much environmental concern is re-active and pleaded for perspective – putting the evidence on the table so issues can be judged.

I think she’s on to something.

  •  Chris Lewis is Waikato Federated Farmers president