Dairy out­strips most in re­turns on land

Central Otago Mirror - - FRONT PAGE -

Be­fore Christ­mas I wrote a piece on the lo­cal dairy in­dus­try and how it’s chang­ing our coun­try­side. I took a bit of flak in­clud­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with ‘Dave’ a 60-some­thing lo­cal farmer. Mr Gra­ham Syd­ney, the artist and pro­tec­tor of iconic Cen­tral Otago land­scape also had a pop at dairy a cou­ple of weeks later. I felt in good com­pany. But it’s dif­fi­cult to get a whole story across in 300 words. I don’t think there’s any doubt the dairy in­dus­try is hav­ing a detri­men­tal ef­fect on our land­scape, rivers, our lakes and air qual­ity. Re­ally, I don’t think that can be ar­gued – sorry farmer Dave. But can farm­ers wholly be held to blame? Per­haps it’s the sys­tem, not the farmer. Fun­da­men­tally they have to make their farms work. They have to make a liv­ing. As farm­ing fam­i­lies grow and more de­mand is made on their land, the land needs to be­come more ef­fi­cient with a bet­ter re­turn. Look­ing at the fig­ures there is lit­tle op­tion than to con­vert to dairy. Well there is, but you’d be mad not to take it. Land use has changed over the years quite sim­ply as live­stock econ­omy has changed. New Zealand has gone from 70 mil­lion sheep in 1985 to 32 mil­lion in 2013. All live­stock num­bers have dropped sig­nif­i­cantly ex­cept deer. In con­trast dairy cat­tle has gone from 3 mil­lion to 6.5 mil­lion be­cause that’s what the mar­ket dic­tates. Based on a com­mod­ity price in­dex of 100 in 1988 forestry has re­mained more or less con­stant whereas dairy is at 250. Dairy far out­strips re­turn over other land uses. Plus the in­crease in dairy com­mod­ity price feeds the need to cre­ate mas­sive ir­ri­ga­tion schemes. It’s just fol­low­ing the money trail. So with all this ev­i­dence what’s a lo­cal farmer sup­posed to do? Ig­nore it? Grow turnips? Im­pos­si­ble. Could farm­ers be pro­vided with a sub­sidy to NOT con­vert to dairy, the cost of which would be less than the cost of fix­ing in the years to come? But how can that work? And where is the money com­ing from? I don’t know. It seems to me we are stuck with dairy un­til such time as glob­ally, dairy is not so valu­able or New Zealand makes a shift to a more lu­cra­tive ex­port – and it’s not wool . . . that’s dust. The di­chotomy is that of cre­at­ing the eco­nomic gain against the longer term cost to fix the re­sul­tant mess. This is a strat­egy de­ci­sion that must be or­ches­trated and planned with a 20 even 30 year fore­sight, not the con­straints of a 3 year po­lit­i­cal ticket. The Otago Re­gional Coun­cil can­not be trusted to keep our wa­ter­ways safe. ◗ In be­tween en­joy­ing all the out­doors fun Wanaka of­fers, Ed­die Spear­ing works in the cre­ative web in­dus­try.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.