Farmers stay strong over plan change
Stand up for yourself, be strong and don’t back down.
That is the advice Taumarunui-based farm consultant Geoff Burton had for Waikato drystock farmers as they start to come to grips with the implications of farming under Healthy Rivers Plan for Change.
Speaking at a Farmers for Positive Change meeting on October 10, Burton said Waikato farmers must learn from the mistakes those in Taupo made when they faced a similar plan change.
That change ultimately led to a nitrogen cap on land use around the lake. At the time, Burton chaired Beef+Lamb NZ’s Taupo monitor farm programme which looked at the impact on farmers. He is also a member of the Taupo Lake Care Group.
Farmers not only had to get involved in the process but they also had to keep control of the issue. That meant being prepared to ‘‘do their bit, but not more than their bit’’, he said.
‘‘That’s what happened in Taupo. We lost control and, sitting here today, I see that you’re in danger of losing it.
‘‘Don’t be pushed around. Don’t go along to meetings and say, ‘Oh, is that what we have to do?’,’’ he said.
Taupo farmers also mistakenly trusted policy makers not to put their businesses in jeopardy. Burton said he was not anti-council as it was critical farmers and the council maintained dialogue and kept communication lines open.
‘‘But you have to stand up and be strong. Your attitude is most important and let them know you’re going to be strong too because this is your future you are talking about.’’
He warned farmers not to accept without question the science used to establish nutrient discharge limits. That science had to be continuously challenged.
The proposed plan change was not only a water quality issue but was also about healthy rural com- munities which were as important as the health of the water. A long-term vision of 50-100 years was essential, he said.
‘‘If you go ahead 100 years, a clean river might be one thing, but it’s all going to fall over if you have a clean river going through towns and farmland that is not being well farmed and is not producing for that community or New Zealand as a whole.’’
Local government agendas tended to focus excessively on environmental considerations, resulting in an incomplete solution that was unsustainable.
‘‘Policy-making both at local and central government levels changes frequently, resulting in a lack of long-term vision and an incomplete understanding of the complexity of the issues and its effects on communities.’’
Farmers had to demand local government produce a costbenefit analysis that looked at the long-term social and economic effects of the plan change.
‘‘Your satisfaction with this cost-benefit analysis should be your main condition.’’
If the plan change went ahead as it was, drystock farmers could expect not to be able to realise the full sustainable potential of their farm businesses.
Stock numbers, land value, production and income would effectively be frozen while onfarm costs would steadily increase, he said.