Farm­ing fu­ture op­ti­mism takes a tum­ble

Marlborough Express - - FOOD - RU­RAL RE­PORTER

The mood of farm­ers has swung with con­fi­dence drop­ping for the first time in two years. A fall in op­ti­mism, tracked in Fed­er­ated Farm­ers’ Mid-Sea­son Farm Con­fi­dence Sur­vey, was blamed on neg­a­tive per­cep­tions of the econ­omy, farm prof­itabil­ity, farm pro­duc­tion and farm spend­ing.

Farm debt lev­els have also in­creased and fewer farms are now debt-free.

There was a 23 point drop among 1070 farm­ers sur­veyed last month for op­ti­mism about gen­eral eco­nomic con­di­tions when com­pared with July last year and a 50 point drop when asked about the year ahead.

Fed­er­ated Farm­ers vicepres­i­dent An­drew Hog­gard said the drop in op­ti­mism was ‘‘quite a hit’’, but had to be viewed in con­text.

‘‘Pretty much all re­cent sur­veys of busi­nesses have found a drop in con­fi­dence be­cause of the

It was the dairy sec­tor which suf­fered the big­gest drops in pro­duc­tion, farm spend­ing and sim­i­lar in­di­ca­tors. Meat and fi­bre farm­ers weren't so bad. An­drew Hog­gard

dis­rup­tion and un­cer­tainty over Oc­to­ber’s gen­eral elec­tion. And in mid-Jan­uary, when our sur­vey was done, farm­ers in many re­gions had en­dured weeks and weeks of lit­tle or no rain.’’

Op­ti­mism about fu­ture farm pro­duc­tion fell for the first time since just over a year ago with dairy farm­ers the most pes­simistic.

Hog­gard said it was telling that farm­ers in all re­gions ex­pected pro­duc­tion to de­crease and par­tic­u­larly in drought-af­fected Taranaki-Manawatu and OtagoSouth­land.

Just over half of all farms were mak­ing a profit, which was slightly lower than six months ago, and those mak­ing a loss had sta­bilised at 9.3 per cent.

Op­ti­mism about fu­ture prof­itabil­ity had halved over the past six months and pes­simistic per­cep­tions had quadru­pled. Hog­gard said this also had to be put into con­text. At the time of the sur­vey, dairy com­modi­ties were only just start­ing to lift af­ter be­ing on a down­ward tra­jec­tory for the last half of last year.

‘‘It was the dairy sec­tor which suf­fered the big­gest drops in pro­duc­tion, farm spend­ing and sim­i­lar in­di­ca­tors. Meat and fi­bre farm­ers weren’t so bad.’’

Sim­i­lar to last July’s sur­vey, the great­est con­cern for farm­ers was reg­u­la­tion and com­pli­ance costs. The dry weather was also on their minds and worry about cli­mate change pol­icy and the po­ten­tial for live­stock emis­sions to be in­cluded in the Emis­sions Trad­ing Scheme showed a marked in­crease.

Staff re­cruit­ment had be­come the most dif­fi­cult in18 sur­veys that had been car­ried out since 2009.

‘‘Fed­er­ated Farm­ers is try­ing to head this off with ini­tia­tives such as our new dairy ap­pren­tice­ship but this trend is also a mes­sage to politi­cians that, as they tinker with im­mi­gra­tion set­tings, the needs of ru­ral New Zealand are very dif­fer­ent from what’s go­ing on in Auck­land,’’ Hog­gard said.

More than 20 per cent of farm­ers sur­veyed said biose­cu­rity should be the num­ber one pri­or­ity for the gov­ern­ment, ahead of the econ­omy at 16 per cent. This was a re­flec­tion of farmer con­cerns over the spread of the cat­tle dis­ease My­coplasma bo­vis, Hog­gard said.

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