Federated Farmers of New Zealand Address

Published: Wed 18 Jul 2007 04:13 PM
Charlie Pedersen President,
Federated Farmers of New Zealand Address to Annual Conference The Langham Hotel, Auckland Embargoed to 3.40pm,
18 July 2007
Good afternoon, and welcome to the 62nd annual conference of Federated Farmers of New Zealand.
Our annual meeting and conference of the Federation’s council is always a special event, but I am proud to say that this year is even more significant.
That is because we have gathered together a broader range of farmer leaders in the one place and in the same week. Many of you will know that our dairy farmer and meat and fibre leaders have just completed their own annual conferences and AGMs in this same hotel.
Last year we decided to explore the benefits of bringing the events together. Our first One Event has managed to bring the three largest meetings together. I hope that One Event continues in the years ahead.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe that a year has passed since I was standing here before you in Nelson at our 2006 annual conference. Then, I dared to criticise the actions of extreme environmentalists who wanted to turn back the clock.
After that speech I was under pressure in the media to take a step back, to resile from my comments. I did not do that then, and I won’t do it now.
In fact I will repeat a line from my 2006 speech.
“Environmentalists are correct. We do need to protect our country, our planet, our children’s future and their children’s future, but not with fear.”
The vast majority of farmers have nothing to be ashamed of. Their environmental stewardship has created the rural environments which are much admired around the world today. These environments are not pristine but they are certainly a lot better than the rural environments in most other countries.
New Zealand farmers will continue to adopt new ways that support their stewardship of the land; but they can only do that if their livelihoods and their industry is truly sustainable – that is, economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable.
The problem with the three-legged stool model to sustainability is that everyone argues over the size of each leg, saying they are not in balance.
Environmentalists say that the economic leg is too big, while others would say that the balance has tilted towards the environment, which brings me to the Resource Management Act, the first topic of today’s speech.
The Resource Management Act is not working For the past 18 months the Federation has been working to seek improvements to the RMA and its processes. This proactive and positive project is a long hard slog but we are committed to seeing it through in the long term.
We have completed a lot of policy work but more needs to be done. We have taken the Minister for the Environment out on field days to show him first hand the problems caused by the RMA. We have met with government officials, including DoC and the Ministry for the Environment. We have publicised failings in the RMA and potential solutions at every opportunity. We have presented at conferences and seminars.
We have visited opposition and coalition political parties to ensure they are aware of the urgent need for changes to the RMA. They are listening.
Another major piece of work has been an independent survey of our membership. It’s all very well for leaders of the Federation to highlight the RMA’s failings. We have heard rumblings, from others, that our real motivation for seeking changes are that we are “jumping on a political bandwagon” and that we are “political enemies” of the current government.
This is simply not true. To prove our mandate, that changes must be made to the RMA, 900 Federation members have given us their views. This is not just another survey. The completely independent work was undertaken by Research New Zealand and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percent.
The results are extremely interesting. Farmers who have had dealings with the RMA say that it must change – only three percent of members responding to the survey do not support change in some way.
This is a compelling mandate from our members that they want to see improvements to the RMA.
We are not the only advocacy group calling for change. A recent article in the New Zealand Herald by the Environmental Defence Society also argued – for different reasons to ours – that the Act was in need of an overhaul. So here we have two leading groups from both sides of the debate unhappy with the RMA. Clearly there is a mood for reform.
The survey has also highlighted the issues created by DoC’s considerable advocacy role in the formation of regional and district plans, an RMA requirement.
Only 23 percent of farmers who had dealt with DoC during an RMA process were satisfied with its involvement in the process. The current approach is undermining landowners’ trust and dividing communities. Our members do not dispute DoCs excellent conservation work but its aggressive advocacy throughout the RMA process must stop.
DoC must reprioritise its efforts, firstly to looking after its own lands, then restrict its advocacy to matters of true national importance. It must take a balanced approach that considers whole farm sustainability and the net conservation benefit to the nation.
We already knew the RMA was costing the primary sector. It’s costing time, it’s costing money, it’s costing production and it’s draining the social capital of communities. Perhaps for the first time we have independently verified that with our survey.
Excluding the prices of inputs and outputs and the exchange rate, the RMA ranks alongside local government rates and ACC/OSH compliance costs in terms of impact on farming profitability.
Extrapolating from the results, we estimate that the total compliance cost to farming of the RMA is $81 million a year. In addition, total direct costs and lost revenue to farming over the life of the RMA to date is estimated to be at least $242 million.
Some of the surveys other findings include:
The average cost of the last resource consent applied for by farmers was $5,413.
51 percent of farmers said that the length of time that their consent took to process was unacceptable.
The survey is very comprehensive and the final report runs to 30 pages. RMA spokesman Bruce McNab will present the survey results in more detail later today.
The RMA is an important piece of legislation but the survey results do not lie. It is costing farming big time. The Act must change. A year ago I made a public overture for us to work with the government to fix problems with the RMA and its processes. Unfortunately we have made no progress with the current minister – so far – perhaps these results will change his mind.
If these problems continue to be ignored, then we will be forced to take more direct action. Watch this space.
Climate change The second part of my speech is about climate change. I want to begin by congratulating every farmer in the room. You represent the best of the best.
You and other New Zealand farmers have, by adopting New Zealand research, developed pastoral systems that produce the best goods. Our meat, milk and wool are among the most desirable in the markets.
Why? Well, price is important.
New Zealand farmers can compete on price with most countries. We can also compete on quality and food safety. We can more than compete on image because our animals enjoy a more natural life than animals in many other parts of the world.
New Zealand farmers now have a further advantage in the market.
The international efforts to counter global warming means consumers are very interested in how much of the earth’s resources were used to make a product.
It has often been said that emissions from New Zealand farm animals are the highest per capita in the world. The environmentalists think we should wear this dodgy statistic as a badge of shame.
It is highly likely that New Zealand produces more animal emissions per capita than any other country. This is nothing to be ashamed of, it is actually something we should celebrate and be proud.
The reality is that most countries consume 90 percent of the food they produce and sell 10 percent to international markets.
New Zealand on the other hand exports 90 percent of its meat and milk and consumes less than 10 percent. It is obvious why our emissions are high per head of population. We are food producers to the world not just our own population like most other farmers.
If production from New Zealand was reduced or stopped, the world would be significantly worse off in its efforts to reduce emissions. If New Zealand food was replaced by food produced in the Northern Hemisphere, where much more energy is used in agriculture, overall emissions would go up.
The world is better off with New Zealand agriculture continuing to produce. That is because meat and dairy products produced in New Zealand use less energy than food produced almost anywhere else.
By comparison, farmers overseas keep their animals in sheds and bring the food into them. The sheds require lighting heating and cooling, stock food has to be gathered by machinery, processed and stored, and then distributed to the animals. Effluent in the sheds has to be mechanically removed.
All of these things require artificial inputs in the form of electricity, gas or diesel. Some of these farms are very small, meaning they can achieve little economy of scale.
Surely it would be better for the global environment if these inefficient food producers scaled back their food production, and instead bought more food from New Zealand.
It may be that increasing greenhouse gas emissions in New Zealand to produce more food is, overall, a better way to curb climate change.
The sceptics will immediately shout ‘food miles’. But there is an answer to that. Shipping is a very efficient way to transport any product including food. Shoppers travelling to and from the supermarket 15 kilometres total distance generate far more ‘food miles’ than huge ships packed with food travelling across the ocean from New Zealand to the United Kingdom.
Food miles is a false argument to use against product transported by ship. It seems to me New Zealand farmers may soon be recognised as global warming heroes.
New Zealand farmers…Global Warming Heroes…hell, that has a better ring to it than clean and green.
Finally, thank you to our business partners, who help us fund this event. In particular I acknowledge Telecom, Rural Post, Ravensdown, and FMG. You will be introduced to three new major sponsors tonight.

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