Bruce Wills wants progress on water quality and an end to 'primary school taunts' plus a successful TPP outcome in 2013. Do you agree?

"I have never seen farmers treating water more seriously and with more respect than they do today"

By Bruce Wills

While some environmentalists point fingers at farmers as the sole reason for why water ‘isn’t what it used to be,’ I have never seen farmers treating water more seriously and with more respect than they do today.

As 2012 draws to a close there is no such thing as the ‘good old days’ when it comes to water use in town or country.

As the President of Federated Farmers, this got me thinking about the two things I would dearly want for Christmas and the New Year.

One is an end to the ‘farmer v. environmentalist’ stoush and the second is a trade liberalising Trans Pacific Partnership.

One gets us focussed on solutions instead of bickering while the other takes those solutions and increases our collective wealth.

In New Zealand, we have a tendency to lump good and bad farmers in the same bucket. Few stop to find out that many farmers are themselves passionate about the environment.

A farm is after all our home and our workplace. If there is a small minority of poor performers and there is, why not focus on the vast majority doing a good job and tell their story?

Perhaps the reason why we struggle to make this leap is down to the cold reality that wherever humans go, water quality tends to suffer.

We saw this in the Ministry for the Environment’s latest bathing quality results. Sure farming had an affect upon water quality but that does not explain the very poor sites found at camp grounds and around small rural settlements.

Or for that matter, poor quality water found in many of our urban centres.

The Manawatu River has either had the biggest comeback since Lazarus to be cleaner than Wellington’s Hutt River, or there is a human dimension to water quality as well.

While history will be the ultimate judge, I firmly believe Federated Farmers efforts on the Land and Water Forum (LAWF) may be the end of the beginning for this finger pointing. Federated Farmers happily hosted many LAWF meetings in Wellington and what emerged in its third and final report was agreement.

Agriculture, councils and even those organisations we occasionally rub up against found common ground.

I am not pretending this was easy or that LAWF’s recommendations will be any less so, but the goalposts have subtly shifted.

Instead of acrimony we got agreement. Instead of conflict we got collaboration.

The big change is that we were central because our members give a damn about water and wanted positive action.

While agriculture had been on the policy back foot ever since someone put two words together to coin an unhelpful slogan, LAWF changes everything. Decisions about how we farm with water are better made by affected communities than some distant judge.

The focus on LAWF was not to blame farmers but to look closely at all human effects on water. There will be those who will continue to throw stones or use primary school taunts, but they are on the fringe now and not farmers.

Federated Farmers has consistently said that farming must remain profitable and be allowed to grow so long as our environmental impacts don’t.

With LAWF moving beyond the ‘blame farming hypothesis’ there is a quantum shift in thinking. My sincere hope is that the media will start to follow in 2013.

Another thing we look forward to in 2013 will be the signing of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

This year, Canada and Mexico joined the TPP so we are talking about is a deal covering them, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Vietnam, Chile, Peru, the United States and of course, us. These economies generate a staggering US$21 trillion each year and Europe would need another Germany to match it.

Trade generates jobs and wealth and the TPP was established to eliminate all tariffs while bringing a new level of discipline to what are called ‘non-tariff trade barriers’ – things like import health standards. We, along with our colleagues from Canada and Australia, were clear that negotiators needed to stick like glue to these objectives.

TPP negotiators without exception must eliminate tariffs on all products. There must also be liberal rules of origin within the TPP region while regulations must abide by international science based standards.

This ensures enforceable and consistent customs procedures that facilitate trade.

Establishing a high standard at the beginning ensures there is no room for future entrants to water it down.

As the President of the National Farmers’ Federation of Australia, Jock Laurie, rightly noted, “We need to bring these negotiations to a timely close [in 2013] ... Negotiators need to demonstrate real progress on difficult issues and express their commitment to this timeframe.”

If we can pull that one off it will be one of the two biggest New Year gifts, ever. The other being a respectful and informed national discussion around water. Wouldn’t that would be great to find under my Christmas tree.

Merry Christmas.


Bruce Wills is the President of Federated Farmers. You can contact him here »

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Hear, hear, Bruce.
The current level of comments in Stuff and the other MSM on the water question, is dominated by those who have just enough neural capacity to remember the various two-word sound bites.  Impervious to reason, science and oblivious to the usual rules of debate, they constitute a constant undercurrent of negativity which unfortunately but relentlessly propogates those sound bites to a wider audience.
Some of us do venture into these fora, trying to put a more nunaced and reasoned POV, but are far outnumbered.
Keep up the good work with the LAWF and particularly with Maori - Ngai Tahu here in the Mainland is a shining example of a steadfast long-term vision, being carefully worked through with all concerned.
And have a marvellous Christmas - we still live in Godzone, after all.

Agree on the first two , bit concerned about what we have to surrender to get the free trade agreement however  .

On what has to be surrendered, be glad we are not Greece, yet:

Interesting comment from Australian counterpart, Jock Laurie. I thought Australia already had a free trade agreement with the U.S. What advantage would TPP be for them?

Blame-shifting is clearly not the absolving of responsibility.
Mentioning other offenders - be it rural towns, as per this piece, or other nations in terms of carbon/methane sequestration/mitigation, is blame-shift, let's get that quite clear.
On the positive side, the LAWF is a valid move. It won't do the whole job, but it'll do 80% and the players will know each other better. I went and listened to the Chair of it recently; underneath the carreer-diplomat I suspect I detected sincerity, but the nature of politicians is to seek a 'balance', and that is a flawed approach. Those who are the vested interest (those who would profit) always push for the 'next balance', the moment the last one has been established as a 'status-quo'.
The best way is to establish absolute number/ppm-type limits, monitor, and ping - without fear or favour - the transgressors. The growth in recent time has been in cow numbers, not human.
"One dairy farm with 2,500 cows produces as much waste as a city with around 411,000 residents".
"New Zealand's 11,735 herds increased last season to just over 4.5 million cows, up 3 per cent on the 2009-10 season, with the southern herd leading the charge. In contrast, the human population rose about 0.9 per cent to 4.4m".
So the increase in impact is clearly dairying - or is that debt?  - driven.

PDK, don't you think that "One dairy farm with 2,500 cows produces as much waste as a city with around 411,000 residents".. is possibly, no probably, a dramatic exaggeration ?

I believe I detect yet more blame shifting....

pdk - links to the above please.  I am curious to see how waste is defined.
Here's some more 'blame shifting'  - but in the other direction
I don't see a problem with blame-shift.  It usually is more enlightening. ;-)
The best way is to establish absolute number/ppm-type limits I have a young friend who is a manager of a Council water system.  They were commenting on how the government is discussing bringing in lower and lower nutrient etc limits for drinking water standards.  They said it is almost impossible for some Councils to acheive without very significant cost to the ratepayers.  A cost they aren't sure their communities could bear.  All this is to satisfy some bureacrats desire to keep their job by inventing lower than necessary limits - their words, not mine.  As my young friend stated - the Councils current water quality is not causing any disease and there are no complaints as to it's quality so why do they need to keep changing the goal posts, they asked.

The problem with TPP is if you are the vested interest set to gain (or so you think) its a great idea.  If you are the high tech industries in NZ you may find that with intelectual property set to US laws you get screwed over.....and the US farm lobby will find a way to stop our imports....
If on the other hand we sit back the world wil want our food on our terms....if course we are too short sighted to see that or simply want the $s now.
It will be taking candy from a baby.

Mr Willis wants another round of the flip that farm monopoly board, pass TPP, collect another 200M leverage.

That would be correct, really incompetant business decided the gravytrain was going to get ever juicier, so were prepared with cheap loans to pay ever more for farms. Now we have a % that are hitting hard times becasue of that stupidity and reversal of prices.  So they need a bailout, ie better prices, just who pays?
Of course Americans etc earn more than NZers and with a bigger global market NZ consumers get hurt just like cheese prices went crazy so will anything else.....
So if  what we buy is 35% higher than it should be as its  debt financed the last thing we want as consumers is to see yet more debt being taken out.
The flips side is us as voters/tax payers being left to bail the banks, so really its a cliff hanger walk.
Yet more moral hazard...yet more ppl fighting for the cake....and this is just the beginning.

Agreed.  Too be honest increasing dairy herds will become the least of our problems (although a current issue) given the following:
I still know very little about the TPP but I fail to recognise how it will benefit many New Zealanders obviously with the exception of the gentleman who wrote this article.


From Environment Waikato:....

Fertiliser value of effluent
Farm dairy effluent is a natural, dilute liquid fertiliser. It contains nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), magnesium (Mg), sulphur (S) and trace elements that you’d normally pay for to have applied to pasture.
Think of dairy effluent as a resource, not waste. The average dairy herd (244 cows) produces the same amount of effluent as a town with about 3400 people, such as Otorohanga.
So 2500 cows = town of approx 35,000?  (conversion approx factor of 14)
Blame shifting contginues in MSM, CG, FF et al
Just do the numbers.

The environmentalists will not be happy until all farmland has reverted to native bush and then they will only be able to blame the kiwis ,kesa etc who live in the bush.

Mr Wills I would hope the new year brings with it a Federated farmers president that is able to represent his members in an entirely even and balanced way. Not picking topics that suit his cause while disregarding others as he has done in 2012.

That certainly would be a gift to put under the Xmas tree of all members, past members and non members (in other words all farmers).


and indeed all NZers. That wont happen though. He's yet another vested interest front man pushing first,  his agenda, second the advantage of his constituancy at the expense of others ie the rest of NZ...we are after all consumers he wants to make even more money off....but then he isnt unique...


Zeebeck, I am sure you are or have been actively involved in Fed Farmers. ;-) Therefore you will know that Feds is first and foremost a Lobby Group.  As to representing all farmers - if they aren't a paid up member they can't expect Feds to represent their views.

Water quailty issues should be veiwed thought the lens of historical Government policies of forced bush clearing, water course straightening and deepening, daming etc etc all of which have massively degraded our streams, creeks, rivers, swamps and estuarine sytems ability to effectively preform there function as water filters.

Rather than the easy option of blame the contemporary cockie, why not blame the successors of the drainage boards, regional councils and those that instruct them, Government?

The urban vs rural debate is shear obfuscation which Mr Wills appears to have foolishly brought into with his remarks on campgrounds and small towns.

However forcing farmers, especially dairy farmers, to take all the blame and front up with the money to fix botched public policy is like blaming Jews for being moneylenders in 19C Europe, or Kulaks for holding much of the land in 20C Russia, or forcing white educators to abandon their tenure in South Africa in the 21C.

Failing to recognise public policy mistakes and playing the blame game is both childish and dangerous.

Bruce H - that might almost pass for a logical argumnet - until we question what all that clearing, straightening and deepening was for. I suggest 90% (or more) could be sheeted-home to farming, both 'establishment' and 'improvement'.


Further thought tells us that Catchment Boards and then Regional Councils, were farmer-dominated. Where that dominance failed to dominate - Canterbury - the Govt (quick, which Nat Party personalities have vested Cant'y land interests?) the Council quickly got stomped. On behalf of farmers, regardless of surname. Who will pick up thew cost(s)?


The yet-to-be-born. Not surprising, when you think about it; if even those who voted fdemocratically here and now got stomped, what chance the totally-unrepresented?


Still theft, but.

PDK, yes the post WW2 land-grant takers really wanted to do scrub-clearing. It made so much short term economic sense that those farmers were, as I said, forced to do it or they would have their land taken from them.

I have written this year in Southern Rural Life about an exellent system of linked, flooded by damming, ponds which effectively replace natural meanders and poolings filtration effect whilst being a very small fraction of the cost of restoring the watercourse to a natural state.

This was done voluntarily by a Southland farmer at his own expense.

I could site very many more examples of voluntary improvements to the environment made by farmers which are above and beyond those being legislated for by your ilk who are mearly compeled by ideology.

Environment Canterbury was made into a dictatorship by Government because of it's failure to clean up water, espcially Lake Ellesmere.

As for the yet to be born, when the public policy I refer to was enacted contemporary farmers fell into that catagory.

As usual your arguments only sound sound to one similarly brain washed, or brain damaged.

The tools of command economys are remarkably similar no matter what we call them.

Here when the elder members of my family tried to sign up to fight in WW2 they were told to go home and keep on farming.

A public salary is the 'middle class' dream.

Councils actually think they are helping because they cannot see the forest for the trees. Their frame of reference is fixed, narrow and based on a socialist command economy model which we institued for WW1 and never removed.

Couldn't agree more Mist.

US milk consumption per capita, long term downward trend.


Yes ..... there's altogether too much competition at this time of year .....

.....  resume SOE sales when Harvey Norman , Mitre 10 , and Michael Hill Jeweller have finished their sales .!

" Big , is good ! " ..... almighty power to them all ......

Bruce Hitchcock 31Dec 5.05 -

Given the way I could trash your recent post, using simple logic, you might want to be a bit careful with the put-downs.

Yes, everyone was into it, pre Rachel Carson - which just proves the big-picture problem; environmental action is always retro-active. The horse is always in some stage of 'bolting' by the time the 'debate' gets going, and the more-funded lobbying is always associated with the makers-of-money from the degrading.


Yes, there a few farmers at one end of the bell-curve. Good on 'em. But when you are dealing with mass numbers, there is always a bell-curve, and it's the other end are the problem.

"your ilk who are mearly compeled by ideology". Spare me, Bruce. The ideology always goes with the money - vested interest is a powerful driver of belief. Usually, the more altruistic the action, the less likely there is an ideology involved. Stands to reason: what's in it for them? Derision from your kind and?


If you Environment Cant'y hypothesis was correct, they'd be back to democracy. They aren't.

Here's some homework for your summer evenings - note that it's unlikely an astro-physics Prof is brain-damaged............