Guy Trafford looks at the debate over wintering systems and wonders if anything farmers do will satisfy some of the critics. And what’s happening with venison?

Guy Trafford looks at the debate over wintering systems and wonders if anything farmers do will satisfy some of the critics. And what’s happening with venison?

It will be interesting to see at what point farming, or at least livestock farming, can satisfy those who have set themselves up as the watchdogs of ….. perhaps everything.

Probably most farmers, if they were/are honest with themselves would agree that there are plenty of areas within their systems that could be improved upon. I suspect most industries would be in a similar situation.

However, most sectors outside of agriculture don’t have the same need to meet a social license to operate that farming does, and livestock farming in particular.

New Zealand seem unique in holding its farmers to account to the degree the public here does. Perhaps it comes from the fact that most 3rd or more generation New Zealanders have had some connection to farming and this lifts their expectation of what can be achieved.

The irony is farmers are operating in a far more sustainable and ethical fashion than they were 50 years ago, the catch is we know far more than we did 50 years ago and information flows far faster. I started paid employment in the livestock sector in about 1972 and I cringe at the way we did some things. The mind set back then was for most totally different to what it is now, and both the treatment of animals and the environment is significantly better now.

So, when I hear farmers being criticised for practises the public deem to be unsuitable my first instinct is one of defensiveness as I know how worse they used to be. However, most of the criticism to make headlines does come with more than a grain of truth.

For most farmers it is the constant scrutiny and requirements to change that forces them onto the defence.

Generally, the public criticism is followed quite closely by a regional or national regulation which if it doesn’t require spending more money will require a reset of the farming system. Neither of what is welcomed. The latest volley is criticism of the intensive wintering systems practiced, particularly by some dairy farmers but beef and sheep farmers are also implicated as well. The NZ Herald piece which ‘discusses’ the issue talks about a “campaign” and “the  environmentalist Angus Robson was leading the campaign, and was launching it with supporters outside the offices of the Ministry for the Environment in Wellington.”

There was no mention of who Angus Robson was or what ‘organisation’ he represented given the comment of “supporters”.

Fed Farmers leader Katie Milne was very moderate in her comments and didn’t try to defend the practice and agreed that farmers need to sympathetic to the needs of both the animals and the land as did all farmers who were questioned and some said the person with the drone must have had to wait for a long time to find this example as the mismanagement exhibited in the video is becoming less common.

There was discussion that the practice is not illegal however, with the damage to soils and waterways regional councils are ramping up the anti from the nutrient runoff perspective. The unfortunate aspect of the articles and publicity is the fact that the pressure group(s) going running immediately to media be it social or conventional with no dialogue with the sectors involved.

Where were these ‘watch-dogs’ when the Lake Taupo incident happened or when Queenstown got the 35 year right to pollute Lake Wakatipu?

The one-eyed nature of the criticism being consistently levelled at farmers leads one to believe that the only point when the ‘watch-dogs’ will be satisfied is when there are no livestock left. Farmers do have ways to reduce the barrage but it is only by being totally vigilant in what they do and how they do it and be aware that social media criticism is only a cell phone away. I used to tell students, “if they buy a farm make sure the first thing they do is plant a hedge around the boundary”. However, doing the correct ‘thing’ is probably better. Just be aware the correct ‘thing’ will change over time.

VENISON'S DECLINE

On a totally different topic, isn’t it disappointing to see the decline in the venison schedule? This time last year it was breaking all the records and this year it is the one class of red meat that is languishing.

Seasonal variation with meat always occurs with troughs in the autumn when supply is plentiful and peaks in September with there is minimal supply and processors are trying to keep the chains operating.

However, venison has been flat or declining now for 45 weeks and the national average price now is what it was back in May 2017. Meat companies are not being that forth coming with the reasons, mentioning oversupply and that excess stocks need to move.

However, this hardly explains the drop from $11.47 a kg in September last year to the $847 this week and little sign of an uplift.

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16 Comments

Well put, Guy. It's really the scourge of Identity Politics, with a local twist. It sows division, complicates or negates the possibility for real dialogue, but provides the group umbrella under which the adherents and the rent-a-crowds can gather and congratulate themselves for Saving the Planet.

It's the zeitgeist, I'm afraid.

1972. It was still all volume and go then wasn’t it. The sheep flock would eventually peak at unsustainable 75 mill or so in the mid 80’s. Would suggest that there is an historical and innate antipathy between city & rural NZ’rs. Tantamount to Labour vs National respectively at election time, right up until the Lange government. That might be explained by the simple misconception, going on outright prejudice, by city folk of the landed privileged farmer who used to get a new Jag for every bale of fine wool, supposedly.

Oh & venison. Wonder what the CIF prices are equating to NZ$ compared 12mths ago. NZ has pushed pricing beyond consumption reality before, do believe.

There was discussion that the practice is not illegal however, with the damage to soils and waterways regional councils are ramping up the anti from the nutrient runoff perspective. The unfortunate aspect of the articles and publicity is the fact that the pressure group(s) going running immediately to media be it social or conventional with no dialogue with the sectors involved.

Where were these ‘watch-dogs’ when the Lake Taupo incident happened or when Queenstown got the 35 year right to pollute Lake Wakatipu?

The one-eyed nature of the criticism being consistently levelled at farmers leads one to believe that the only point when the ‘watch-dogs’ will be satisfied is when there are no livestock left.

Does this feeling of being unfairly targeted actually have a firm grounding in reality?

Couple of points on it:

1. Recent discussion on here actually really did get stuck into the Queenstown 35-year right to pollute issue. So we know of at least one place where these watch-dogs were.

2. Recent discussion also highlighted that Aucklanders, for example, are funding a circa 80% reduction in the next 5 years or so in overflow into waterways via Watercare. Overflows into waterways are a problem and they're being addressed.

3. There's probably a general assumption among many that other industries are not allowed to allow their untreated pollution into waterways, and can expect to be targeted if they do. Is it a double-standard to discuss damage to public soils and waterways by farmers, or would it be a double-standard not to discuss that pollution? Are we for industries having to manage the cost of their own pollution, or for wider society to have to manage that?

It's not just livestock operations being asked to address the pollution they put out:
https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/112438538/peter-yealands-ordered-to-...
https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10645457

The core of the argument seems to be that businesses should not expect an entitlement to socialise the costs of the pollution they create.

"...point when the ‘watch-dogs’ will be satisfied is when there are no livestock left." Impossible to placate crazed luddites who want to take us back to the little ice climate and economy.
"Several hundred climate demonstrators from a group called “Reclaim the Power” descended on the Square Mile to picket what they had thought was the headquarters of Drax, only to find out that the gas and energy group had moved offices more than a year ago.
The activists had instead chained themselves to a block in Moorgate that is now occupied by Europe’s leading renewables generator, Statkraft."
Drax off course pelletises forests in the US South to reach mythical zero carbon targets demanded b these luddites in the first place.
https://www.cityam.com/bad-day-at-the-office-climate-change-activists-pr...

Plant a hedge so the public can't see your farming practices is a really good metaphor for farmers past attitude of what the public can't see wont hurt them. Or more accurately - farmers can do anything as long as no one sees.
You don't win a war by being middle of the road.
Yes the extremists have learned how to gain media attention and support. But what reasonable minded farmer would argue in favour of a dairy farm manager breaking numerous dairy cow tails in anger or staff throwing week old calves across a concrete yard or farmers piling dead cow carcasses up along stream banks?
The extremists have largely had a positive impact on animal welfare and environmental issues. The difficult part is how we now ,farmers and radicals, find some middle ground acceptable to both sides.

Cannot happen under the identity politics playbook, Wilco: it's Demonise the Other to the max....there's no place for the Moderate Middle left.

Angus Robson has a completely valid point, which is: get the dairy farmers to pay the full cost of running their business operation. This includes cleaning up after yourself, which all fresh water fisherpeople know the dairy farmers have point blank refused to do in the latest expansion of dairy farming over the last 30 or 40 years. If they had been forced to do this all along, dairy farm prices would all be cheaper than they are, as they would all have some percentage of extra cleaning up costs included in their business model.
I look forward to having back trout and eels in all the funny little creeks and streams all over NZ, as there used to be.

I look forward to being able to swim in Mission Bay after a rain event without negotiating sewage discharges: urbanites need to take the beam out of their own eye before mouthing off at a major export earner....

What do you think Aucklanders are paying for in Watercare's work that is set to reduce overflow into waterways by 80% in the next five years or so?

That is precisely taking the beam out of their own eye. Paying for their own pollution cleanup.

"That is precisely taking [ maybe 80% if lucky of ] the beam out of their own eye. Paying for [over decades, most likely] their own pollution cleanup [to a hardly noticeable one turd left swimming out of the original five]".

Right, so just disparage the massive investment and effort going in to cleaning up...but it's other people who are one-eyed.

If we could actually get 80% reduction across all industries' pollution of waterways in the next decade people would be pretty impressed. And $1.2 billion investment into cleaning up is nothing to be sniffed at - see the Granny Herald https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12212212

Rick, glad to see you believe that $1b is nothing to be sniffed at. Dairy farmers in 2015 had spent $1b towards environmental initiatives. https://www.dairynz.co.nz/news/latest-news/dairy-farmers-spend-over-1-bi.... Significant funds have continued to be spent since then. For some farmers, they are unfortunate that the water quality in their area is a long term legacy issue so any funds they are spending on initiatives, are unlikely to be seen making significant improvements for decades and for some farmers, not in their remaining lifetimes. In other areas however there are positive changes being seen. The LAWA website has more waters ways with improving trends now than degrading trends. That doesn't mean that there is no room for improvement. It just means that overall, trends are heading in the right direction.

Indeed, good stuff!

Aye fair enough but the obvious answer, in an ideal or probably nowadays, unrealistic world would have prevention being the best cure. And that just as obviously, applies to both urban and rural backgrounds. For instance, the The Christchurch Water and Drainage Board was disbanded, absorbed into the great hallways of the Council. So weeds in the river left to grow, minor tributaries clogged and stemmed for building. In fill housing developments, more storm water collection and bingo flooding as per the Flockton Basin. There was nothing to stop more vigilance and forethought in any community anywhere in NZ. Sigh! The Canterbury EQs certainly lifted the lid on the derelict state of Christchurch underground services. Out of sight out of mind, one supposes.

Agree, absolutely...cleaning up our own mess needs more attention and priority across all areas. Watercare in Auckland seems to be one example of it being done well (probably because the bureaucrats and pollies don't have too much influence), and getting if not all the publicity it should, at least some.

sit23 - Angus Robson's campaign is not aimed just at dairy, which if you looked at the photos in the Herald, you would see also includes beef cattle. His campaign is about winter grazing of all classes of stock. We have no trout in our on farm waterways inside our boundaries, but we do have native fish - Giant Kokopu, tuna (eels) etc. We far prefer to have native fish than trout. There is however a trout spawning creek on the farm boundary that is not fished by fishos in our part of the catchment. Eels are commercially fished and it can take a long time for their numbers to come back in a waterway that has been commercially fished. As to trout - the NZDF has been removing trout from all it's waterways on it's 17,000ha in the McKenzie Country. https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/112086150/defence-force-swaps-khakis.... To some, trout are sought after, to others they are an introduced pest.