Willy Leferink points out that results of academic models have been poor predicters of recent water quality improvement; innovative remediation does bring improvement

Willy Leferink points out that results of academic models have been poor predicters of recent water quality improvement; innovative remediation does bring improvement

By Willy Leferink*

Having recently seen rivers from Japan to Vietnam’s mighty Mekong, it makes you appreciate what we’ve got and why Dr Jan Wright’s water quality report is a wake up call. 

Dr Wright’s modelling, which starts in the same year the first iPhone went on sale here, is a worst-case if we collectively do nothing.

I am not being provocative but models are not immutable fact.

As a Dutch schoolboy in the 1970’s, I can still remember hearing that the world’s oil and much of our mineral resources would be exhausted by the 1990’s.

Reality has thankfully proved otherwise.

Some commentators say we should copy European farmers on all things environmental but I beg to differ. 

Dutch farms generate twice the nitrogen surplus we do in New Zealand while we are comparable to Germany.

The big difference is that Kiwi farmers aren’t subsidised whereas European farmers receive an astonishing 57.5bn euros (NZ$95bn.) each year. The Economist, in a critical 2012 article called ‘Dirty Dikes’ found the green image of the Dutch was at odds with reality.

Yet despite high levels of air and water pollution, the latter from farming, it wrote, "The average Dutch person is taller and lives longer than most other Europeans ..." I wonder what Canterbury’s Officer of Health makes of that.

So here are the positives.

Diffuse nutrient loss to water is a problem but farmers know that and are actively investing in solutions. The scientists at AgResearch and DairyNZ are researching nutrient loss and they’re not alone. 

Every kilogram of nitrogen lost to water not only impacts what we and our stock drink but is a wasted opportunity.

Any nitrogen and phosphorous going down the gurgler is free fertiliser so keeping it on-farm and out of water will save a farm thousands of dollars each year in synthetic fertiliser costs.

Minimising nutrient loss becomes a win-win.

This research will take time but the revenue our exports generate directly funds the science. Dairy farmers like me contribute over $60 million in levies each year for industry good research and work. When you add in the public science investment, it provides plenty of reasons why we need fewer law graduates and more in science and agricultural science.

Following Dr Wright’s report, TV3’s Campbell Live visited two Waikato dairy farms with low stocking rates.  While this is on-farm adaptation for drought, the show advanced it as a water quality solution.

While a useful contribution what Campbell Live overlooked was the impact eight hydro power stations and the communities of Cambridge, Hamilton, Ngaruawahia and Huntly have upon the Waikato River.

With water, town and country share the same waka.

At my Canterbury farm we employ a different solution suited to light soils: wintering barns. These don’t come cheap but it means you can still farm intensively and meet tough nutrient limits by capturing all the nutrients and irrigating it back to pasture over summer. Home gardeners may use ‘zoo doo’ and sheep pellets as fertiliser, we just supersize it as a liquid fertiliser. Wintering barns should also get the tick from the animal rights people because cows go indoors when the weather is cold and wet but graze outdoors on pasture when it’s warm.

Consultation is also underway on the new National Objectives Framework for freshwater management.

This gives communities the power to set their own aspirations for water. National bottom lines are proposed following the input of New Zealand’s 60 top freshwater scientists 

We mustn’t overlook how dairy farmers have fenced 24,000 kilometres of waterways and are collectively spending billions to improve on-farm effluent management. We also have a plan of action too, the Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord.

All of this explains why Lake Rotorua has improved decades earlier than the ‘model’ predicted.

This is why our rivers are showing improvement and if anyone doubted the Ministry for the Environment saying river quality is stable to improving, then the Manawatu River proves it.

Horizons’ Dr Jon Roygard reported the Manawatu shows “some improvements but is still below standard at some times and locations”. Echoing what Minister Amy Adams has said about urban water, Dr Roygard added that wastewater system improvements in six towns will make “a significant difference to water quality in those catchments”. 

If humans gave up at the first problem we encountered, we’d still be living in caves and hitting each other over the head with clubs.

I know we can do better by not treating the environment and the economy as an ‘either/or’ - because it’s both.


Willy Leferink is Federated Farmers Dairy Chairperson.

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Many thanks Willy.
Your use of barns is interesting. 
You make the point that science is improving and therefore the dairy boom can continue.
But shouldn't dairying wait until the science catches up and finds solutions before it pushes ahead with another expansion?
Surely we can't grow over the next decade in the way we did over the last?
That's the message I took from an excellent speech from another Dutch dairy man a couple of weeks ago.
"If we want to grow, and we want to grow in New Zealand, we cannot grow in the way we grew in the last 10 years because we will hit the wall in terms of environment and sustainability, so we have to get our act together," he said.

The recent improvement in Lake Rotorua has been attributed to alum dosing in 2 tributary streams which reduces phosphorus inputs.

I'm a sheep and beef farmer.  I'm not entirely against the water quality debate. But what i'm tired of is farmer bashing in this country. Constant badgering of farmers in the media, about water,quad bikes, etc it goes on and on. I ve spent $20,000 this year fencing off a gorge and yet i go to my kids play the other day and find that it's about farmers polluting waterways!! Enough is enough. Farming contributes a great deal to this country and is still half of our economy. Our revenues provide jobs, pay rates and taxes which helps pay for  health , education and superannuation. Farming is a big part of our history and  our rural towns and roads would not  have been built if it were not for farming. Farmers are some of the most down to earth and hardest working people in this country. But what we are is a very politcally small group now. We are poorly lead by puppets for council. Who in the media is sticking up for us? We have become a scape goat for the masses. If we plant all our hill country farms into trees then we can double the size of Auckland and still keep our clean and green image. This is their attitude.

I'd also be really offended if that was the subject of a school play - agree that's over the top. We live rural as well, have cattle on the property and also have a beautiful stream running through the property - but the stock are completely fenced off from the waterway. I can never quite understand why the farming community/lobby sees the fencing off of waterways as deserving of merit. Riperian planting of waterways, yes, fine big tick for that.. but fencing is fundamental to farming. No one expects praise to be given to farmers for fencing off roadways, so I just don't understand the mentality that sees fencing off waterways any different - it should just be law/mandated - one of the accepted infrastructure requirements of being in the business of keeping stock. Dog owners in town have to keep their animals contained. Waterways on private property have never been "owned" , have they? I was always of the impression that there was a 'Queen's chain' (or some other such notional boundary between public and private) where waterways were concerned.
Fencing off bush on private land is another thing I believe deserves merit. A sensible government would have included such protected native bush in the ETS scheme. We all benefit from keeping stock out of native bush on private land. So I'm all for praise and incentives in that regard.
But waterways, well it should just be a given - my dog doesn't roam the sidewalks and grass verges unattended - just as stock shouldn't roam the waterways unattended.

Kate I empathise with Tim12.  The large stations that have no/little reticulated water for stock have used rivers/streams for stock water almost as a cultural right.  Imagine the cost to a station like Molesworth if it had to fence off all the waterways and install bridges to cross stock for its musters. 
Many councils do not require stock to be fenced out of waterways. It costs a considerable amount of money to fence off a stream - especially from sheep, quite different from cattle fencing. To change attitudes, we need to support those who go beyond the minimum - especially in farming.  Well done Tim12.  I know exactly how you feel and I hope you made your feelings clear to the school.  You are not the first farmer I have heard who has seen school plays painting farmers as environmental terrorists - it is more common than you would think.
Environment Southland is considering using stock to keep weeds down on stream banks.
Environment Southland catchment works supervisor Ken McCraw said at the meeting the plan was a long term approach to protecting Southland's rivers........................
Currently herbicide was the main method used to control unwanted vegetation in the region, but the intention was to decrease the use of the product in favour of other methods, he said.Those methods were stock grazing, tree planting, development of new biodiversity areas and cut and carry cropping.

If there is little/no infrastructure to provide stored and/or reticulated water to proper troughs - then surely the land is unsuitable for stock. I can understand mustering through gates over waterways - that is 'attended stock' - no problem there.. no need to install bridges.  My point is - fencing off waterways is not beyond the minimum - it should be the minimum.
The use of waterways as stock troughs is as I see it, the fundamental shift in thinking that we need to somehow achieve.  We have for decades tried to raise animal protein on marginal land. It just doesn't make sense.

Kate have you ever lived in the hill or high country?
What experience do you have in farming hill or high country?
What knowledge, skills and competence do you have in areas like biology and eco-systems?
Sheep need space and scope and graze with their teeth. Cattle need longer pasture/plants as they use their tongues. Animal dung is an essential for soil, air and water natural bacteria etc to survive.
Fencing off waterways in the hill and high country is rediculous and doesn't acknowledge other species who already co-exist in the natural environment and the role they play in the environment and the functions that each contributes to part of the larger cycle.
The propaganda machine has been spewing out all sorts of nonsense for years and it is appalling when schools are used in this mind manipulation on our young and vulnerable people. Teachers are not qualified in farming, biology, eco-systems and therefore should not be teaching outside of their knowledge zone.

Yep, live on 34ha on the foothills of the Tararuas at present.  Ex-sheep farm - now turned into multiple LSBs. 24ha (the most marginal of the land) is planted in pine. The ex-son of the previous farmer (prior to subdivision) said to us that the pines were planted on the most productive of the paddocks where the previous farm was concerned .. but that said it was still marginal land. Our pine forest has a neighbouring property running cattle on it - no reticulated water - they are expected to use the spring fed streams on the property. Land not returning any profit to speak of. Farmer always moaning. Comes a time we need to give it up and stop polluting the waterways for little to no economic benefit.

I always get curious when people use the words "Marginal Land"........all land has the potential to produce something.  Take your 34ha......can it support you and your family? If not then it would be marginal land as it is not capable of supportiing you and your family economically
Land type is important to the type of activity that can be undertaken. You wouldn't put dairy cows on the hill and high country or plant orchards or other horticultural produce there. Marginal land is frequently confused with the type of activity undertaken upon it.
High density stocking requires specialist techniques and managment as there are many factors from that have to be taken into consideration like the market for what you are producing, weather, Government and bureaucratic interference etc.
Most LSB are marginal by definition as they cannot sustain the people living on them. If the LSB were part of a large holding they would be economic units.  An Economic Unit back in the 1980's was roughly 2500su.......but as Governments became less efficient and the bureaucracy grew to enormous proportions the size of economic units changed.
You might want to consider that Pine plantations if harvested say every 25 years can only support about 3 rotations before the soil is depleted. How this is going to fit into the "sustainable" category I am not sure. Closing up this so-called marginal land into forestry for 75years or so and then have land that is horribly degraded of nutrients will allow gorse, broom and other weeds an enormous advantage. Grazing animals actually assist in building up soils. The feeding out of hay and balage also assists. Back country blocks are also adequately rested in between grazing periods which is an important factor.
Drinking water quality is important for all not just people though. I would be far more concerned with heavy metal contamination and other known factors which cause detrimental health issues which are difficult or unable to be reversed.
When a sheep or cattle beast walks or drinks in a natural creek all hell breaks lose fro environmentalists. If it was a wild deer, pig, geese, rabbit, bird etc it is considered acceptable. There is room on this planet for all.....it is safe to live, eat, farm and earn a living. There will be problems because that is the human experience. Problems are not solved if there is not honesty and integrity.
There is plenty of dishonesty and underhanded behaviour lurking around every corner dishing out propaganda. It appears LSB owners are now experienced farmers and conservators and few have actually ever made their full living from their activity. It is my experience that LSB owners are very poor stewards of the land. They know very little about stock, soil and pasture management. They lack the knowledge of the wider ecology and synergistic effects.

No way would this 34ha be capable of producing our total income requirements - in other words, as long as one didn't have to pay rates, purchase medicines, buy petrol, own a PC and have access to the internet, buy sugar/flour and other staple necessities, pay for vehicles, machinery and other capital costs.. well, yes, we could likely feed ourselves enough not to die of starvation. When we bought it I was determined not to lose money trying to raise animals on it. So I started researching - wasn't a single protein producing crop that I wasn't likely to lose money on. So, I am happy to say we have not lost money as we lease the grass paddocks to neighbours (who likely lose money).
Agreed - the number of S&B stock units needed to be economic has indeed change dramatically over the years. Animal-based ag is largely subsidised the world over. If not subsidised then the way it goes is that more units are needed per hectare and other things suffer .. environmental stewardship, animal welfare, labour rates etc. being some of the choices forced on those trying to remain economic. And conversion to higher return uses (i.e. dairy in the NZ case) which only brings with it additional compromises as above given the capital intense nature of that business model.
Which is why I can't figure why our political leaders did not see climate change and carbon sequestration as a huge opportunity for NZ. Less cows, less methane production, more bush/trees, more sequestration. We could have used it as an opportunity to return much of our marginal farm land to native bush/forest cover, made serious inroads in to solving our freshwater problems and get a return for actually improving our overall environmental health. Similarly, the world should be paying tropical countries not to cut down native rainforest. Talk about a generation of opportunity lost.
Our great grandchildren will look back on the actions of the human race in this century in disbelief. We actually had the knowledge, science had advanced to the stage that we knew better - but we squandered the opportunity it provided. We made all the wrong decisions - knowing full well they were the wrong decisions..

You're arguing against nature there. Why would any nation, population, ethnic group or even just good old neighbour ever volunteer to step away from grabbing resources? And to only ever benefit another? Humans are just another species subject to the natural world and their behaviour is such. Not that different from what you'll see watching nature documentaries in Africa when it's each for their own sucking the last out of the disappearing water hole before the next rainy season hits.

I have a much more optimistic view of human nature - it's all easy enough for a child to understand;

Oh granted, there's some amazing acts of self sacrifice every day by individual humans. Many paying with their own lives in an attempt to save a complete stranger for example. I'm looking at the big picture stuff though. Personally, I blame marketing and the media. So much fear and want peddled to the masses that plays on deep seated instinct.

Yes indeed - media/advertising - the consumerist culture would be no where without it.
When you think about species in general - most are pre-programmed to defend their offspring with their life. One would think we humans would have looked to discover how to add something to the drinking water that extended that characteristic to the offspring of others - as well as our own. 

Well I just read that article. Interesting that the weed mentioned was gorse. Well, we've got lots of that and the plain simple fact of the matter is you've got to throw labour at it. Yes, that 'commodity' we seem to so desperately want to avoid - yet we have such excesses of it. And I note the last line states the main objective is to save ratepayers money - another word for hire less people to do the work. 

;-)  Gorse seed lives for up to 100years in the ground so unlike other weeds it is not a 'quick fix'.  Yes throwing labour at it works on a small scale, but on a scale of provincial southland, they wouldn't get the labour - hence spraying it previously.  It doesn't like wet feet, so if they could just raise the water levels...... :-)

We are indertaking a little experiment this year where gorse has taken off in a previously free of gorse for 35 years creek. Fencing off the creek area has been to our detriment.  Apparently Urea dissolved in hot water and a little wetting agent works wonders.
Damming the creek at the bottom might be my easiet option.......ooooh I can feel the back-lash already ;-0.......could give the kids and grandkids a little project while catching yabbi in the creek.  A few schist rocks stacked up should do it nicely.

What harm is the gorse doing to the creek? Plant native underneath it if there aren't any already there - they'll overtake it in years to come. Rotate goats with the other stock in the adjoining paddocks to keep the spread/seedlings on your bare land under control. In 10 years time you won't have the gorse patch problem - you will have a naturally flourishing creek bed and all the native bird life that comes with it.

"What harm is the gorse doing to the creek? "
According to studies done around Rotorua, gorse is the worst  land use in relation to nitrogen pollution, by virtue of its N fixing ability as a legume.

Wow - a quick Google produces the very report from 2008. Thanks! Right, cut it, poison the stump and be done with it :-). It's (largely) worked for us. But then, we asked the ex-farmer landowner what his recommendation was for getting rid of gorse .. and he said, sell the property. Hahaha.

And the seeds are still there for a hundred years or more to re-emerge at a more opportune time or seed comes down-stream in the next flood.  And all that gorse spray will be very environmentally friendly won't it. Also have you thought about the mercury that is the inert ingredient that is used to preserve the chemicals that you poison the plant with?  All that mercury washing out to sea is very sustainable management - not.

Yes, thought about spray - but prefer to use the chainsaw and poison the stump (very targeted application) and then let the goats browse through the paddocks. We don't have much near the stream/gully - as it's all natives there. My understanding is - once you have the native cover - gorse do not re-establish - and our bush cover seems to point to that.  

It might be a silly question - but what do you do with the gorse you chopped down with the chainsaw - you can't just leave it lying there - can you?

No, we cart it all into our horse arena - which is where the goats live when they are not out browsing. They tramp all over it, eat some of it (I assume). As it rains on it - the pile gets a great deal smaller and we add more, and rinse repeat ... until we eventually burn what remains.  We also harvest the big trunks for firewood - amazingly hot burner.

Agree fully, Tim12,  Son-in-law is also S&B, and it's a hard life. 
Perhaps it's time for the Alternative Tax?
But how to stop the

  • buy the votes
  • turn screws on wealth generators to pay for promises
  • listen carefully to the screams and do jack squat
  • borrow some munny to tide us over in the meantime
  • promise more goodies 'cos there's an Election coming up
  • wash, rinse and repeat

cycle - well, far better minds than mine have burnt themselves out trying to figger it.....

There is billions of dollars of money invested in infrastructure on NZ farms. You can"t stop farmers farming land where they can't 100% fence all waterways because that would make up most of the hill country land in this country. Even talking about it shows ignorance of the scale of the problem. The reality is that these types of farms are'nt the  problem as they are not intensive, they don't use much fertiliser and their stocking rates are'nt high. Sheep numbers in this country are half of what they were in the 1980's.

So, if fencing and water reticulation is uneconomic, what's the problem with returning most of the hill country to the bush/forest cover that it once previously was?

Kate - I'm not sure that you understanding the issues. Firstly much of the hill country is large blocks of land.  Blocks can range in size from 250 acres or more.  Many of the paddock sizes are around 100 acres or more.  As I said sheep like space and scope.
Most farms will have reticulated water schemes but also rely on water in other areas of the blocks. If the sheep are at the far end of a block it might be quite a walk to the nearest reticulated water supply for them so they go to the closest creek.
I fail to see why you think so much damage is being done to the waterways from hill country farming.
Have you considered that if you cover all the hill land in bush/forest cover how long it would take for the wild animal populations to explode in those areas. The'll be drinking, wallowing and pooing in the creeks and rivers too. Explosions in possum numbers would be horrendous and try keeping them out of millions of acres of bush that you would want ot generate.  Goat numbers would also escalate out of control.
What you are advocating is closing up millions of hectares and mass slaughtering of enormous numbers of sheep and cattle and then replacing them with wild animals. At least with farmed animals we get a return. The land can already sustain a certain number of stock units whether wild, farmed or domestic.

Who will pay compensation to farmers if you pass laws that enforce radical change of land use. ?

That's the missed opportunity we made with respect to making climate change and carbon sequestration work for us. See my above post.

Still not quite sure what the "opportunity" is or was Kate.  Certainly, there are things we could have done, could still do.   But just because you could do something - even if you should do something - doesn't make it an opportunity; it might be a task, a duty, an obligation, a challenge, a sacrifice etc.   It's an opportunity only if it's likely to result in benefits greater than the costs to the doer.
 The actions you describe would have imposed economic cost on New Zealand collectively, and New Zealanders individually, by diverting productive resources into activity that would actually reduce our present ability to earn our living through producing  and selling agricultural products.  To what benefit?  Where's the reward?
Perhaps it would have make some small difference to CO2 levels and thus brought some  environmental benefit to the world as a whole.  But  the benefit to New Zealand (ie, a small share of that global benefit) would be smaller than the cost, all of which would have been concentrated here.    The world wouldn't compensate us for our economic sacrifice. 
That's what should happen, for countries who undertake such activities (and, just as you say, similarly for countries that refrain from cutting down forests).   But there is no such global mechanism in place.
Perhaps we should do it anyway, regardless of the poor return to ourselves, out of  a sense of public duty and global responsibility.  But I don't think "opportunity" is the right word for that.

The world wouldn't compensate us for our economic sacrifice
But in terms of agricultural debt some NZers are certainly paying tribute above and beyond economic necessity to others outside our borders.

If I recall correctly, when we registered for the ETS - our NZUs were worth $96,000 - mind you that was for five years of owning pines at 15 years of age. A far greater return, I assume than we might have got running stock on the land over those five years.
Point being had the world got on board this method of mitigation - NZ I believe would have benefitted both economically and environmentally.  Big country - low population - sub-tropical climate meaning a faster rate of growing and hence sequestration potential.
The incentive would have been to retire hill country/marginal pasture, plant and not harvest. Even better had we invested in research regarding propogation of faster growing varieties of woody natives and argued to add them to the scheme.
We might have been a very strong and credible voice in the international community - and things may well have turned out quite different. This many years down the track - as the disasters and storms continue to worsen - we would have looked cleaner, greener, more caring and smarter than most.
As for the cost to the general NZ public (i.e.  the non-farming community unable to produce credits/farm carbon as an income stream), the impact on NZers given our largely renewable energy for residential heating/electricity .. NZers generally I believe would have come off better than most overseas publics reliant on coal. And that's not even considering the potential here for solar that we presently don't exploit to a great degree. As to likely oil price rises internationally - well the scarcer it becomes and the higher the price, the better for the planet, in my opinion. Such external shocks would have forced NZ to look forward, again to our renewables industry.

No one, you run a business inside a regulated framework. Part of the risk to your business is the framwork changes.

Kate, the reality is that the water quality issues are not in the areas where there is marginal land. It is in the areas where there is intensive farming. I.e on river flats where there is dairy intensification. Dairy farmers gross incomes are in the region of four times greater than sheep and beef farmers. And there fore their fertilser budget is alot higher., which creates nitrogen problems.
  In response to hill country farms fencing waterways . It's not that the farms are uneconomic and can't afford to fence waterways, it is that it is physically impossible to fence certain areas, because of the terrain.
   Another argument is tourism will replace farming in rural areas. Up our road there are twenty farms and two tourist walks. The farms pay rates to pay for the upkeep of the roads, They pay for power that keeps the infrastructure there. The tourist walks pay no rates, they are cash businesses and probably don't pay much tax.
  My point is that nz needs farming.

Absolutely totally agree with you - S&B is not the big culprit dairy is. Many years ago I recall big dairy was concentrated in Taranaki .. I can only assume because that climate and environment suited it?  Also understand fully the terrain issues. We've just replaced a 350m fenceline in ridiculous hill/gully country adjacent to our forest. Only replaced it because the farmers cattle kept pushing through. So steep in places it really was (in my opinion) never suited to farming/grazing. Not sure why such gullies weren't fenced off in the first place. 
Agree NZ needs ag. But we need smart ag. We are not being as smart as I believe we could be.

Yes NZ needs farming, but that farming has to leave the soil/land/water in as good a condition across the generations as it is received.

Another guest writer who cant understand maths it seems, or cant be bothered looking at a peak oil graph "as its all OK now as it didnt happen". Boy is your farm/business in for a shock.  When I see this I wonder then about the accuracy of anything else you say.
If you look at the pre-1970s oil demand increase curve and then after the oil crisis with greatly lower increasing demand rate than pre-oil crisis, we were clearly going to use it up faster than we eventually did.  So the earlier models / predictions of 1998 or so were based on BAU of pre-1970s increasing rates. Put in a lower increase into the "model" and we see peak around 2005/2006, so we gained maybe 8 years.
So now you are relieved was 8 years later? um 7 years ago?
Yes very relieved, I bet.
Maybe tell us how you see your business doing at $1.50 or $2 a litre for deisel? Love to see your model.

Another guest writer who cant understand maths
What do you expect?
Willy Leferink is Federated Farmers Dairy chairperson.

gee wiz.  So what pray is he going to say to his members when they complain about the escalating price of fuel I wonder.  Dont worry its user pays?  its fine we'll put up prices? no problem National will vote us a tax break?
I think somewhat sad and a worry that the ppl who seem to be in positions of responsibility dont seem to exercise it very well.

Think of Federated Farmers as a branch of the National Party.
As with the National Party, members don't matter much.
Willy is not in a postion of responsibility, he is in a position of power and influence. Big difference.

The big difference is that Kiwi farmers aren’t subsidised
The main subsidy Kiwi farmers get is to not pay for their externalities i.e. they get to diffuse source pollute water without paying for it.


I see the big hand of the interest.co moderaters have already done their work on my comment.

heehee - left the text but edited out your designer-type emphasis?

I presume it gives them a sense of power.
And I have just provided small minds with another opportunity to practise it.

you talk rubbish colin.

Are you paying Interest.co.nz cash to make it right?  or are they subsidising you?

Cowboy, give me some facts and I will be happy to engage.
I suspect Interest.co's preference would be for me to quietly go away.
I can assure you no money has passed between myself and interest.co in either direction. I can't speak for Federated Farmers but there is nothing stopping them from making the same declaration.

Federated Farmers aren't farmers.   They are a commercial enterprise.

No money passes from the government TO farmers. (the subsidy you claim)
And the consent conditions about waste discharge for farming have tight conditions about pollution, paying more - unlike industry or manufacture/production companies - will not get a pass for dirty dairy (freedom to dump waste water/effluent to water) - so no effect "reverse subsidy" that allows farmers free dumping - ie we can't buy get out of jail cards in waste removal, unlike the dispensation given to power stations and large employers.

No money passes from the government TO farmers. (the subsidy you claim)
It doesn't have to. Farming is certainly not alone in receiving government largesse/subsidies (think Chorus/Sky City), but agriculture does very well out government funding.

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1. Only one third of DairyNZ funding is from levies - the other two thirds from government. Fonterra doesn't miss out on government research funding action  either.

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And MPI have slush funds that have provided a few sweet deals to farming insiders.
2. Urban pollution is less than 5% of the water pollution problem. Diffuse source (i.e. farming) is the other 95%.
3. Deals to clean up water quality in Rotorua and Taupo are going to cost the public over $100 million.
4. Then there are Landcorp deals, South Canterbury Finance deals, freeholding of pastoral leases.
Come to think of it, government money does seem to find its way TO some farmers.

Yet when I ask you about you being subsidised by Interest.co.nz you reply:
"I can assure you no money has passed between myself and interest.co in either direction."

I assure you Colin, that the Levy comes OUT of my pocket, and goes to the likes of DairyNZ. Likewise no MPI money (from my taxes?) comes my way, or too most farmers.

(2) is incorrect
(3) Taupo (and Rotorua) used to be considered unfarmable because of lack of Cobalt etc.  Business call would be to see those who want to make a risky return there, pay for any damage they've done.  This is not 95% of farmers in NZ, who will be asked to contribute, despite their (ignored) protests about how the farming in the area was mismanaged.
(4)  Who, again, was the owner and beneficiary of profit from Landcorp? Farmers - nuh uh!  SCF? farmers, nope!   Guzzlement and Bwankers.   Did farmers in NZ get a say in those deals? no...so who made those decisions that are profiting G&B....G&B.

DairyNZ is inflicted on many New Zealand farmers, and it's primary speciality is giving away our commercial intellectual property to industry interests and foreign owned competitors.  It's secondary speciality is to contribute poor consulting information to farm-support industries* and to think up ways to reinforce the escalculate costs that MPI put onto the farming businesses for no good reason (and plenty of business-bad reasons).

* Just reading on the front page of Straight Furrow the other day a numnuts piece of writing about "valuing your workers".  Usual BS, (extra uncontracted time off, extra perks) and the classic "I the boss who has no clue" offering of dinner out vouchers. 

These "subsidies" you mention are all costs to us.  And stuff many basic farmers whose primary market is farm focussed would very much see removed, like the white elephant in the room that they are.   Now take another closer look at all those deals and follow the money! Where is the money going? consultants, government, support consultants, training orgs, advertisers, inspectors and other staff of the "government generated demand" type.   Not to farmers.  Not our decision or choice. Not in out wallets...but out of our wallets (and other NZer's ).

NOT subsidising farmers.

I agree with much of what you say and especially regards DairyNZ, Guzzlement and Bwankers.

So do I.
However can you elloborate on how farming in the cobolt deficient area was/is mismanaged?
In mid to late 80s, a selection of ballot farmers around here got interest on loans written off, others didn't and went to the wall.
More recently we have had (previous) generations of (dairy) cooperative capital transfered to our balance sheets (and subsequently foreign banks). But as you say, in my opinion this government et al. initiated 'subsidy' will be a cost to farmers.
Re Straight Furrow, better article on P11, about numnuts Shareholders Council.

Off the cuff, most of it was trying too much "science" on poor quality soils.
Farms were cheap, some folks (Queen Streeters) wanted to grab the land or ground floor equity farms.  Historicly "bush sickness" (B12 defic) meant those areas did poorly and pasture never established well.

So they chopped and burnt. Poured in fertilisers to make the grass go, most of which disappeared straight through the sandy soil, and they poured on the cattle, ship in feed if things got tight.   Takes several years to build up decent soil structure, and a far bit of work to get fertility into top soil - that was known at the time.   But science was you knew the growth, and measured the production and growth, and tested the soil; that told them how much P, N, S to pour on, and drench regularly with Co, Zn and Cu.   But many farmers said it wasn't economical to be putting on that much P and N for that production level - but the experts in the area said they had science on there side, and production was good, it just needed feeding because it was a new area.....

And yet again those who have lived on the land turned out to be right, and the clipboard crew 20 years behind.

Like we're starting to see with some of the fenced off drains in recent hot spells.  Takes me back to the times when I was 5years old, the old open drains which we weren't allowed to play in/near because of the bacterial count and stagnant water.   With the latest dry, the hydrophytes (stream water plants) die from the dry & heat, and fall into what little water is there.  They smell quite rough as they rot in the small puddles in the drain beds.  And also you can already see the areas which are starting to silt up.  this rain has pushed quite a mess of them together in places, the stench quite strong, but I'm sure it'll make good growing from whatever drain blocking weed takes root, until it all flushes into the rivers....  takes me back 35 - 50 yrs....

Willy, i see you have sold out for 25 mil to Johnny foreigner, a %33 premium,no wonder the Feds want open acces for  sales to overseas interests.
Italy’s Barilla family, founders of the world’s largest pasta company, have paid $25 million to buy a South Island dairy farm from Federated Farmers dairy chairman Willy Leferink and his wife Jeanet.
New Zealand’s Overseas Investment Office approved the purchase in a decision released yesterday, saying the buyers intend to make additional capital investment in the farm and develop significant indigenous biodiversity.  
The price for the 413ha Rakaia property represents about $61,000/ha, a 33 per cent premium to the $46,000/ha median price for Canterbury dairy farms in the latest Real Estate Institute figures and 85 per cent above the $33,000 national median dairy price in October.