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Dairy leaders do not regard negative survey of dairy farmers’ environmental record as particularly important, more playing politics

Rural News
Dairy leaders do not regard negative survey of dairy farmers’ environmental record as particularly important, more playing politics

Dairy industry leaders have reacted strongly to a survey saying the majority of New Zealanders believe dairy farmers expansion of dairying has worsened water quality in rivers, lakes and streams.

DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle doesn’t see the survey work as particularly rigorous or important.

A Horizon Research survey for Fish and Game found 70% of NZers had a negative attitude towards dairying and its effect on water quality.

The industry said dairy farmers were investing millions of dollars in managing their environmental impact and taking their responsibilities seriously. Up to $200million had been spent fencing 22,000km of waterways.

Dairy farmers, through the milksolids levy they paid to DairyNZ, had boosted their industry environmental investment by 61% this financial year to $11 million per annum.

Mackle said it was not surprising that a public attitudes survey, just released and funded by Fish and Game, painted a negative picture of public attitudes to dairy farming. He didn’t see the survey work as particularly rigorous or important. “They are playing politics in an election year and dairy farmers are the convenient football to kick around,” he said.

“I think New Zealanders understand that dairying is important to the success of the New Zealand economy and that dairy farmers are an important part of our community. They just want to see the industry acting responsibly and managing its impact.

“We don’t need another survey to tell us what we already know - that New Zealanders care what the dairy industry is doing to live up to their expectations around environmental stewardship. We’re already acting on that concern in a range of ways - and have a strategy and plan for ensuring responsible and competitive dairy farming including a new, stronger Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord. We launched all that last year,” he said.

“Farmers have certainly recognised the need to lift their game in investing in industry actions above and beyond their usual on-farm investments to show leadership. Across the industry we have signed up to a new water accord and strategy and we’ve been putting our money behind meeting our commitments in those agreements.

“We have programmes and investments in place with regional councils in every major dairying region in the country - from Northland to Southland and every place in between. We need to work harder at making sure more New Zealanders have a better understanding of all that is being done. Farmers are certainly paying their fair share.

“Most dairy farmers are doing a great job. Industry standards for dairy farmers, no matter where you farm or what dairy company you supply, have now been set and are being implemented through company supply agreements with dairy farmer support. We’re still let down by a few bad performers but that’s like any industry,” he said.

But Federated Farmers environment spokesman Ian Mackenzie said the survey failed to take into account that many of the policies respondents asked for had already been addressed.

"In the Fish & Game survey, people are concerned that the Government needs to put policies in place," Mackenzie said.

"That has been done through the national policy statement on fresh water and the national objective framework.

"Given the Government has put in place everything the respondents said they wanted, but were not aware of before they commented, I consider this poll to be a bit of a lame duck."

DairyNZ strategy and investment leader for sustainability Dr Rick Pridmore said in Southland dairy farmers, through DairyNZ, were spending $1.1 million each year on environmental work with the council and in the Waituna catchment. In addition, the on-farm investments by Waituna Catchment dairy farmers so far sat at around $1.5 million, with another additional $2 million of work still in the pipeline.

“Where we’re part of the problem, we’re investing in solutions with councils and communities - generally at a catchment level. Just ask any regional council. And this is above and beyond what individual dairy farmers are spending to meet their regulatory requirements or paying as rates including targeted rates in some areas.”

He said dairy farmers, through DairyNZ, were partnering with councils on projects and spending big money. Last year this included work with  Horizons Regional Council ($500,000), Waikato River Authority ($1.2 million), Environment Canterbury ($1 million), Northland Regional Council ($400,000) and $100,000 with the West Coast Regional Council.

“Fonterra dairy farmers have fenced 22,000 kilometres of waterways around the country now and that is all GPS mapped. Depending on how much riparian planting and maintenance is included, we estimate farmers have spent $100-200 million to achieve this, reflecting around $5-10,000 per kilometre,” he said.   

“DairyNZ is also investing dairy farmers’ money in leading New Zealand’s largest catchment project in the Waikato River above Karapiro. This $2.1m project, co-funded by DairyNZ, Waikato River Authority and central government, is delivering environmental management plans to all 700 farmers in the catchment.

“Each Sustainable Milk Plan for those farmers will cost us $2,400 to produce, and out of that will fall a range of actions and investments that the farmer will spend on their farms. That includes installing water meters on most of these 700 farms at a cost to farmers of around $1.5 million. Other examples are Taranaki farmers who are voluntarily investing an enormous amount of money and time to ensure waterways on the Taranaki ring plain are protected with fences and vegetation. Around $80 million has been spent on plants, fencing and contractors since the project began. That's a fantastic achievement,” Pridmore said.

Fish & Game NZ chief executive Bryce Johnson said the research showed there was a risk to any political party introducing policies promoting economic growth if they could not guarantee safeguards to protect the environment.

"Of particular interest was the strong overall support (73%) for requiring dairy companies to take formal responsibility for the environmental performance of their contracted suppliers - currently not the case, with the struggling role falling to regional councils funded by ordinary ratepayers," Johnson said.

He said the results would shock many in the agriculture sector where "the long-held presumption has been that farming enjoys the popular support of the wider public".

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Good article Jeff Smith!


F & G have a strong agenda and they have been door knocking in the past with this agenda.


F & G seem to believe there is a conflict of interest in the RMA process and have been pushing to have control over the RMA hearings process. 



You made three points/assertions.


Please support any of them you can with some substance.



"DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle doesn’t see the survey work as particularly rigorous or important. "

Yet the he wonders why  , dairy farmers dont command the respect he thinks they deserve.

"Given the Government has put in place everything the respondents said they wanted, but were not aware of before they commented, I consider this poll to be a bit of a lame duck."

I don't remember asking for nutrient caps in the Hurunui  river to be raised - soley  to legitimise   dairy effluent disposal.

I dont remember asking to scrap  the Water conservation order on the  Rakaia river either.

The Dairy industry have grossly over stated their contribution to mitigating the adverse effects of their industry.

Smith has the cheek to complain about the ' $200mil - farmers have  supposedly spent on fencing. (remember when audited ,Dairy NZ  self policing compliance figures where grossly inaccurate ,by  50% from memory.



In reading the article the biggest impression I get is, as with most of our interactions with of farm organisations, if it's not documented and paid for it doesn't count. Hence the $2400 for a "sustainable milk plan", the fencing of waterways must be gpsed and checked by some important person. On 90% of farms nothing changes as they've been doing it all along or simply heading in that direction.

On a individual level most farmers are pretty good about heading in the "right direction" even if they really hate being pushed. But as a group or represented by some of the above organisations and apologists they are a bunch of arrogant pricks and some of that attitude is coming home to roost.

The figure of $5-10,000 for 1k of fencing. It cost less than  $1k here and the sharemilker did all the work.


A lot of money-mentioning.


But no mention of actual counts.


Fascinating. Typically, spin will blind the average pleb with a big number (anything over a million sounds good to the average pleb) and studiously fail to address the real numbers of the impact in question.


This does that in spades. So it's spin. How many counts went 'up' not 'down' in that time, despite 'all those millions', and how many more kilometres of interface were added?


I have yet to hear a Fed Farmers response to something much more substantial -- the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment's report in late November.…


It said that even with the mitigation mentioned above by Federated Farmers and others, the increased conversions expected will still further damage the waterways.

The comments above suggest that the public simply don't know yet that farmers have already done the work that will solve the problem.

But the problem is the likely expansion of dairying without substantial new measures (not just the ones already agreed) will damage the waterways.

I have yet to see a significant response or rebuttal from the Dairy industry to Jan Wright's report.







It's almost as if growth of an economic activity has a harmful effect on the environment.  I wonder if we will ever think this through to it's logical conclusion?