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William Rolleston sees farming seems under attack from most political parties in this election, with claims aimed at a gullible urban audience but disconnected from the facts on the land

William Rolleston sees farming seems under attack from most political parties in this election, with claims aimed at a gullible urban audience but disconnected from the facts on the land
William Rolleston

By William Rolleston*

I am perhaps not alone in thinking that this has been the most repelling yet compelling election for some decades.

The only election which came close was the 2002 Corngate election.

At the centre of that election was a book “Seeds of Distrust”.

A bombshell dropped only weeks before the election which alleged a government cover-up of a crop containing genetically modified seeds. 

Like now, any discussion of policies and issues gave way to the suspicion the Prime Minister was donkey deep in a conspiracy.

Like now, it appeared to be an attempt to push the vote to the hard left.

Sound familiar?

It should, since at the heart was author Nicky Hager.

The Corngate enquiry, run by the politicians through the Local Government and Environment Select Committee, concluded that there was no ministerial interference in the decisions made by officials.

Added to this election is the regrettable phenomenon of hate politics introduced by the mob at Internet Mana meetings.  This sort of politics does not belong in New Zealand but gone are the days of a contest of ideas as we have been driven more towards a Presidential style. 

Federated Farmers has long said that it doesn’t matter who is in the government so long as they agree with us.

For this election it is clear that many parties do not agree with Federated Farmers. 

As farmers go into the ballot box, they ought to be aware of the negative effect that capital gains taxes or resource rentals like water and nitrogen taxes would have upon farming.  Let alone financial penalties on our world leading carbon efficient livestock industry through a carbon tax or ETS.

There is more as the unions push to return labour relations to 1978, with a return to national collective bargaining, national awards and almost certainly, compulsory workplace representation.

What we are seeing is a wholesale rejection of the post-1984 economic consensus.

While National and its allies on the centre-right stick to the low intervention, open economy script, every other party, including potential kingmakers like NZ First and the Maori Party, favour hands-on Government that typified New Zealand up to 1984.

This is an economic prescription that very few people under the age of 40 will have any recollection of.  What is old has become new again.

As a country we are now in unchartered political waters, yet water, the environment, health and safety and the future of agricultural science, are major issues for farming. 

A few weeks ago, the National Party’s released an intention to regulate dairy stock exclusion.  It also comes at a time when the water quality of New Zealand’s water bodies is generally stable to improving.

The implication, wrongly I must add, is that the Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord has failed when it has been an outstanding success.

The risk of jumping to compulsion is that it sends the message, “why volunteer, if you’ll just end up being regulated?”  As it stands livestock have been excluded from 23,000 kilometres of waterways. 

The effort involved is enough to fence from Auckland to Beijing and back again, with an extension to Queenstown. Last year we’d hit 90 percent of the target with 100 percent stock exclusion to be achieved by 31 May 2017.

The farmer investment?  DairyNZ estimates this at between $100 and $200 million.  It begs this question, why regulate?

Having thought about the other part of the policy release, a $100 million fund to retire farmland, it would be perhaps better to reinterpret this policy as creating on-farm wetlands.

The Greens Dr Russel Norman has used DairyNZ figures to say the fund would only be sufficient to buy 400 rugby fields a year, meaning 777 fewer cows. After consulting DairyNZ’s excellent economics team, we’ve arrived at a very different conclusion.

If you are talking prime farmland then $10 million a year would potentially purchase 286 hectares of prime dairy land. If 286 hectares were instead turned into wetlands, then you’d remove 60-70 percent of Nitrogen from around 9,500 hectares of farmland. This is based on the market price of $35,000 a hectare when it would likely be much less lower, given land suitable for wetlands isn’t exactly prime. 

If this is targeted in sensitive catchments then you are potentially looking at a massive gain for a relatively small loss of farmland. There is also a mechanism to provide a legal home for any wetlands created; QEII National Trust covenants.

Maintaining and improving water quality is definitely achievable when added to work going into improving nutrient use efficiency on-farm and the goal of increasing farm productivity.  It is also a model that can be scaled up for other primary land uses showing the way that policy informed by science, and not fear or dogma, is the way ahead.

Before each election, Federated Farmers publishes its own Manifesto and the 2014 version will be available from next Wednesday. With voting now open in Decision 2014 please check out the farmer prescription and compare it to what the political parties are offering.

My message? Vote for farming.


Dr William Rolleston is the new President of Federated Farmers.

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.


I am assuming this is a satirical piece? Surely?

Nice article.
The Greens are a very problematic bunch and not prepared to follow the science. It is my personal view that they should be made accountable for these accusations.
I hope Federated Farmers is keeping good records of Political party information from their websites, mailouts, speeches etc.  It could come in very handy in the future.
Having moved into the city for the last 4 years I am very much astounded by the many views expresseed by city people in regards to farming practices......many people assume that practices they see or read about in other countries are undertaken in NZ.
There are some very good marketing opportunities that are being missed that would satisfy and educate consumers on NZ farm products.

'not prepared to follow the science' - clearly this is another attempt at satire - aren't you one of the most vociferous climate change deniers on this site?

Kow......the climate changes every day and every season so there is no climate change denying by me......
I make no apology for not becoming a member of the end -is-nigh climate cult.
The Green in politics has nothing to do with the environment.......but has everything to do with envy and it should be seen for what it is.......a kow..

No that is weather.

The only weather the Greens are concerned about is whether or not they can wether farmers.

wow -  the level of ignorance in your comment is impressive.  

Did typing that make you feel good PE?
First up "utterance of amazement"........followed by "ridicule"......the pattern is so very familiar......

To both PE and NOE: the rule here is no personal insults, no matter how cleverly couched. Debate the issues, don't slag. The penalty will be you will have to move your personal debate to WhaleOil, The Standard, FrogBlog, etc. 

harsh dude, real harsh :)

Wow whale oil - that would really hurt

The Greens are actually following the science, just about the only party that is.  

Just like they were with dihydrogen monoxide ;-)

What we are seeing is a wholesale rejection of the post-1984 economic consensus.
A consensus held by elites who couldn't resist evolving it into crony capitalism - now that has to be destroyed before the ill prepared and ignorant ideologues demand to take us down more dead end roads whilst proclaiming utopia awaits for all.

Reads like a cringe-worthy sermon, with an exhortation to return to the idyllic days of massive rural welfare of the pre-1984 period with all the farm subsidies that went with it

Federated Farmers has long said that it doesn’t matter who is in the government so long as they agree with us.
Nope this is not a parody - just as GW Bush's: if you're not with us you're with the terrorists wasn't. It makes the organisation sound absolutely, totally desperate.
Here's what EDS have to say about the Fed Farmers election manifesto:
Overall, the Manifesto seeks a future in which the Government supports further intensification of land use with public money, an absence of hard limits on nutrient run-off and biodiversity damage and, incredibly, compensation for meeting any environmental obligations that might remain.

The previous Fed Farmers mouthpiece was pretty hard to stomach, but this new guy makes him seem positively enlightened by comparison.

I do agree with William on the science. Often the sensationalism projected by the Greens & Co over rides the pure science that has been carried out by ligitimate parties. Only to be caste away as if some baseless foray.

Farming is an occupation. The greens are a political movement. As a farmer i agree that there is a problem with the rivers, but i don't believe everything i read because i know from personal experience some of the things reported in the media aren't true. (Which isn't to say that it's all untrue).  So demonising "all" farmers is only a way of milking an emotive issue pre election. I do agree with the Fed farmers above, that credit has not been given to farmers who have spent a lot of money trying to improve water quality, but then you won't see the greens going around pre election praising farmers, why would they?

And nobody gives me any credit for paying to dispose of my rubbish as opposed to dumping it on the side of the road (or the side of the river) either.

But that's just cosmetic isn't it? Rubbish is rubbish, whether it's strewn on the road verge, or buried in a landfill.

Very true - there is no such thing as 'away'.
Reducing, re-using and recyclyin (upcycling) should become an ingrained habit.
On the other hand, if your occupation directly causes a waterway to become polluted, the onus should be on you (or business owner) to ensure it isn't. And no, you should not expect thanks for rectifying what you've caused to begin with.
Wouldn't mind holding those farmers up as shining examples, though. Like you said - there are decent people everywhere, it serves noboy to tar everybody with the same brush

Not really. Cantabrians got an opportunity recently to find out what it takes to construct and operate a modern landfill when the Kate Valley site (see, you got naming rights, Kate) was put into commission.
While waste is waste, there is a huge difference between sequestering and monitoring the waste stream and dumping it just anywhere where it risks becoming a public health hazard.
Manufacturers, miners, health facilities - in fact almost everyone - are required by law to be responsible for their waste. Why are farmers exempt?

manufactures didn't used to be.
towns certainly didn't used to be.

health facilities .... because it's human contagions and remains (ie very high risk)

So I'm willing to come to the party Kumbel

you start paying farmers like you pay medical doctors and staff (and with the same lack of personal responsibility that GP's have)  and we'll make damn sure the livestock have prime care about feed, fert, and waste.   sounds like a two way steet to me.

Farm use of antibiotics is a major vector for antibiotic resistant diseases. That is why if farmers in the Netherlands need to go to hospital, they automatically start in quarantine. The reserve species vs vulnerable species disease jumping means that farming is a major human health vector too. That is why all major influenenza outbreaks come from areas with chickens (reserve species), pigs (intermediate carrier), and people (vulnerable species) in close proximity.

read the articles, FOREIGN farmers had been using preventative medication.  That's not acceptable practice in NZ.

And anyway I'm talking paying people, you want health level care and environmental handling, consumers must pay healthcare level prices.

Yeah, but i don't hate all town people becauce some of them dump their rubbish down the river. My point is that there is nothing to be achieved by making generalisations. Are all farms by rivers?

It's not the rubbish down the river - it's the glass and other rubbish (included bags of kittens) on the side of the roads, and on the sidewalks, and in the parks and hedges.
It's the piles of mess out the back of shops and factories, and around carparks.

It's those bags of rubbish sitting on the kerbside.... and the constant stream of waste paper shoved into my mail boxes.....

not to mention when I lived in town/city the people who used to slip down the side of my house and do their personal human toileting against my house or in my garden.   Or vomit all through my garden, or leave used condoms.   And not just in my property but often uptown in shadowed alleys, or in parks, playgrounds and in front of some shopfronts.

And that's not even including some of the tenants I've had to clean up after.

so perhaps your own yards need a bit of cleaning before you keep going after farmers - at least we're trying to improve things...

Other land-uses such as forestry have compulsary set-back areas around waterways. Why is farming excluded? The $100 million fund to retire farmland is simply another subsidy to farming for maintaining a public good that any sustainable land manager should be doing anyway.

Farming has been traditionally excluded for the reasons of livestock access to drinking water.  On-farm reticulated water schemes have not always been around and some of the back country still doesn't have a reticulated water scheme as no electricity is available so animal drinking water is still supplied via creeks and streams etc.
Electricity supply lines allowed for reticulation to take place.....not all water schemes can be gravity fed.
Farmers have to pay for their own water scheme on their is not like a city or town supply.

And traditionally farmers didn't dump indiscriminately huge amounts of NPK on the land so that they could increase stocking rates.
I would be happy to return to pre-1950 farming practices if that's what you are advocating.

i agree with you kimbel fencing off water ways won't make any difference if there is excessive fertiliser use. I think the biggest improvement in water quality may come from the downturn in dairy.

I'm not advocating a return to pre-1950's farming Kumbel. Although a return to the 1950's could be GST, no PAYE, low regulation, no compliance, low overheads and high incomes.....
There are two issues the Fertiliser one and the FECAL contaminate one.
There is also a third issue......the one of poor information and knowledge.
In NZ we have people who don't know how to grow a vegie garden but think themselves fully informed on farming practices.....

FWIW I live in the country, run sheep, we grow our own vegies, I am fencing off a stream that runs through the middle of our property and planting beside it. I am not an indiscriminate commenter on this site. If I pop something in it is generally in an area where I have some knowledge.
We have fecal contamination in part because our stocking rates are higher and we are able to achieve that, in part, through application of fertiliser. Go back to low stocking rates, a lower percentage of cattle in the national herd, no fertlisers or pesticides, a human population of 2.5m and, yes, you can have your unfettered access to waterways for your stock.

I wonder though if there is a small percentage of the farms combined with town effluent that is causing half the problem? Are we really getting to the bottom of the problem or are we spending millions of dollars in the wrong areas? I don't understand how the governments idea of creating wetlands will improve water quality? Please excuse my ignorance, but wouldn't these areas just fill up with thousands of birds defecating in the water?

Can't help you with some of your questions but I can describe how community (council) sewer schemes are supposed to work.
All sewer schemes need a resource consent from the regional council. So strict conditions are placed on the quality of water discharged from a sewer scheme (or stormwater for that matter). How many (most) councils purify their wastewater is basically by passing it through an artificial wetland. The raw sewage spends some time in open shallow water where s**t-eating bacteria deal to the pathogenic bacteria that are our major public health worry. The water is shallow because UV light is also a powerful sanitiser.
The second stage is a leisurely holiday in a genuine wetland planted out with all the rushes, sedges and flaxes you would find in a natural wetland. These plants are particularly good at filtering out any heavy metals that remain and "polishing" the water to a near pure state.
The water that exits the wetland is discharged to sea or an inland waterway.
So it's inconceivable that in your example below that a town would be allowed to discharge raw sewage onto any paddocks. In your example there is almost certainly a treatment stage first. In fact it sounds like a bigger version of the active sewage systems that operate on tens of thousands of rural properties already.
The idea of creating wetlands to purify inland waterways is not entirely stupid. We are only just waking up to the fact that wetlands are incredibly valuable ecologically and that we have destroyed over 95% of the natural wetlands in NZ. So money thrown at restoration projects would be a good idea but I would hate to rely on it as the only strategy for cleaning up our streams and rivers.

As Fonterra Suppliers we are now expected to retain documentation of off farm sourced feed stock, and that it should state on the offical paperwork (contract or invoice) that the feed "is suitable for feed to livestock involved in human food indsustry."

On asking the Quality Inspector during his visit:

It turns out that some councils have taken to leasing or buying nearby drystock farms and spraying the pond waste to pasture, and using that to grow feed for hay or silage.  Contractors later harvest and sell the hay and silage for profit/offset.

But many of Fonterra's customers have their own government restrictions saying that human waste may not be applied to pasture/feed that is destined for human food.  I believe MPI have similar.

By buying feed without that declaration then one can end up with council-polluted stock feed and be in deep trouble.    As far as I can tell the councils are not controlling the sales, and it's not so much a disreputable contractor selling bad product, is that it is a contractor or farmer innocently (or without due dilligence) purchasing the contaminated feed, and then reselling it on (either innocently or deliberately).

Point is not all councils follow your desciption.

Indeed our local council got prosecuted because their primary ponds were actually in the flood plains of a river.... It took a bad flood, but they had several very bad floods in successive years, when the news broke.  I was working with power board at time, so we had to investigate the transformer placement (the flood removed soil from around the pole, and transformer for pumps fell into flood waters.)    they would have misplaced more town waste then than farmers would lose in 10 years.

All good points, cowboy.
I should have been a little clearer that the discharge to land is instead of passing through the second stage of treatment. The wastewater is not pure, as you rightly point out, but its not raw sewage either.
I did say "supposed to work" for a reason. Obviously there are historical schemes that might not get consented today still in operation. Or schemes where the regional and district councils are taking a bit of a gamble that certain extreme events won't occur.

Thanks for that ,some interesting stuff here.

Similar to some of the landbased farming - it's not effluent so much as filtered water high in nitrates causing problems*.

Much of the fuss is being stirred up by ignorant people, and much by opposition interests trying to discredit New Zealands products.

Fortunately modern farmers are very excited about their farms and management styles, and given the resources and correct information love to make their wee patch awesome.  Indeed some additions like the 60 day storage pond have made my life so much easier.  (no spreader or rain or pipes issues on weekends any more - flick all effluent to pond and walk away for weekend.  didn't used to be a month go by without a sump/pump/pipe/spreader weekend emergency.  Now I can put on relief milker and pass out.  It's not perfect but it's _so_ much better than previous years.)

I hope that soon it will be worth capturing some of those town nutrients, because with nutrients going off farms into urban areas, sooner or later the nutrients that the urban centers are finished with really need to put back into the cycle properly.

* although for many farms, just getting over the effluent hurdle is a big task.

However if you do that you will have a weed infestation problem

I know of a town efflent scheme, where they are going to pump the town waste water onto paddocks right beside a river that floods often. The paddocks are river silt ( prone to leaching). the paddocks themslves go under water regularly, in a small flood. The scheme will cost the town rate payers probably $10,000,000. Will this scheme achieve anything? 

where i live, the nearby farms (mostly long established dairy), have had their rivers fenced off from stock for probably 50 years. It was done to establish willows and plantings to protect against river erosion and flooding. This river is not considered to have a problem with nitrates. This river is also fast flowing. One of the other rivers in our area is slower flowing, has not had so many problems with flood erosion therefore has newer plantings and newly developed dairy farms, and does have problems with nitrates.

tim, it would be interesting to know what effect the plantings have really had, (the fencing off would definitely help) or whether it is because of the fast flow that the river near you is unaffected.  Where there is fast and plentiful flow with short runs to sea (e.g. Taranaki and Westland) water quality isn't as affected as where the waterway is slow and low flow.
It is also prudent to be aware that wetlands as they mature release phosphates due to the decaying matter within the wetland.  In their establishment stage some nutrients can inititally increase before settling back.  The results show that constructed wetlands comprising ∼1% of catchment area can markedly reduce N export via pastoral drainage, but may be net sources of NH4-N, DRP and TP during establishment. Performance of the wetland appeared to be affected by both establishment/maturation factors and year-to-year climatic variations.
Science is showing planting of crops especially those like fodder beet, swedes etc is a cause of increases in nitrogen leaching, so in some catchments it may be a case of looking to other feed types.  Again, in our catchment, some farmers that used to plant these types of crops have been switching to grass and balage only for winter feed and have been pleased with the results.  However Southland has had three relatively mild winters so it will be interesting to see what happens in the so called 'usual' Southland winter.  The crop choice issue affects all farming types not just dairy.  
In our catchment, the lower part is phosphate limited so in the long term wetlands in the lower catchment, will only add to that.  In the upper catchment where its nitrogen limited, they will be more succesful at contributing to water quality.  Improving water quality has to be done on a catchment basis.  

I guess what i'm trying to say above is that 40 years ago when i was a kid i don't really remember that slow flowing river being very clean.

Many years ago I spent a night in a hotel in the Scottish Highlands. I ran a bath and the water - presumably straight from the local peat bog - was black. It still worked as bathwater and I probably drank it from the tap with no ill effec.t
We can get a bit squeamish about turbidity but ti doesn't mean the water is a health hazard.

Agree Kumbel - the 'look' of water is what some people judge water quality by.  I am often amused when people refer to 'pristine' water in our National Parks.  That 'clear' water can contain all sorts of thing - including giardia, but to the non informed, it's pristine. ;-)
Fonterra has a turbidity standard for water used for plant/vat washdown.  If you don't meet it and are put on water management (which is what happens for not meeting the standard) they charge you a penalty each month until your water meets standard.