Farmer Engagement in Policy Making
Federated Farmers encourages farmers to be proactive in environmental policy changes
In the very near future, regulations around the environment and farming activities are not going to be confined to those operating in the dairy sector. Sheep and beef farmers are also going to be required to plan for, and adapt to, increased environmental regulation. A number of organisations, including Federated Farmers of New Zealand and RabobankNZ are promoting farmer engagement in this area.
Federated Farmers of New Zealand has 14,000 members, 80 employees, 100 elected officials and an annual budget of $10 million. The organisation has recently been through a “Strategic Refresh”, conducting an in-depth analysis of how it can improve engagement with its members, strengthen its involvment in the provinces, operate more effectively as an organisation and promote greater farmer involvement.
Rabobank NZ has long had an interest in New Zealand agribusiness and the challenges facing farmers who operate within it. Rabobank employs Blake Holgate in the role of Rural Manager of Sustainable Farm Systems. He has written a report; “The Other Side of Environmental Regulations – What it means for New Zealand Sheep and Beef farmers”.
One of the key outcomes of the work and research behind the Strategic Refresh for Federated Farmers was that stakeholders wanted the organisation to become more involved in identifying and contributing to solving issues affecting the primary sector.
This brought about a decision to focus on three areas, the first of these being “Policy and the Environment”. An already-strong policy group (numbering around 28 people) at Federated Farmers engage on a regular basis with local bodies, leading discussions on policy formation.
The focus around policy and the environment echoes advice that has been included in a Rabobank report published in October 2015, on environmental regulations and how that will affect New Zealand sheep and beef farmers”.
Rabobank’s report for the sheep and beef sector identifies the challenge for all farmers in this area to increase their environmental sustainability, while remaining productive and profitable. While wholesale farm system changes are unlikely (except in some challenging landscapes) environmental compliance costs are likely to increase.
The Rabobank report suggests sheep and beef farmers across New Zealand should expect to face rules that require them to employ industry good practice to minimise soil loss from erosion, contaminant organisms such as E Coli, P and other nutrient losses, as well as excluding stock from waterways.
Rabobank warns that sheep and beef farmers need to be cautious of Nitrogen allocation frameworks preventing them from intensifying or changing their operation if required. It argues instead promotion by farmers of allocation frameworks that are fair to all landusers, and that allow for maximum flexibility of land uses in the future.
It is noted that further investment in research and development will be critical to ensure farmers have the tools and knowledge necessary to achieve these raised environmental standards (along with increased productivity and profitability).
Extension programmes will also play an essential role in making new knowledge easily picked up and implemented consistently by farmers and their employees. There are already some well developed programmes for farmers, such as B+LNZ’s Land and Environment Planning Toolkit (http://www.beeflambnz.com/farm/environment/land-and-environment-planning-toolkit/) that walk farmers through the steps required to adequately plan for and manage environment issues on individual farms.
Other resources are available such as help from organisations like the Landcare Trust, and other volunteer groups who are happy to provide or co-ordinate help with planting riparian margins, etc.
The key messages for sheep and beef farmers are:
1) To understand the environmental risk
2) To look at mitigation options, and
3) To implement the most cost effective option(s) in a well-planned approach.
There are many field days and seminars being run around the country, to help in this area, but Blake Holgate suggests that many farmers do not yet truly appreciate the risk to their businesses of not being proactive. There are many farmers who are so embroiled in the day-to-day running of their farms, they don’t see environmental issues as a high priority. However, he says this has become a core function of farming today.
Finally, the report suggests that co-ordinated farmer, industry and government action will be key to a successful outcome. To a large extent, this is where Federated Farmers of New Zealand will play a critical role.
Graham Smith unveiled the Strategic Refresh of Federated Farmers in Timaru in May 2015. Wide-ranging consultation throughout the primary sector over 8 months had highlighted the expectation that the organisation would lead on policy formation and representation. Mr Smith said there were three themes of focus for the organisation on: primary sector representation; better communiction and services; and a stronger network of provincial activities.
Federated Farmers New Zealand’s 28-member policy team will be working with local and regional councils on plans and submissions. The priority areas for the federation are water and climate change, health and safety, and science and innovation. A national water team is planned, looking at quality, quantity and nutrient loadings.