Not just, ‘we’ve got to make the good outweigh the bad’.
I mean: why should dairy farming exist here?
We know the standard facts and figures about how many people dairy farmers employ.
You can look that up on DairyNZ’s website, and they’ll tell you all about how many other benefits that dairy farming brings.
We also know the amount of water required to make a litre of milk.
We now also know that this water volume used will never be taxed, ever.
And we can talk about the amount of excrement per litre of milk into our rivers as well.
But let’s get more fundamental than that.
Other than being legislatively required to do so, Fonterra does not need New Zealand dairy farmers. Fonterra could roam the world sourcing its milk pools at will for its products, and increasingly that’s what it does. It is quite possible that the upcoming dairy legislative review will finally cut Fonterra’s requirement to take every drop that NZ dairy farmers provide. Non-shareholder farmers would be just another stock unit to Fonterra itself. Fonterra doesn’t need NZ dairy farmers.
Historically, dairy farming destroyed much of the native forests of the North Island. Turned their ash into pasture. I’m not asking them to apologize about that, but that destruction is only three generations ago.
In return for that wholesale slaughter of native birds and trees, going extinct fast as a result, the dairy farmers returned for New Zealand a century of cheap, bulky, low-value products generating low returns, low research, poor careers, and forming very few globally strong brands. There’s no Gruyere or Parmesan equivalents from here conquering the delicatessens of the world. We remain, beyond the spin, a slightly more sophisticated bulk ingredient supplier generating much the same stuff as dairy farmers did a century ago. We have been held back by dairy farmers.
Granted, dairy farmers are some of the hardest working people in the country, within a country renowned for low rewards and very very hard working people. They’re the backbone of the country, and what a wonderfully stiff backbone it is too.
Interestingly, even naming and shaming the culprits at the source of the outbreak hasn’t stopped the talkback discussions about what we are being required to spend taxpayer subsidy saving.
Remember those Morrinsville farmers who protested against our ‘communist’ Prime Minister? Those are the guys we are feeding our taxpayer dollars towards right now.
This country owes dairy farmers as much subsidy as it did to South Canterbury Finance, Minnie Cooper Shoes, or any other private business in New Zealand: nil. Dairy farmers usually proudly say that they never take subsidy from the government. It’s never been true. Dairy farmers have cost us this country.
MFAT, the Ministry for Fonterra And Trade, pretend so hard that they aren’t a branch office of dairy farmers largely to ensure they aren’t obviously breaking any WTO rules. Three decades working on dairy farmers’ behalf in trade deals have on balance achieved sweet fuck all. The entire world will never, ever loosen their protections against our dairy farmers. We’ll always be the only country in the world who will ever have an unsubsidized dairy industry, making New Zealand dairy farming the global definition of a useless virtue.
On the balance of damage and cost to our global reputation and to our country, we would make more money turning every dairy hectare back to Manuka and collecting honey. If every dairy farmer gave up tomorrow and farmed pretty much anything else except coarse wool, by export returns, pollution, indirect subsidy, job richness, and global food reputation, we would all be better off than we are now.
Yes, everyone in the world needs food. Even apples can be damaging.
More broadly, agriculture is one of the worst polluting industries on the planet, though it could be such a life-affirming power of good for the earth.
Here, we now know that dairy farming is the most destructive and wasteful industry that we have ever produced. Even gold mining largely confined its toxic waste dumps to just a handful of dammed sites.
No amount of greenwash advertising about the glories of dairy farming will get them out of this.
Because of this outbreak, our exporters are about to face a brown wave of negative stories about our food manufacturing and food security practices, as if we haven’t had enough of those in the last decade.
They are the fault of dairy farmers, but it won’t be our dairy farmers fronting the responses that seek to salvage our reputation. It will be our government and its departments that will have to respond with massive media spends and political capital spends.
This is by a long long way our worst ever farming disease outbreak. It has been caused by dairy farmers.
Maybe this outbreak is the tipping point where New Zealanders start to ask whether the entire enterprise of dairy farming is understood as destructive to New Zealand; has been for years and continues to be so; that dairy farming has made this country sick; and that as a result dairy farming is not worth it.