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The image of farming

Written By: - Date published: 10:10 am, January 25th, 2015 - 98 comments
Categories: Conservation, farming - Tags: ,

Update: Rachel on Twitter and Martyn Bradbury on TDB have accused me of defending farmers’ rape threats and similar. I was not aware of any such threats, and certainly would not defend them under any circumstances. That was never the intention of the post, as I hope is clear to other readers.


Update2: Bradbury has updated his post at TDB and repeated the allegation that this post (original is below the line) is a defence of rape threats against Rachel Stewart. It is not: (1) I wasn’t even aware of the threats so I could hardly defend them, and (2) I condemn such threats utterly, as would any decent person. Bradbury is on some hate-fueled campaign against “The Standard”, but “The Standard” didn’t write this post, I did, my name is at the top. I find Bradbury’s repeated lies about me deeply and personally offensive. He has lost his way.


Rachel Stewart this morning:


From the piece mentioned:

Farmers not exempt from country’s laws

There are a few tell-tale signs leading me to the conclusion that dairy farmers are very close to the brink.

What brink is that, you ask? It’s the brink of being totally “out and proud” about unashamedly asking Kiwis to subsidise them even more than we’re already doing. What subsidy is that, you ask? That’d be the one where public water resources are turned into private wealth generators via irrigation schemes, in such dairy-unfriendly land use environs as Canterbury. That’d also be the other massive subsidy where taxpayers and ratepayers are already on the hook for all manner of mitigation and cleanup programmes for degraded water quality. In fact, the true cost of even attempting to repair the damage to our rivers from dairying has only just begun. Yet, it seems the cockies want more.

Over the summer slow news period I have noticed a rather disturbing trend. It’s subtle, considering the general un-subtleness of farmers when engaged in their default whine position, but it’s there. …

And so on in a similar vein.

Berating farmers seems entirely unhelpful. They are in the front lines of the fight between economic and environmental imperatives, especially so here in NZ. There lives are only going to get more difficult – much more difficult – as climate change kicks in.

Yes, it’s a mystery to me, given that farming is so completely dependent on the environment, that farmers are not at the forefront of the environmental movement. Instead far too many of them refuse to follow best practice and fight against environment laws. The mindless campaign against the “fart tax” was a particular low, and symptomatic of all that is wrong with farming.

But there are exceptions. And the worst of farming is no worse than the worst of the rest of us – trying to make money, not taking the action that is needed to protect the future. It’s just that farmers are much more visible than the rest of us because of the large scale of their activities. In short, farmers are copping stick for doing what the rest of us are doing. We all need to change, not just them.

So while I think Stewart’s points are mostly valid, I don’t think the tone of the piece is helpful. Attack anyone and you get an angry, defensive response. Farming needs to change, and constructive engagement is the way to do it. Just as Nixon could go to China, it’s the National government’s role to lead this process (because sure enough if Labour try we’ll have tractors on the steps of Parliament again). Where are the so called “blue-greens” when you need them?


Hey Anthony, I fixed up the typo. Couldn’t cope with it 😉 [Bill]
Thanks for that Bill…

98 comments on “The image of farming ”

  1. Pete George 1

    Attack anyone and you get an angry, defensive response.

    Not necessarily but attacking rarely results in making progress.

    Farming needs to change, and constructive engagement is the way to do it.

    That applies to just about everything, not just farming.

    Yes, it’s a mystery to me, given that farming is so completely dependent on the environment, that farmers are not at the forefront of the environmental movement.
    What’s actually happening shouldn’t be a mystery.

    They mightn’t be at the forefront but they are aware of and working towards better environmental practices. Fonterra won’t take milk from farmers who don’t meet environmental standards.

    Effluent Management
    Every dairy farm is required to have effluent systems and management practices capable of 365-day compliance with regional council regulations. Farms are assessed each year during the annual Farm Dairy and Environmental Assessment to ensure they meet these standards. If required, Environmental Improvement Plans are agreed with farmers to ensure resolution of the issues identified and to future-proof systems as appropriate.
    The season-end numbers show a 23 percent reduction in effluent issues referred from on-farm Farm Dairy and Environmental Assessments. A total of 3,915 cases have been resolved for the programme to date (since August 2010), of which 1,516 were closed in the past financial year.

    Nitrogen Management
    Efficient nitrogen use can help reduce the risk of nutrient loss to surface and ground water. The Nitrogen Management Programme aims to let farmers know where their farm sits relative to peers for nitrogen conversion efficiency and nitrogen leaching loss risk. This year farmers who provided nitrogen records will receive a report showing their farm’s performance on these metrics

    Waterway Management
    Fonterra requires permanent exclusion of all stock from waterways on farms by 1 December 2013. A waterway is defined as a river, stream, drain, canal, lake or wetland that permanently contains water and is, at any time of the year, more than a meter wide and 30 centimeters deep. Using mapping technology, farms and waterways are mapped during the annual Farm Dairy and Environmental Assessment to ensure we can measure progress.

    Water Use Management
    The Water Use programme is a new programme that aims to promote water use measuring and monitoring to drive on-farm water use efficiency. As part of industry commitments (as outlined under the SDWA), Fonterra farmers will install water meters to help manage and protect this valuable resource.


    Some may not think it’s happening quickly enough but it’s improving and will continue to improve.

    Slagging all farmers off when most want to farm responsibly won’t achieve anything but acrimony.

    • millsy 1.1

      Farmers need to be shamed into pulling their finger out.

      Fouling the environment should be a crime against humanity, and those who facilitate it should really be dragged before the Hague.

      • Draco T Bastard 1.1.1


      • Poission 1.1.2

        Fouling the environment should be a crime against humanity, and those who facilitate it should really be dragged before the Hague.

        Indeed stop pissing in our rivers.


        • phillip ure

          can i suggest that a reality-check on the history of farming/federated farmers vs. the environment..

          .is in that excellent doco from alister barry that screened the other week..

          ..in it you see the historical-footage of the environmental-villains..business/fed-farmers..gloating at their successes at rolling back/defeating any attempts to protect the environment from their predations..

          ..and no..not all farmers are the same..

          ..but that history..and their current subsidies/cawing for more..

          ..cannot be ignored when evaluating farming/farmers in toto..

          ..(and of course..they are also facing serious viability-of-industry disruption..on top of this ever-increasing international/local pressure to drop those subsidies to them..

          ..as just a starting-point..

          ..but i have banged on about that elsewhere..)

        • Richard Christie

          Indeed stop pissing in our rivers.

          Nah, rather be very wary of political press releases and newspaper articles that purport to analyse scientific research.

          Especially when no link or direct reference to the paper concerned is apparent. only quotes of those talking about it.

          These days the standard of science journalism is appallingly bad and political press releases are, … well, they are political press releases.

          All too often the scientific paper does not conclude what is reported.
          This press release is redolent of just that.

          Where science is concerned, always strive to seek out the primary sources.

      • Tom 1.1.3

        I agree 100%. I live in a rural area where most of the farmers I run into have a caviler attitude and feel its there Right to wealth and status regardless of the environmental cost not to mention the ‘slight of hand’ done for the land freehold a 150 years ago. Then factor in the animal cruelty and you have a melting pot of Greed-O-Nomics pinned on the back of a ‘God save the queen’ mindset. Time for change……!!!!

    • joe90 1.2

      Fonterra won’t take milk from farmers who don’t meet environmental standards.

      Don’t meet the standards – Open Country won’t mind.

      • Naki man 1.2.1

        “Fonterra won’t take milk from farmers who don’t meet environmental standards.

        Don’t meet the standards – Open Country won’t mind”

        You are probably right, also sheep and beef farmers are not required to fence their waterways.

        • b waghorn

          I think it is time dry stock farmers fenced cattle out of rivers were practical, I don’t have to go far in a kayak to see cattle in the whanganui around Taumarunui .
          It needs to be done with common sense though because of the nature of the land we farm on.

          • Draco T Bastard

            As I understand it, NZ is the only Western country that still allows stock free access to rivers. All the rest have strict regulations about it. And it needs to be all farm stock kept out of our rivers and not just some.

            • b waghorn

              Like this article touches on its all in the delivery if you come out from on high rant and raving you won’t get far .
              Why not start with the main rivers in a time frame that’s affordable and achievable and work you way into the hills from there.

              • Draco T Bastard

                Read that a few times now and it still fails to make any sense. Obviously when a law is passed requiring the fencing of all rivers and water ways to keep stock out of them there would also be a time frame for that fencing to be done.

                • b waghorn

                  Just thought I’d put it there as I recall you once recommending stopping farming in Canterbury and planting trees for fine furniture so I’m not sure you’re that logical.

    • Rosemary McDonald 1.3

      “They mightn’t be at the forefront but they are aware of and working towards better environmental practices.”

      Oh, Pete, mate.


      Responding to your comment is distracting me from my actual job today, which is to write a letter to the editor of our local (semi rural) paper in response to a half page advertisement for a helicopter spraying company offering a great deal on fungicide spraying for facial eczema prevention.

      Waikato here. Read dairy farming.

      The fact that the fungicide in question has been effectively banned in the US and Canada, heavily restricted in the EU and the Australian Government has also withdrawn or severely restricted its use seems to carry no weight here, in Godzone.

      The fungicide is called carbendazim. The Aussies demand that the Label reads

      “‘Contains carbendazim which causes birth defects and (irreversible) male infertility in laboratory animals. Avoid contact with carbendazim.’

      The Aussie document talks about various application methods…but not aerial application. Could it be that our trans Tasman cousins are not so reckless to load this shit into helicopters and spray it with little to no controls?

      The Waikato Regional Council has an extraordinarily permissive stance with agrichemical use., refusing to place limits on how close to a neighbour’s property the helicopter can spray. Right up to a neighbour’s boundary is fine.

      The Bay Of Plenty Regional Council is a little bit more proscriptive….

      Distance (metres) from sensitive areas….Aerial application…with adequate shelter belt…100m, without adequate shelter belt, 300m.

      So, in a region of the country where dairy is king…just about anything goes.

      N.B. Various zinc products, as well as good pasture management are by far superior methods for facial eczema control. The cost of the zinc products has increased as peripherals in the dairy industry claim a lager share of the milk cheque. The cost of carbendazim has understandably decreased as, well, not many other countries want a bar of it. Carbendazim’s mode of action is such that resistance develops quickly. Using more, or higher concentrations, is only going to increase the risk to those who will inevitably be victims of off target application.

      Thanks, Pete. Helped to get myself sorted….of to works I go…

      • Saarbo 1.3.1

        Interesting!…a lot of this is being spread around our region currently.

        • Rosemary McDonald

          Which region Saarbo? Be advised that carbendazim is a systemic fungicide. Any crop sprayed (either intentionally or otherwise) must NOT be harvested inside the listed (on the product label or MSDS) witholding period. It won’t wash off. The EU managed an effective ban on carbendazim for apples and pears by lowering the Maximum Residue Limit to a level that growers would be unable to achieve. Carbendazim residues had been found in processed baby food.

          Carbendazim is a known mutagen. It targets rapidly dividing cells and has been proven to cause damage to human lymphocytes in concentrations much, much lower than the application rate.

          Very scary shit.

      • Murray Rawshark 1.3.2

        The miners run Oz. They get whatever they want. Dairy and bankstering run Aotearoa, and they get whatever they want.

    • Chooky 1.4

      +100 good points Pete George

      ..actually the water conservation initiative needs to come from central government …i think we could take a few lessons from France here….from what I understand areas/regions have govt controls on what agriculture/viticulture/ horticulture is most most suited and sustainable to particular regions

      R&D needs to be given to farmers within the specified regions as to what farming/crops/seeds are best for that area and finance and marketing initiatives need to be allocated and spearheaded accordingly

      ….dairying in unsuitable , unsustainable areas which despoils the environment and trashes waterways and rivers for the economics of the tourist industry and other NZers quality of living and recreation is crazy!!!

      • One Anonymous Bloke 1.4.1

        I particularly like the part where the beige parrot tells lies, pretending that “all farmers” are being slagged off.

        Or where he decries attack politics when he’s up to his neck in shit on Open Mike.

        No wait, those are just examples of the beige parrot’s rank deceitful hypocrisy. Still, you can fool some of the people all of the time.

    • David Haynes 1.5

      Fonterra are legally obliged to collect all milk from their co-operative members, only in exceptional cases will they refuse to pay for it. Throughout years of RMA breaches and right up to the conviction on non-compliance of Marlborough dairy farmer Phillip Woolley Fonterra continued to collect and pay for his milk.

      Corporate mega-dairy, often overseas owned, has little respect for the environment, why else would they continue to saturate the soil with excess urea and superphosphates and irrigate during the height of the day when the majority of water evaporates…answer, because the cost of water and environmental damage is paid by the tax payer.

    • Andrea 1.6

      Do any farmers, particularly in marginal areas, use Yeomans’ Keyline system for water harvesting?

      And, can we please make some remedial moves on stopping the import of palm kernel products? It might mean temporary income for countries such as Indonesia, yet it’s a death knell for valuable and protective forests. Can we no longer grow enough affordable emergency feed for stock in this country? Or breed better varieties of durable forage such as lucerne?

      Seems we’re shifting our legitimate costs of farming off shore to poorer countries.

  2. ghostwhowalksnz 2

    Pleeeease pete!!!!

    Not that old “Fonterra wont take milk if they dont meet the highest environmental standards” nonsense.

    In the Ruataniwha dam hearings it was established that those provisions have NEVER been applied. And there have been many of the worst of the worst dairy farmers prosecuted over the years, and Fonterra just sent their tankers to pick up every day.

    Dairying is a business for most – but not all- and when times are hard they will cut corners to make money. The day of reckoning is a long way away when the wolf in bankers clothing is at the door now.

    Youre a smart guy , to pedal this nonsense is un- beliveable!

  3. Ergo Robertina 3

    ‘Attack anyone and you get an angry, defensive response. Farming needs to change, and constructive engagement is the way to do it.’

    No, while I also disliked the tone of Ms Stewart’s piece, there’s a place for anger in journalism and editorial comment. It seems odd you take issue with that, given you think it’s legitimate for angry comment to generate an ”angry defensive response”.
    The free speech issue has been high profile after Charlie Hebdo, with everyone from the Pope to reactionary liberals expressing the view violent retaliation is an acceptable response to criticism. And there was violence implied in the note to the writer.
    My own view is that NZ was unprepared for the wave of debt that inflated the sector and pushed people to unwise actions to pursue unrealistic returns. I blame the banks, the Government, Federated Farmers.
    I grew up on a farm, and some practices were not good for the environment, but the difference was you had no choice but to accept limits imposed by the environment. Plus just about everything was recycled, and you walked everywhere you could rather than take a vehicle.
    I recently visited our old farm, a dairy conversion; it was lush and green, a surreal sight, given that land was dry and brown every summer, let alone in a drought year. It’s scary.

  4. so basically you’re saying the arguments are mostly valid, but she should have been nicer about it.

    i’ll assume you don’t know that the writer has been threatened with rape & death

    because the alternative assumption is pretty horrible – deliberately omitting this information while criticising the journalist’s tone makes it almost seem as though you are inviting us to excuse this despicable conduct.

    • greywarshark 4.1

      @ small-rorquer
      Who is this ‘you’ you are directing your attention to? It would be good to know. Is it Pete George? Please advise. Other people read the threads besides the writers so it is good if you can be clear what comment you are referring to.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 4.1.1

        Pretty obvious the criticism is directed at R0b’s remarks, not the beige parrot.

        • small-torquer

          that’s correct.

          • Once wasTim

            ….. I have to agree with your stance. It’s a shame many haven’t yet recognised that a lot of the ills in the world have often been inflicted on populations by ‘thoroughly nice’ people. (Those deemed charismatic for example – such as our Proim Munster; the austerity and the results we see in Greece – a quarter of the people unemployed with youth unemployment at half …… they were thoroughly “NICE’ people). I recommend watching the latest BBC world debate from Davos – there’s some thoroughly ‘Nice’ people on the panel – some even telling us all how we should just pull our socks up.
            I think I should stock up on some cheep and nasty Chardonnay to give away as this year’s Xmas presents. I have to wonder how far and wide around NZ the author of this piece has travelled – I’ve no doubt intentions are great and well-intentioned. I think we should recognise however that there are many in the world, and increasingly in NZ who are ENTITLED to be thoroughly pissed off.
            …… Oh btw – Jim Mora, Guyon Espiner, Susie, Matthew et al are ‘thoroughly nice’ people too – they’re just full of shit

            • Once wasTim

              ….. in short, I think its about time parties of the “left” were a lot ‘NICER’ towards the people they purport to represent. They won’t gain traction until they do – but then there’s a tiny wee exercise going on in Greece that might give them an indication that all is, and has not been well with namby pamby weak as gnats piss throw-a-carrot-or-two hand-wringing ‘leftists’. (Wasn’t that long ago they were ‘centrist’ – well half a lifetime ago anyway)
              …….creeping fascism anyone? ….. it’s a fine line when thoroughly nice totalitarians come to power.
              At least Fletch has gone – a step too far…. a good result for his ‘family reasons’ and for the rest of us

    • Ergo Robertina 4.2

      Well said.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 4.3

      Death threats in pursuit of political aims are terrorism, aren’t they? Silly me, not when it’s National Party owners making them. Has anyone been arrested over the National Party swamp kauri bleach attack yet?

      • Murray Rawshark 4.3.1

        It was pretty obvious that the lefty hand wringing council bureaucrat attacked himself to bring Oravida into disrepute. Probably a bit like Tania arranging a home invasion on behalf of the Greens. Please stop spreading your nasty Marxist lies.

    • Murray Rawshark 4.4

      I agree. We should not blame the writer for the response she has had. She was hardly offensive in what she wrote.

    • I have to agree with this comment. Criticising Stewart’s “tone” (as though there’s any way to criticise farming in NZ without having people call for your head) is petty and feeds into a lot of boring old sexist tropes about how women are allowed to express their opinions.

      Besides, not much social progress was ever achieved by politely asking the powerful to be a bit nicer.

      • Sirenia 4.5.1

        I agree with Stephanie. Rachel is very brave speaking out against such a powerful lobby group and has had some very nasty feedback, not just for this column but also for her regular columns on environmental issues.

  5. Draco T Bastard 5

    Farming needs to change, and constructive engagement is the way to do it.

    We tried that, it didn’t work.

    The 5th Labour government was going to regulate their actions and to restrain their ability to pollute but they said that they would clean up their act and that they didn’t need regulating. Nearly 15 years later and our waterways are still getting worse due to the farmers.

    If they don’t like the image that they have nor the stick that they’re getting for it then they only have themselves to blame. They should have cleaned up their act when they said they would.

    • Colonial Rawshark 5.1

      Labour could easily have constrained levels of farm debt – hence the drive to convert unsuitable land to dairy farms – but that would have hurt the “economic growth” that they were after.

      • Molly 5.1.1

        Interesting blog article from 2009 (after the crash) about Amish farming – and their resilience to highs and lows.

        “At the time when the national banking fraternity was on its knees in Washington, begging for money, news all over the media reported that Hometown Heritage bank in Lancaster County, Pa., was having its best year ever. Hometown Heritage may be the only bank in the world, surely one of the few, that has drive-by window service designed to accommodate horses and buggies. Some 95% of the bank’s customers are Amish farmers. The banker, Bill O’Brien, says that he has not lost a penny on them in 20 years. They obviously don’t have auto loans to pay off and do not use credit cards. They might not need bank loans at all except to buy farmland, which especially in Lancaster County, has risen almost insanely in price. O’Brien says he is doing about a hundred million dollars worth of business in farm loans. To further make the point, an obscure law does not allow banks to bundle and sell mortgages on farms and homes that are not serviced by public electric utilities.

        There is plenty in this situation for economists to contemplate, but what struck me the most was the fact that these farmers are buying farm land that can cost them ten thousand dollars per acre or sometimes more, and paying for it with horse farming. And because of their religion, the Amish do not accept farm subsidies that keep many “modern” farms “profitable.” “

        Traditional farmers probably had similar connection and investment in the long-term health of the land, and aversion to unnecessary debt. But it would have been hard to avoid the change to high-tech and high-debt that has happened over the last few decades.

        Would be interesting to see if many Amish mortgages are defaulted, and I’m guessing employment in those communities are close to 100%.

        • Colonial Rawshark

          I suspect the Amish run large parallel systems of alternative economy for which dollar transactions are not necessary. This communitarian approach is what we have to start focussing on in NZ. Very interesting that they can afford to buy farm land at top prices though, and are willing to go into debt to do so.

          • phillip ure

            “.. large parallel systems of alternative economy for which dollar transactions are not necessary..”

            these have built up over last five yrs in greece..

            ..from medical to dental to all professions/needs..

            (and really..that they have done this in greece..just shows how shit the left (with some exceptions) is here..

            ..in actually organising practical-help for those they purport to represent..

            ..most of the ‘left’ just retire to academia/teaching etc..between elections..and are actually well-removed from the day-to-day suffering of the poor..)

            ..and the (expected) incoming far-left govt in greece..

            ..has promised to swing in behind these de-facto organisations..

            ..i tell ya..!..greece is gonna get really exciting..

            ..and those here..including farmers/farming..who just think we here will be sleepwalking to 2017..are wrong..

            ..i don’t think that is going to be the case..

            ..international seachanges/quakes will drive politics here..

            ..and for farmers/farming..they are in total denial if they don’t recognise that international/consumer-pressures will see their polluting-subsidies ripped away..and more and more pressure to farm ‘clean’..

            (..as they should be..)

            ..and this will drive many of them into the arms/not-so-gentle minstrations of the bankers..

            ..if history repeats..it it the bankers and the stock and station agents who will ‘clean up’..

            ..they were the big-winners in the great depression..

            ..i can’t see why that won’t happen again..

            ..the most-leveraged picked off first..

          • Molly

            There was some terrible reality TV programme that I saw online (perhaps Youtube), where “Englisher” teenagers lived in Amish communities and this was reciprocated by having Amish teenagers living in a mainstream modern household.

            The part of the one episode I did watch, was the trip to the mall for the young Amish woman that was intended to show her all that she was missing. She lasted for about five minutes and then left to wait in the carpark. “Too much stuff in there, why would you need it?”.

            That response could have been easily predicted, but it was the expression on the face of the mother, who seemed to have had a small but important epiphany. Instead of trying to resurrect the failed consumer outing, they all returned to the car and headed home – to do something other than shopping.

            • Descendant Of Sssmith

              Aye there was a similar incident when some men from Papua New Guinea were taken to England to try and visit their Queen.

              They were taken to a mall to buy clothing and those making the documentary were surprised at the care with what they selected and the few items.

              They only bought what was useful and needed despite being able to buy much, much more if they wanted.

      • Chooky 5.1.2

        +100 CR

      • Andrea 5.1.3

        And some enterprising blokes would have become a consortium to get past the rules of the game. Go back to the Dark Past of the BNZ and see how the Great and Good can helix the rules that would stop you and me in our tracks.

        Mates’ rates and the In crowd. That’s what runs this country; rules not withstanding.

  6. Bill 6

    They (farmers) are in the front lines of the fight between economic and environmental imperatives,…

    Utterly irreconcilable imperatives Rob. One set of those imperatives has to go. Make the wrong choice and both go.

    Now, farmers are hooked to the wrong imperatives. Their business, just like any other business, is the business of making money where, for them, the supplying of food is a secondary consideration – a by-product as it were.

    I agree that farmers shouldn’t be singled out on this front and that many readers of these comments, who claim concern about AGW, can stand properly accused and condemned of rank hypocrisy given their day to day money earning activities.

    • These imperatives are not always in conflict. Environmentally sustainable farming can be very profitable for the farmer. But it cuts out a number of input supply businesses (eg fixing N from the atmosphere instead of buying it in bags) and those are the guys who get govt co-funding for ag research. This mutes the market signals pushing us towards sustainable farming. It is happening though.

      • Bill 6.1.1

        If you put AGW and the need to drastically reduce CO2 emissions aside, then yes, sustainable farming in a market economy can yield returns.

        But when you put AGW back onto the table, then the simple, inescapable fact is that economic growth is wholly incompatible with reducing CO2 emissions at anything like the rate we need to be. (That comes from simply looking at reduction levels economists say is compatible with economic growth and comparing them to what the science says we must do)

        • small-torquer

          I know this is the commonly held view, but it is at least highly suspect.

          Biological farming methods can grow soil (i.e. increase humus stocks) while also throwing off plenty of saleable product. You can’t increase soil humus without also adding carbon to the soil.

          Sustainable farming is already profitable, and would be more profitable if its full contribution to climate change was recognised.

          Here’s a starter to the topic

          • Bill

            I think your missing the point. When economists say that emissions can only be reduced at (say) 5% per annum in order to protect economic growth and scientists are saying we must reduce by (say) 10% per annum, then something has to give….ie, either the market economyor the environment… or both, if we attempt to preserve the former.

          • weka

            I agree that sustainable soil science and farming is a saving grace. But even that has natural limits, and I’m not aware of anyone who’s managing without external inputs reliant on FF.

            If you are talking about farming to produce food for locals with small amounts of exports to elsewhere in NZ, and very small amounts of exports offshore, then I agree, it’s possible to make a decent living. But it would be in a steady state economy not a growth one.

            If you are talking about using biological farming to export milk powder to China, then I doubt that it can be done (financially). Plus there are still significant issues with irrigation.

  7. Saarbo 7

    I support Rachel Stewart dishing it out to farmers, 100%, quite frankly this is the type of language that many farmers will sit up and take notice of…Good stuff Rachel Stewart! She’s been involved with FF, she knows how to talk to cockies.

    and this:

    What subsidy is that, you ask? That’d be the one where public water resources are turned into private wealth generators via irrigation schemes, in such dairy-unfriendly land use environs as Canterbury

    Is spot on the mark…free water to make a fortune all while polluting New Zealanders waterways…that’s wrong, very wrong.

    • Chooky 7.1

      Saarbo +100…have to agree…but the responsibility is ultimately with good government and conservation and agriculture law making at a national level …and this we have NOT had either from Labour or National

      • Saarbo 7.1.1

        Agree Chooky. and I think what we are seeing from Anthony Robins is a realpolitik response to a very powerful lobby group, farmers stand together in strong solidarity ……but also bloody important to have the very courageous Rachel Stewart’s speaking their mind…not many brave journos out there these days.

        • Chooky

          yes and have heard that six dairy farmers have committed suicide recently
          …whether this is true or not i don’t know….but clearly the government at a national level needs to help with support for diversification …R@D and marketing is crucial….laissez faire capitalism and wrecking the environment for farming with unsustainable resources during climate change is on a hiding to no where

  8. Ad 8

    Very graceful there R0b. Spot on messaging.

    The regions have told Labour and the Greens in sharp electoral terms that their current attitude doesn’t work and is not respected. The electorate seat map shows how far apart we now are.

  9. Bill 9

    Oh well. Spilt milk and bubbles.

    “The abolition of milk quotas will result in a lower market price and a reduction of producers’ incomes. It is likely that a rise in EU exports post-quota could possibly cause a downturn in world prices and heavily impact upon an already fragile and volatile sector.”


  10. weka 10

    Berating farmers seems entirely unhelpful. They are in the front lines of the fight between economic and environmental imperatives, especially so here in NZ. There lives are only going to get more difficult – much more difficult – as climate change kicks in.

    I don’t think so. If farmers are a victim here, it’s of the system that ties them into big debt and having to sell into markets that they have little control over. Some farmers choose otherwise, they choose to farm more sustainably and to find other ways to sell their produce. Which begs the question of why most don’t. I think if that was investigated it would show that some farmers can’t (too much debt, no way out), but that many could choose differently and don’t. In the past they could be excused for not knowing the alternatives, but when their neighbours are successfully farming sustainably and being ignored, that’s willful ignorance. I think the farm advisors and the govt departments involved are hugely to blame for this as well.

    Beyond that, we aren’t into the hard CC stuff yet. The droughts we are experiencing are hugely exacerbated by land management practices. When you chop down all the trees, overgraze, and manage waterways so that water flows fast in rivers and no longer stays in the landscape, you create drought. Further, artificial fertiliser use is a chemical fertility that damages the soil microbia. When you do this for long enough, the soil degrades towards dirt, dries out and it won’t hold any additional moisture as well (hence flooding). That and ploughing (which exposes soil to air and thus drying, as well as killing off more microbes) create drought.

    We know this because all over the world there are farmers who farm biologically not chemically, and they don’t experience the same problems with drought that conventional farmers do. This is even true in NZ.

  11. Pete George 11

    We know this because all over the world there are farmers who farm biologically not chemically, and they don’t experience the same problems with drought that conventional farmers do.

    More than 13 million people are still in urgent need of food and assistance after the worst drought to hit East Africa in 60 years.


    They don’t farm biologically in East Africa?

    • One Anonymous Bloke 11.1

      Drought-resistant agriculture does not prevent drought conditions developing, you bland Psittacine.

      • weka 11.1.1

        Yeah, it kinda does. See my explanation here http://thestandard.org.nz/the-image-of-farming/#comment-956768

        Much of what we call drought is actually human-induced via unsustainable land use. Once you start farming sustainably, then you look at resiliency and whether what you are doing will survive extremes (dry, flood, wind).

        Am happy to provide some examples if there is interest. The difference between conventional farming and regenag/biological farming is significant and needs to be understood very soon beyond the niche it’s in now.

        • Pete George

          Any sort of farming would have severe difficulty in the drought conditions that are common in Central and North Otago and Canterbury.

          In many areas no irrigation would mean no sustainable farming.

          Modern farming – easy transporting of fodder and stock between regions – also makes it easier to manage most drought conditions.

          • Draco T Bastard

            In many areas no irrigation would mean no sustainable farming.

            To a large degree, needing irrigation indicates that your farming is unsustainable.

          • Chooky

            my grandparents farmed without irrigation and the farmer generations before them…they also lived frugally and within their means…what is required is more R & D and intelligent diversification with central govt support for marketing and finding markets…in many cases a little irrigation will go a long way eg to get vineyards/plants/trees started but then no more irrigation is required once they are established

          • One Anonymous Bloke

            Any sort of farming Says who? Whose opinion are you plagiarising this time?

          • weka

            Any sort of farming would have severe difficulty in the drought conditions that are common in Central and North Otago and Canterbury.

            Nope. eg here’s a five minute slide show of a project in Jordan that established food production via trees in the first four months. Jordan is one of the driest places on earth, far drier than the 3 places you name.

            Then there’s this 2,000 year old food forest in Morocco. Similar rainfall and temperatures to Alexandra which I think is the hottest (and probably driest) place in NZ.


            In many areas no irrigation would mean no sustainable farming.

            Depends on what you mean by irrigation. Central, North Otago and Canterbury are largely quite degraded landscapes, and water is certainly needed to restore them, but many of those places have sufficient rainfall and water to sustain plants and animals once the ecologies are re-established, with the drier places using small amounts of water from lakes and rivers. Low rainfall is a problem if you do the things I talk about in my original comment. It’s far less of a problem if you know how to work with natural systems. Lots of the dry places in NZ used to have wetlands and/or forest in them, but they’ve been destroyed.

            Modern farming – easy transporting of fodder and stock between regions – also makes it easier to manage most drought conditions.

            Completely dependent on fossil fuels, which creates more drought long term. See how that work? Besides, at the moment the freezing works are being overrun by farmers killing stock they can’t keep alive. Nowhere remotely close to sustainable. But then I suspect you don’t know what is being meant by sustainable farming here (hence your East Africa comment).

            • Chooky

              +100 weka ….those links are very interesting indeed!….what alternative crops/farming would you recommend for NZ’s dry areas?…would there be markets for the products/produce of this alternative farming?

              Farmers are pragmatic people. They need to see that the alternatives work and can make them a reasonable living

    • weka 11.2

      “They don’t farm biologically in East Africa?”

      I doubt they do across the board, but perhaps you could narrow it down a bit? Do you even know what I was talking about?

      If you are going to look at East Africa and why people are starving, you need to look at political and social contexts as well. But I’m guessing that there are large parts of East Africa that have been subjected to war, colonisation, enforced cash crop economies, and unsustainable land management practices. You get some dry years on top of that and you’re screwed.

      • Colonial Rawshark 11.2.1

        Many of those areas of Africa have not fully recovered from colonial and foreign intervention. Corruption amongst the leadership class is rife – and encouraged by foreign governments and corporations with deep pockets.

    • Andrea 11.3

      Not while dodging Blokes Behaving Badly and stupid ‘religious’ oubursts. No. Farming is somewhat difficult under those circumstances.

  12. Weepus beard 12

    Great piece from Rachel Stewart and the righties must agree because that is exactly the same language they use. I think she is spot on.

    Disappointed she didn’t add that farmers are some of the very worst employers in the country and even their parent body, Federated Farmers, has acknowledged their abysmal attitude and performance.

    But, that is a whole ‘nother thread, isn’t it?

  13. vto 13

    This mornings Press and the main opinion page has an article about why farmers needs alpine water storage (i.e. more dams in the east of the south island). It was penned by the organisation NZ Irrigation. (link not up yet…)

    With eyes out for lies and distortion, it came in the second paragraph where the writer claimed that we are having one of the better summers (for holiday-makers) in decades. Yes, apparently in decades. I guess that means 30-50 years…. really? I don’t think so. I think the writer has ‘exaggerated’ for his own purposes – quelle surprise…

    But quite how you could rely on anything to do with irrigation by NZ Irrigation I do not know. It is like asking Auckland developers how the RMA should be reviewed.

    • mickysavage 13.1

      Minister Amy Adams’ financial interests in irrigation are rather large …

      • vto 13.1.1

        So too are the entire National Partys given that is where much of their support base comes from…

        How can you expect a National-led government to do the right thing when their interests are aligned with irrigation to such a ridiculous extent?

        Impossible to believe anything they say

        • Jimmy

          Really, with only approx 14,000 dairy farmers in the country I dont think they have much political clout with any party.
          A large suburb in Auckland probably is more worthwhile for a vote hungry political party.
          The days of National being the farmers party is over.

          • One Anonymous Bloke

            Translation: the National Party costs so much more to buy these days, and they don’t even stay bought.

  14. vto 14

    r0b, your sentiment is commendable but that is all…..

    The problem of course is what is at stake, and by that I mean money, not the environment. It is just impossible to beat the odds when the system is so heavily stacked with guides and norms and banks and human greed (which we all suffer from I suggest) and RMA’s and regional councils ……

    Until these things are legislated appropriately and enforced then the improvements will never gain on the degradations.

    and might I repeat myself to highlight the nature of the problem – farmers have always claimed they want to leave the land better than when they got it. However, despite claiming this for generations the evidence is that each generation has worsened the land. The land is worse now than it was 20 years ago in 1995..

    and worse then than it was in 1975
    and worse then than it was in 1955
    and worse then that it was in 1925
    on it goes

    .. .. ..
    I have no problem with harsh language being employed in these circumstances. They have had generations to do what they claim rather than the opposite. Farmers know better than anyone that you reap what you sow. It is tough but that’s life.

  15. Sacha 15

    Fed Farmers say their former Whanganui Chair’s complaints are serious and should be handled by Police – http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/264459/threat-to-columnist-%27should-be-handled-by-police%27

    • weka 15.1

      They’ve changed their tune then.

      I hope someone republishes the tweets, name and shame the elected Fed Farmer officials who did this.

  16. saveNZ 16

    When people think of farmers in NZ they always think of (rich) diary farmers. Farmers running dry stock like sheep, are normally pretty poor, I think average income under $20k pa for sheep farmers.

    There are many types of farmers in this country, farming forests, horticulture, bloodstock, sheep, lifestyle farming etc.

    Most incomes from farms are very low and it is hard work, long hours and all the value is in their land. Land Rates are high and so are capital costs, there is a lot climatic disruption. If they are doing it for just farming and don’t want to sell their land and speculate with it, it is hard to make a living.

    The alternative to farmland, is that the farm land is sold and then turned into housing. Well not sure how much housing estates are better for the environment?

    My point, is that farming is not all bad and much of it good and their are different types of farmers. The government did the deal in Canterbury and it benefits just a few farmers and not all farmers agree with it.

    • Chooky 16.1

      +100…and many farmers would regard themselves as conservationists…eg QEII Trust covenants, tree planting, careful and scarce use of water etc…this is of course spoilt by others who give them a bad name

    • weka 16.2

      @saveNZ, I agree with a lot of that, and think we need to be better at differentiating different kinds of farming as well as different kinds of farmers.

      “Farmers running dry stock like sheep, are normally pretty poor, I think average income under $20k pa for sheep farmers.”

      That’s a bit misleading though. If you own a farm that pays for your housing and other living costs, then then $20K looks a bit different. Annual income needs to be understood relative to expenses.

      I’m sure there are farmers who are struggling just like everyone else, and there are plenty who are doing ok, just like everyone else. One of the issues here is that the expectations from farming seems to have shifted. How much is about making a living as opposed to making excess profit (ie accruing capital)? And what standard of living do most farmers want or expect?

    • JanM 16.3

      Tning is, it’s the rich dairy farmers that make all the noise!

  17. Michael 17

    With a bit of luck and some good management, the downturn in demand for milk products gives us the chance to put this industry on a sustainable footing. FWIW, I reckon the real villains in this are the banks and finance companies that load dairy farmers up to the eyeballs with debt (including interest rates), such that the cockies have little option but to wreck the environment in order to make the repayments.

  18. vto 18

    Today’s polemic rant from yet another Fed Farmers officer ….


    There are most of the main issues in there of course, but the elephant in the room imo, is the over-arching theme about taking from / altering the environment to suit farming. In this regard the writer points to the most cows in Israel and the biggest dairy farm in Saudi Arabia, both dry places of course, as if these somehow provide an argument for doing what is being done in NZ i.e. altering and eating the environment… “they are doing it so why aren’t we?”. That is no argument. At all.

    We have been eating and altering the environment for the last 150 years (and further back prior to Euro and Asian invasion). The effects have been severely degraded rivers, virtually zero forests left with subsequent plant and animal life extinguishment, the list goes on.

    Why are we continuing to eat the environment when we have seen the effects and are doing way too little to reverse things?

    The writers view is understandable when it comes from his subjective position however it completely misses the big picture – you know, the one that involves leaving a better place for our mokopuna, which we in NZ have never done! We have never left the land in better condition than when we got it. In 150 years. Sobering fact that we should dwell on.

    How about this – we ban all bare land and let mother nature revert. Imagine NZ with full native bush cover. Incredible. Mind-blowing. (of course there are some issues to be dealt with in such a plan)….. *sigh*

  19. The Gormless Fool formerly known as Oleolebiscuitbarrell 19

    Bradbury accuses R0b of being in the middle. Does that sting, R0b?

  20. sir pat 20

    “What subsidy is that, you ask? That’d be the one where public water resources are turned into private wealth generators via irrigation schemes, in such dairy-unfriendly land use environs as Canterbury”…..exactly….i live near the rakaia river which is getting getting more and more sucked out of it……i have a well which is attached to my 135 year old house…..its run dry twice but thankfully returned on its own…{just a windmall driven shallow well}…..river access is being taken away with gates and giant hay bales and the stench of dairy effluent is often smelled as one drives around.
    Appointed ECAN people do everything they can to not have info in the public eye and support anything and everything dairy……many wells or aquifers have high nitrate loadings.
    this area will support sheep cattle and food with much less fert and water loadings…esp food…..water should be restricted to support food production not the mindless drowning of paddocks to just grow grass for feckin milk powder……and yes folks say less and less because of the screaming and bully boy tactics of federated farmers and their ilk…..land is no longer a privelege to own but just a commodity.
    we need to get more vocal like this lady and STOP for crying out loud just being “puter protesters” and pandering to these feckin ogliarchs…..dont let one man or woman stand out their alone…..get organised…..these bastards are wrecking the earth and stealing YOUR water for personal profit….enuff said

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