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Opinion: Why farmers protested in NZ towns and cities

Opinion: Last week’s Howl of a Protest inspired Balclutha dairy stock agent Shelley Krieger to write the following post on Facebook, explaining why rural people took to the streets.

In case anyone was confused as to why the farmers were protesting on Friday, I thought I would just put something here so people have an idea of why.

Firstly SNAs (Significant Natural Areas).

These are areas of people’s farm land or lifestyle blocks that the Government is getting the councils to survey.

This is native blocks of land that have wild flora and wild animals that pass through it.

Once parts of land are classified as an SNA you lose your rights to that land, can not farm it or build on it. You have to fence it off at your own cost and still pay the rates on it but you can no longer use it.

In some instances it is 80-90 per cent of people’s land. One farmer near Inangahua is about to lose 80 per cent of his 600 hectare farm (1482 acres, of which he will lose the ability to farm or sell 1185 acres).

So you could see how that could be upsetting.

Next is the clean water accord.

We as farmers are all for cleaning up the waterways and huge work has been done. The building of sediment traps to stop dirt eroding into rivers, fencing, riparian plantings (planting flaxes and trees along the waterways), effluent management, reducing nitrogen and fertiliser use, and trying to do more regenerative farming.

I know that the perception from the media is that we are doing nothing and I’m sure there are a few die-hard older farmers that are not prepared to change, but the younger ones coming in are fully aware of their obligations to the environment.

And believe it or not, farmers are the first ones to ring MPI if they see an animal welfare issue or the council if they see bad practices happening.

In the “Good Old Days” dairy sheds were actually built alongside rivers so they could pump the cow poop into the rivers, because they didn’t know what the outcome would be – same as the meat works, they used to let all their waste go into the rivers too!

Times have changed and we are making changes. The thing is, its not as easy to make some of the changes that everyone wants straight away.

We ourselves have been using compost instead of fertiliser, are using natural grass stimulant instead of Urea and are spraying fish fertiliser on to the paddocks to stimulate growth to try to move away from synthetic fertilisers, and put our cow effluent on with pods that put it on lightly.

It’s hit and miss. Some of the things work well and some don’t.

Grass and crops take the nutrients out the soil so we must replace it, you can not just deplete the soil of all its nutrients otherwise it won’t grow anything.

I know of three other farmers that went organic and all three sold-up because they weren’t making any money. The costs involved in being organic made the farms uneconomical.

We also have another farm close to us that has been trialing regenerative farming. He is a generational farmer with very little debt and he is having to sell the farm off 100 acres at a time because he’s not making enough money to pay the staff.

So you can see it is a balancing act.

Opinion: Why farmers protested in NZ towns and cities

Howl of a Protest in Kerikeri on Friday. Photo / Peter de Graaf

When we borrow to buy the farm and the animals, the bank only lends to us under the proviso that we do a certain amount of production to be able to cover the mortgage repayments.

If we fall behind in production then the bank starts to put pressure on for payment which is an added pressure on top of the public pressure, the media pressure and the environmental pressure.

To top that off the Government has also said that we have to have our winter crops in the ground by October 1 or we will be fined.

In the South Island it is impossible to get the crops in by then, it’s still winter and it is either raining or snowing, and the ground is too wet to get a tractor into the paddocks to get the seed in the ground.

There is also new legislation coming in that says we have to pay to get resource consent every year to plant our crop paddocks if they are on more than a 10 degree slope, and that pugging of the paddocks must only be to a certain depth or we will be fined.

We have to produce a farm map to council with a detailed plan of which paddocks will be cropped and how each one will be fed. No farming costs can be passed on to the consumer!

Every time you go to the supermarket and are outraged at the prices, so are we! Dairy farmers only get about 12 cents out of that block of butter.

Next time when you drive past a farm instead of thinking “those lucky buggers”, think instead of how big their mortgage is.

If a tradie has to buy something for the job at your house and the price has gone up on that item then he/she can add that extra cost on to the job. Farmers can not.

Opinion: Why farmers protested in NZ towns and cities

Howl of a Protest in Dunedin on Friday. Photo / Jane Ferguson

We get given the price the Global Dairy Auction or the meatworks set for us. Any extra costs we have lumped on us have to get taken out of our living costs and some of us now can not afford to employ as many people.

We are also extremely concerned about the Government introducing legislation that we have to slaughter up to 15 per cent of the farmed animals that we have in New Zealand.

That is millions of beautiful cows and sheep so New Zealand can reduce their carbon emissions.

For us who have a small herd and have generations of cow families this will be devastating for us to kill our beautiful cows, not only that but it puts us in a terrible position with the bank.

I’m not saying there won’t be some issues out there but everyone is trying their best and the rules keep changing so some farmers are actually confused about what they are supposed to be doing and need help to get it right.

Unfortunately a lot of the people they are training up as inspectors who have degrees in environmental things have never actually been on a farm before and don’t know what they are doing and have very little knowledge on how to actually help the farmers other than fine them.

Another thing that doesn’t affect us but I know it does for a lot of other farmers and growers is the Government not allowing immigrant workers in or out through the border.

It has been devastating for most fruit growers not having anyone to pick their fruit. The thing with seasonal work is that the workers are only needed at certain times of the year, so Kiwis don’t want to do it, but someone has to do it.

Opinion: Why farmers protested in NZ towns and cities

Howl of a Protest in Levin on Friday. Photo / Mark Mitchell

We went through the central South Island last week and the fruit lying on the ground is heartbreaking.

Also the immigrants who are here on work visas can’t go home and see their families and come back, so some are leaving for good. This is wrong.

Another bit of legislation that is in the wings is the Three Waters scheme which everyone should be worried about.

They are spending $4.5 million at the moment promoting on TV but most people probably go and make a cuppa while it is on during the ad break.

In this proposal the Government wants to take over all the council water infrastructure for a pittance payment so they can get control of the water.

Once they have control of the water they can do whatever they want and may start charging us all for it, and by that I mean every time you turn on the tap you will be charged for every litre.

At the moment you pay for the water to get to your place, and pay to have it leave but you don’t actually pay for the water, so this is going to be another cost for everyone even though the water falls from the sky and is therefore free.

The ute tax was just an add-on.

It was new legislation that came out after the protest had already been organised. It doesn’t affect us because we can’t afford a new ute, but I can see where everyone is coming from, that you shouldn’t be penalised when there is no alternative to purchase.

It should have been a tax on all vehicles if they were really that serious about everyone getting EVs.

– Originally from Titirangi, Shelley Krieger is now a dairy stock agent in Balclutha. She runs a small dairy farm with her husband, where they milk 170 Samen cows.

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