Exploring alternatives to quad bikes

There has been a huge amount of discussion around quad bikes again, after LandCorp announced they are not using them on their new North Island farms and will be moving away from them on all other operations.

Certainly, having 20 accidents involving their staff and quad bikes since December is a sobering statistic. Perhaps for large corporate farmers, with huge numbers of staff to think about, looking at other options is a sensible solution.

Just because LandCorp does something it doesn't mean all farmers have to follow suit, but it is good to follow the discussion and know what the options are. Many farmers seem to be moving towards the "side by side" or farm utility vehicle options for getting about on their farms because they allow for passengers, carrying loads and do not require a helmet.

Within this category there are again many options. It is about looking at the needs you have on your farm, selecting the best tool for the job and making sure everyone using them is trained to operate that tool safely.

There will always be an element of human error, but by following manufacturers' and training organisations' guidelines we can reduce the risks. It is also important that we work with manufacturers to continue improvements of quad bike designs and adopting technologies to continue to make the way we farm safer. The principle of prevention through design is important. Councils' annual plan processes have progressed to hearings and Federated Farmers is following up on the submissions we have made earlier in the year.

Many councils still have not learnt the importance of living within their means. Despite central government scrutinising their performance and warning them to keep debt and expenses down, there are far too many nice-to-haves in many council budgets. Council rates continue to increase around 1 per cent to 2 per cent above the consumer price index.

This is not sustainable; where will it end? Will we eventually see a situation where people pay 50 per cent of their income in rates? Already rates for some farmers are unrealistically above their ability to pay and bear no relation to the services they receive.

Even if farmers were connected up, the most state of the art sewer in the world is of no use if you cannot afford to put food on the table.

There are too many "warm-fuzzy" projects on councils' plans - the question is who will pay for them? At the moment some people are paying a lot more than others.

Democracy might be "one person, one vote, one voice", but we also need to spread council costs fairly and equitably, not just suck them out of the general rate. The cost of democracy must be evenly shared across all ratepayers which is best done out of uniform annual general charges.

A reminder has come through from NAIT about checking and treating all new or moving cattle for ticks before they join your herd or arrive at a new property because of high levels infections of the tick-borne blood parasite, theileria.

If you have cows which are not eating, seem depressed, not as healthy as they ought to be and lag behind or lie down when you shift a mob, they may be affected. There are no known treatments, so prevention is key.

Another danger to be aware of is the possibility of nitrate buildup in the grass if the current exceptional growth rates, combined with low sunshine hours, continues. This could be a cloud on the silver lining following the drought.

The last of the Federated Farmers- organised stock feed shipments between the South Island and Tauranga arrived last week, although Hawke's Bay will continue to receive shipments.

This operation would never have got off the ground if not been for the generosity and goodwill of Pacifica Shipping and the Port of Tauranga in allowing us to use their ships and wharves at some knock-down rates.

Without this help the feed shipments would never have been commercially viable.

Congratulations to yet another local farmer, Tim van de Molen, winning the Young Farmer of the Year.

I look forward to seeing all Waikato Federated Farmers members at our annual meeting on Thursday at the Hamilton Airport conference centre.

James Houghton is Federated Farmers Waikato provincial president

Waikato Times