Be careful what you wish for when wanting a water charge

Any costs added to water usage on dairy farms will inevitably be passed on to consumers,  Northland dairy farmer Lyn ...

Any costs added to water usage on dairy farms will inevitably be passed on to consumers, Northland dairy farmer Lyn Webster says.


OPINION: Water seems to be a popular topic in New Zealand at the moment.

Many Kiwis are horrified our lakes and rivers are not as clean as we thought they were.

 Our government is setting water standards and it seems like foreign owned bottling plants are pillaging our clean water supplies as residents in the Hawke's Bay suffer water usage restrictions.

Meanwhile, the evil farmers are getting their water for free while stuffing things up for everybody else. What to do? Of course it's vital to get it right with water.

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In New Zealand you could not be blamed for thinking we have plenty of water, so much so that we only use a fraction of what's available and the rest runs out to sea, so water allocation is more of an issue rather than water supply.

I can understand people's discomfort with water being bottled and exported overseas at a profit by foreign investors while your own water use is being restricted, but then again is closing down their bottling plant or charging them more fees going to mean you can water your garden in the middle of summer? Probably not.

If you put a price on water for overseas bottlers, then you put a price on water for everyone else and do we really want that?

As a dairy farmer, albeit small scale, the spectre of water charges puts the wind up me a bit. Milk is over 85 per cent water. My cows drink over 100 litres each a day, more if it's hot. That's 20,000 litres a day.

My water comes from an on-farm stream and all the water reticulation on the farm has been bought and paid for by the farm owner.

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If it breaks down then I pay for repairs and maintenance and the costs of a water system are definitely, how shall I put it? 'Ongoing'.

So an on farm water system has cost someone to install and it costs me quite considerably, in time, power and money to keep the water flowing. In my eyes, a farmer's water is not free, its actually quite expensive.

Now you might say no, and the actual water is free and you would be right, but plenty of it seems to fall from the sky and run down off the hills, notwithstanding a drought.

A dairy farm is a funny old business, mainly because I don't add up all my costs or even account for my time, divide it by how much milk I've produced and charge the consumer accordingly.

No, I try and get all my jobs done as efficiently as possible, sell my milk to the factory for whatever pittance they are offering and hope like hell there is some left for me at the end.

That is why you can buy fresh milk in New Zealand for about $2 a litre and not $5. Lucky you.

But it seems many of the public do not consider this when they say the dairy farmers impact on natural resources is taxpayer funded, or that farmers should be paying for water used.

 If I was charged directly for the water I used then I would have to recoup that cost somehow or I would instantly go out of business.

The only way I could recoup that cost would be to pass it on to the consumer of my products. If that made the consumer baulk and stop buying my products, then again I would be out of business and the consumer would be forced to source another form of healthy nutrition.

Be careful what you wish for New Zealand.

  • Lyn Webster is a Northland dairy farmer.

 - Stuff

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