OPINION: I don't know what I've done to earn the ire of Fish & Game's Bryce Johnson but instead of one of those "you say/he say" conflicts, I am going to use this column to invite Bryce to come down from Wellington and see what Southland dairy farmers do, how we do it and what we'll be doing in the future.
It may also be a chance for Bryce to fish the river that runs past my farm. From what I see it seems alive with trout proving farming and fishing aren't mutually exclusive activities.
Bryce accuses me of 'not receiving a memo' but can I respectively suggest he checks his own media statements. At the beginning of October, did not Southland Fish & Game manager Maurice Rodway, tell The Southland Times, "The rivers are all in good order and flowing a bit low for this time of year, which makes it quite good for fishing"?
Federated Farmers has lot of time for Dr Jan Wright, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. She is a straight shooter and yes, her report does give us good reason to think and look hard at what we're doing. Quite unlike other occupations, farmers live, work and bring up our children in the same place. If there's a problem with water it's an equal problem for us, too.
Yet solving problems defines us as a people, or as Federated Farmers' Willy Leferink put it: "If humans gave up at the first problem we encountered, we'd still be living in caves and hitting each other over the head with clubs".
The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment's model covers a 12-year period from 2008-2020. What I can say, hand on heart, is that by 2020 we will be farming much better than in 2008 because farming then was streets ahead of where we were in 1996.
Admittedly, I wasn't dairy farming in 1996 but it's not as if I could have googled how to convert from sheep and beef because Google hadn't been invented back then. The rise of tablets, iPhones and mobile computing has been revolutionary, but it's also incredibly recent. This march of technology has mostly been for the better and that was the essence of my comments in the media. People don't generally stand still which is why we call it progress.
Right now AgResearch is researching things as are DairyNZ and other researchers here and overseas. I know there is a trial plant in the North Island that is removing unwanted nutrients from water. Solutions take money. The kind of money you get from exporting goods and services.
Remember the Government's $30 million cash injection to secure the immediate future of Tiwai Pt? That helped to protect 3200 jobs and the smelter's $1.6 billion annual contribution to the Southland economy.
Dairying doesn't need such support, but in 2009, it injected more than $700m into the Southland economy and employed more than 2300 people. Dairying may not be number one here, but we're a pretty important second that's become more important over the past four years.
"Looking into the future is always looking 'through a glass darkly' and all models are subject to numerous caveats and criticisms. But this does not mean that they are valueless". That's not me speaking but Dr Wright herself.
As our national president Bruce Wills noted recently, it doesn't take much to change assumptions in a model. I know Waikato isn't going to sprout many new dairy farms because of policy there and Environment Canterbury's new plan, which came out after Dr Wright's report, will seemingly put a hold on new dairy conversions. On the other hand a technological breakthrough within the next seven years could turn things around.
That's why we ask not for assumption and stereotype but for an open mind. Invercargill's New River Estuary has for decades been used like a drain by the city and has been blighted by 10,000 acres of land being reclaimed around it. Thankfully no more as ratepayers demand action and are prepared to fund its remediation. Yet none of these things involve dairying unless you draw a bow so long it could reach Hawaii. Just as Wellington's Hutt River doesn't have dairy cows causing toxic algal blooms there, or for that matter, the state of Christchurch's Avon River where cows are notably absent, we need to move past assumption and stereotype.
So Bryce, please go to fedfarm.org.nz for my details and come down from Wellington and visit my farm. Just don't forget to bring your rod. Russell MacPherson is Federated Farmers Southland provincial president.
* Russell MacPherson is Federated Farmers Southland provincial president
- The Southland Times