Critics need to keep up with facts

JAMES HOUGHTON
Last updated 11:06 11/03/2014

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OPINION: It's a case of out with the old and in with the new.

Part of progressing as an industry is making and adapting to change, and that is why farming now requires a whole other level of infrastructure to meet the requirements of our environment and our economy.

We have many critics in New Zealand, some fair and some misguided but, putting them aside and focusing on our farming future, there is really only one option: get on board or hand over the reins. With intensification comes responsibility, and farmers are upgrading their infrastructure to shoulder that burden.

With nutrient budgets, new technology, and overseer programmes to understand the impact our businesses have, you can say we are taking every practical step to take care of our environment.

Having these systems in place gives us control through a wealth of in-depth information, allowing us to modify our behaviour in a positive way, ensuring we are bettering rather than harming the environment. We have come a long way since industrial and agricultural businesses operated without conscience, set by social values and expectations.

The days of untreated urban sewage, and factories and farmers putting their waste directly into waterways, need to go. All of the above are still happening in some places but the offenders are decreasing rapidly as they become ostracised by their peers. However, we were the last industry to intensify. We started with pre-determined practices and infrastructure that had us dancing with a line that was yet to be drawn.

Believe it or not, in the past several years, we have been making progress. So you can understand we get increasingly frustrated with the few farmers who disregard the positive changes happening, the social/cultural shift in the industry, and continue to farm how they have always farmed. They are not a true representation of the industry but, because that is all you hear in the media, that is the unfortunate perception that New Zealanders are making.

Farmers who used to be toasted as the pillar of the community are now being shredded in the media and by scientists, turned politicians; I cannot tell you how disheartening that is.

As I drive around my farm and look at my oxidation ponds and erosion planting, then come home to process the data collected on my soil to make sure I am meeting my targets, I turn to the newspaper and read about how horrible dairy farming is for New Zealand. Sometimes it just makes you wonder "why the hell am I doing all of this". It is amazing how misinformation can blow holes in your morale.

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We are better than this, farmers, scientists, media, and the public alike. We have become lazy consumers of information and just believe the first thing we are told without cross- examining the evidence.

Farmers will keep investing in the future of agriculture and environment but it is time for a new conversation; a constructive one that is inclusive of everyone and will move us forward.

Whether it is a town sewage system, an industrial discharge, or a farming practice, it is not always a simple fix and it is not always instant. But that does not mean we stop looking for solutions. To do that we need to allow people a reasonable time frame and path to adjust, and it is essential that we are constructive in our approach.

- James Houghton is Federated Farmers Waikato provincial president.

- Waikato Times

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