Ag Board 'superseded by time'

The Clutha District Council has been accused of not following through on a promise to improve agricultural development in the district.

Speaking in a personal capacity at the Clutha Agricultural Development Board's annual meeting last week, project manager Malcolm Deverson questioned whether agriculture was being better supported after the council changed its funding arrangements two years ago.

"It is my opinion . . . that the Clutha council have not followed through on the promise for more effective and more efficient extension and development in agriculture."

Established 21 years ago the Ag Board is an independent, non-profit group run by farmers to develop farming in the district through means such as a nutrient seminar held last year and a recent trial looking at probiotics in dairy calves.

"If a different way of doing things will support the district's farmer more effectively, where is it?" Deverson asked the meeting of about 20 farmers.

But mayor Bryan Cadogan said the decision to move forward with the Clutha Development Trust format was made after extensive consultation and the council continued to fund and support that.

Trust chair Rob Hewett said the body had been "very careful not to replicate itself in the same space the Ag Board occupies" and remained committed to bringing "relevant" agribusiness activity to all farmers in the district.

The trust's first objective was to create a database of farmers and their business in the region which took a significant amount of work and a year to pull together, he said.

"Many partial databases exist in various forms, but these are often proprietary . . . and do not have a 100 per cent view of the district, in order to be able to develop opportunities in the district we felt that we needed to understand in more detail who our constituents were."

Other work was happening in the areas of water quality and primary growth partnerships, Hewett said.

At the meeting, Deverson warned farmers that unless longer term funding could be found the future of the Ag Board was in jeopardy.

"The bottom line is that the organisation needs a longer-term funding source or we are just not sustainable."

For the year ending December 31, it had a deficit of $40,907.

The Ag Board followed the suggestion from the last annual meeting to carry on "business as usual", Deverson said.

"Unfortunately, ‘business as usual' without the Clutha District Council's funding from July last year meant a financial loss, and a damaging financial loss at that."

The Ag Board had canvassed the industry widely for opportunities, but the short term chances for funding were limited, he said.

Ag Board chairman Dave Inder said it had been confident of receiving one or two major funding applications before now, but had missed out.

In terms of funding "it had been a shocking couple of years", he said.

Attendee Mike Elliot said he struggled to see how the group would continue.

"Why not retire with grace . . . accept the need for the Ag Board has been superseded by time."

Deverson concluded his report by saying he found it hard to believe the district was prepared to put up with losing the "unique Clutha defining organisation".


The Southland Times