Hill country sheep and beef farmers are caught between Government and industry emissions proposals that have the same result, James Hoban writes.

POOR POLICY THAT THREATENS OUR future is hard to swallow at the best of times. We are being asked to submit (again) on greenhouse gas emissions pricing at a time when after several years riding high the gloss is wearing off.

Our meat companies are concocting their annual routine warnings around doom, gloom and volatility ahead. The weather is doing what it predictably does heading into summer and the lamb schedule is starting its annual slide – designed to bottom out just when most of us are selling the bulk of our lambs.

Policies that threaten our existence are easier to ignore when prices are high and we have an abundance of feed. The current farm challenges magnify the stress caused by the Government’s emissions pricing proposal.

Since the Government announced its plan in October we have endured a spike in farm-related media coverage on all fronts, a nationwide protest (again) and pithy lines from a minister who, while being charged with our sector, seems comfortable creating a future where many of us could be forced out of business.

To the untrained eye, industry groups have made a reasonably convincing attempt to blame the Government for all issues with looming emissions policy. Messrs Morrison and Van der Poel have opted for the disingenuous approach of appearing publicly outraged at the Government’s plan.

The reality is that He Waka Eke Noa was already going to crucify hill country farmers. Sheep, beef and deer farmers are disproportionately impacted under both the Government’s proposal and He Waka. While the Government has made a bad situation worse – even under He Waka many hill country farmers were going to leave the industry.

Since the October announcement I have been amazed to hear the closest thing to a sheep and beef saviour, strongly advocating on behalf of families running sheep and beef cattle. Andrew Hoggard has been outstanding and to be honest he is not the first person expected to be sticking up for us.

In taking a tougher stance and recognising the unacceptable impact on our sector, Hoggard has admirably fulfilled a role that Beef + Lamb’s leaders should have taken on by now. Beef + Lamb has at times walked a politically safe middle line which avoids upsetting its dairy levy payers.

Federated Farmers has always had the challenge of representing a diverse membership yet it is now fighting for the future of sheep and beef farming in New Zealand. Led by Hoggard, it is doing the job our own sector leadership should have been doing.

The Waka Adrift group is well in tune with the unfairness of both schemes (industry and Government versions). If policy proceeds as drafted it is hard to see a buoyant future for hill country sheep and beef. This is hard to swallow when we care for our environment the way we do.

Generally, hill country sheep and beef farmers run their business with a light footprint. The impact of emissions policy will be far reaching and permanent – it trumps biodiversity, water quality and winter grazing regulations. Unfortunately, it has come at a time when most of us are suffering more than a touch of submission fatigue.

Groundswell’s efforts are immense and making an impact. Between Federated Farmers, Groundswell and Waka Adrift there is hope. Unfortunately, they are swimming against the tides of a rabid Government and ineffective farming sector leadership.

  • James Hoban is a North Canterbury farmer and environmental consultant.