Impending regulations a red flag for farmers
Dairy farmers, forced to become more efficient from a run of low payout years, will need to up their game even further because of impending environmental regulations, Federated Farmers North Canterbury dairy chairman Michael Woodward says.
With the coming season’s farm gate payout forecast at $7, Michael hopes the lessons of the past few years have been learnt well.
“On farms there’s been a reduction in stocking rates to match the pasture grown with the demand of the cows, so I’d like to think it hopefully doesn’t encourage a lot of farmers to go and overstock their farms to chase that dollar,” Michael says.
A by-product of the lower stocking rates was a corresponding reduction in fertiliser inputs, but with environmental plans being developed by councils in many regions farmers needed to know now how these would affect them in the future.
In Canterbury, where most dairy farms are irrigated, farmers are facing regulations which will impose a 30% reduction in leaching levels measured against an historical baseline figure, he says.
“Otherwise by the time some of that legislation hits, if they haven’t been a part of the process in submitting on some of those processes, some of them could be in for a nasty surprise.
“I really encourage people to engage in that process and make sure that they realise what is coming, what the impact to them on-farm could be.”
Some farmers may need to make only minor changes, but others may have to reduce stocking rates to meet environmental targets, and this will have a financial impact.
The wider lesson of the low payout years was that it forced farmers to understand true profi tability and to consequently reduce stocking rates to more closely match pasture production. “It’s made people look a lot closer at where their sweet spot is.”
“I think its about becoming more efficient in what we do and to better utilise what you input into your farming system.”
Farmers who bought properties before or during the low payout years could be too highly stocked to meet upcoming regulations and still remain profitable. Michael is passionate about bridging the urbanrural divide to create better understanding between townies and farmers.
“There’s the two sides of the coin. We need to educate the New Zealand public around what we are doing, but at the same time we need to educate farmers that there is a better way.”
He and his wife, Susie, have four children aged 18 months to eight years old. They are 50/50 sharemilkers on Tapatoru, one of Purata’s (formerly Synlait) 13 farms of which Shanghai Penxin is the majority shareholder. Tapatoru peak milks 1050 cows on 297 hectares effective near Dunsandel.
Hosting school pupils on-farm and having staff engage with them is one practical way Michael has been working to bridge the gap.
Last year he wrote a dissertation ‘How can the New Zealand Dairy Industry Protect and Better its Social Licence with New Zealand’s Urban Populations?’ as part of a Kellogg Rural Leadership course.
He believes social licence is one of the biggest issues facing New Zealand farmers today.
The battle to better the social licence to farm around the world was clearly outlined through the different case studies in his readings, he says.
“Where farmers have given the public reason to doubt that trust through negative images or practices the social license has been diminished, legislation’s tightened and once changed is not easily returned in the same form.”
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