Federated Farmers Southland’s new president, Geoffrey Young, says he has taken on the role during a time of extraordinary change, especially in relation to environmental issues.
These days farmers are far more aware of and proactive about their role as stewards of the land, waterways and biodiversity, he says.
“Farming won’t ever be the same as it was back, perhaps 30 years or so, when farmers were being encouraged to chop down bush and cultivate everything and crank up stock units just to keep growing the country.” “There’s a huge shift. The thinking certainly has changed dramatically.”
Producing quality produce from less livestock are also keys to any modern farming operation, he says. Additionally, farmers are increasingly being faced with the concept of a social license to farm, something that was unheard of 20 years ago.
“It’s unfortunate that there has been a bit of a disengagement from urban people to rural and that has been a real issue for the last few years, but hopefully we can keep working on that.”
At the core of all farming was a love of the land and the desire to produce high quality food, he says.
Geoffrey is the owner of Cattle Flat Station, a 5400 hectare, 15,000 stock unit farm in Northern Southland. He has been Federated Farmers Southland high country chairman for the past six years.
He expects his work for the organisation to take up to three days a week, but has a son who has recently returned from overseas who is managing the station.
Currently one of the biggest demands of his presidency and one of the most significant issues he believes is facing Southland farmers is Environment Southland’s water and land plan, publicly notified in 2016.
To date the plan has been through a process of submissions, a hearing and an appeal period.
It is proposed the plan will be operative next year. “It’s probably by far the biggest issue that’s ever faced farming and Federated Farmers.”
Environment Southland says the proposed plan seeks to address activities that are known to have a significant effect on water quality, such as land use intensification, urban discharges, wintering and stock access to waterways.
Foundational to the plan is the division of Southland and Fiordland into physiographical zones. These are areas with similar characteristics that affect water quality.
Each zone is different in the way farm contaminants build up and move through the soil, areas of groundwater and into streams and rivers.
“It’s a very broad brush approach with what they think is relevant to water quality. The scientific data doesn’t line up with the physiographics and the effects through the soil and what the outcomes are from the water going through those soils.”
Following a decisions version of the proposed plan being issued April this year, it is expected to be in an appeal period until Christmas, Geoffrey says.
“That’s quite a heavy workload for our policy people and certainly for myself and for the vice president, and at times some of the other executive or farmer witnesses that we wish to speak at those mediation meetings.”
If some issues are not resolved Federated Farmers may appeal to the Environment Court, however it was entering into all negotiations with Environment Southland in good faith.
Geoffrey says farmers have no beef with the goals of the plan and are aiming for the same environmental results, but are very concerned about what would be imposed on farmers if the plan was implemented as currently proposed.
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