Is The Opportunities Party (TOP) anti-dairying ? As the Rangitata Candidate, I get asked this question often. The answer is NO!
Are we against the current high-volume, low-value model of dairy intensification funded by the taxpayer, which degrades our environment and water quality? The answer is an absolute YES!
To understand how we got to this place of high-intensive farming practices at the expense of the environment, we must first understand our history, particularly on the Canterbury Plains. As dairy conversions and increased production began to ramp up in the late 80s, there was a growing argument between merging dairy companies becoming a monopoly, or keeping smaller milk companies separate, which would allow market forces to determine a value-added approach. There were some members of the dairy industry concerned that our image of clean, green, high-quality-grass feed branding may be affected by increased production through intensive farming practices, so we cannot say we were not warned.
As the dairy mergers continued to eventually become Fonterra, a smaller company stayed independent – Tatua. Its chairperson, John Luxton, went on to become an MP. This company's success has continued, because they focused on value-added products, and continually out performed Fonterra. Approaches like theirs work.
We at TOP have serious concerns around the current high-volume, low-value model approach, since the mid 90s. New Zealand has had a 490% increase in cow numbers on the Canterbury Plains. Milk production has doubled under this current government. Multiple reports from reputable organisations, including the OECD and the Prime Minister's own chief scientific advisor, clearly show we are damaging our international brand, and leaving our next generation with a mess to clean up. In fact, now we are feeding dairy cows palm kernel, and ramping up taxpayer-funded local irrigations schemes in the Hunter Downs and Canterbury Plains.
As someone raised on a dairy farm, I empathise with farmers, as there is always a fear of change. They have operated within a model that has subsided them, and this cannot continue. The government’s position to refuse to change its stance will only make the eventual change even more financially painful; leadership squarely falls on National to transition now.
I know how challenging and hardworking the dairy farming lifestyle is, but the current model will have to change. The general public, and I believe many farmers, now know we cannot continue on this path with increased volume and intensive farming practices at the expense of the environment. The burden will be too great for our kids to bear.
Increasing soluble nitrates in our drinking water is beginning to poison us; there is evidence according to the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) this may be leading to increased cancer rates. However, these concerns are falling on deaf ears. Currently the government’s plan is to increase irrigation by 1 million ha, funded by $400 million of taxpayer’s money and then earmarked only $450 million to clean up the mess.
Remember what happened in the early 80s, when the taxpayer funded the stock incentive scheme, under Muldoon? Any business model that requires being subsided eventually collapses. The main question then becomes, “Who pays?”
Taxpayer Pays… Or The Polluter?
Let's implement market forces to encourage a best-practice model, smarter regulation and a polluter-pays (not taxpayer pays) approach, gradually implemented so we can turn this mess around, before our water quality cannot be restored.
There already is a working model of a value-added approach, which rewards farmers with a higher payout, allowing the farmer to move away from this high-cost intensive farming model:
"Dairy industry payout sweetheart Tatua continues its reputation for leaving other milk processors in its dust, paying its farmers $7.10kg milk solids cash for the 2014-2015 financial year” said headlines across the country.
As a TOP candidate in Rangitata, I firmly believe change is required urgently. We can either move towards a sustainable model now, or suffer from environmental and economic pain later. The choice is up to you – the voter.
CARE. THINK. VOTE.