Derek Daniell: Farmers an easy target in the Blame Game

Derek Daniel says farmers are an easy target and wonders when urban New Zealand is going to get serious about tackling water issues. Photo /  Chris Skelton
Derek Daniel says farmers are an easy target and wonders when urban New Zealand is going to get serious about tackling water issues. Photo / Chris Skelton

OPINION: Derek Daniell is one of New Zealand's leading sheep breeders. Here he writes about the pre-election "blame game" and whether farmers are quickly becoming whipping boys when it comes to water quality.

The 2017 election campaign is heating up, and the Blame Game is at fever pitch. Farmers are an easy target for those playing the Blame Game. The accusations of poor land and water use are coming thick and fast. It's time to level the playing field.

80 per cent of towns and cities are non compliant with water quality regulations.

Estimated cost to meet regulations? $7 Billion.

You can swim safely in the Waikato river upstream of Hamilton, but not below, according to an ex-mayor of that city.

A recent expose in the Dominion Post revealed that the streams around Wellington city are largely devoid of life, because of urban pollution.

$7 Billion?

Much of the animal farming around the world is done in a feedlot situation: pigs, chickens, farmed fish, most of the dairy cows, some beef cattle. It's more efficient for purposes of feeding and effluent disposal.

Cities are people feedlots. Cities have the same advantages as animal feedlots for concentrated supply lines of food and water, and also for effluent disposal. But the concentration of effluent, and other rubbish, requires expensive solutions. When is urban New Zealand going to get serious about tackling the $7 billion makeover of non compliant waste water systems?

Listen to Derek Daniell speak to The Country's Jamie Mackay about water quality in the Soundcloud embed below:

Are we at the party or are we on the menu?

- Rather than exclusively blaming farmers, concerned citizens should be asking, "What's been happening in New Zealand farming over the past forty years?"

-Since 1980 there has been a huge reduction in the number of sheep, down from a peak of 70 million to just 27 million. From 2005 to 2015 total stock units of dairy and beef cattle, sheep and deer dropped 8 percent.

- Each sheep, dairy cow, and beef animal is being farmed more efficiently, on average, with reduced carbon emissions per unit of product. Pastoral exports earn around $20 billion, or more than 40 percent of New Zealand's traded total. The prosperity of all New Zealanders is derived mainly from the land and sea, which delivers more than 70 percent of exported product revenue.

- Tourism is touted as an important earner of overseas exchange, but a high percentage of that revenue is needed to offset the money spent by New Zealanders travelling abroad.

- Dairy farmers have spent on average around $100,000 each on protecting the environment, more than $100m total.

- Over 3,000 QE2 covenants have been set aside by private landowners, many of them farmers, since 1979. QE2 covenants now total over 180,000 hectares, and there are five hundred more covenants in the pipeline.

- Fish and Game plays holier than thou, yet is responsible for ruining the ecological balance in our rivers and streams with introduced fish species. The organisation is also responsible for introducing Canadian geese, now declared a noxious pest, and for introducing the Mallard duck, which has made the native Grey Duck almost extinct. Fish and Game is still protected by an Act of Parliament. That protection should be removed immediately.

- Why don't environmental lobby groups target Fish and Game or urban people? They get their funding largely from urban dwellers, and Fish and Game adds to the united attack on relatively defenceless targets like farmers. A proportion of any population enjoys a jihad, the opportunity to force their views on others.

Disappearing land

The Beef and Lamb Economic Service estimate that 4.05 million hectares, or 35 percent, of land has been lost to sheep and beef since 1990.

Of that total, 950,000 hectares has been converted to dairying or dairy support, 377,000 hectares went to forestry, a big area was retired to DOC estate, 180,000 hectares has been covenanted to QE2 since 1979 (with more on the way), some poorer hill country reverted to scrub/bush/ weeds, and smaller areas changed to viticulture/horticulture/ lifestyle blocks/Manuka/urban sprawl.

Pastoral farming has been reduced to only 40 percent of the land area in New Zealand.

Disappearing animals

The ruminant animal population of New Zealand has shrunk since the Rio Earth Summit in 1990.

An estimate that 48 percent of New Zealand's Green House Gas emissions come from ruminant animals is out of date. And there is a solution at hand: a recently trialled feed additive has resulted in a reduction of up to 50 percent in methane emissions relative to increased productivity.

This additive has the effect of improving the efficiency of the rumen "from 50 to 60 percent", in the words of the leading scientist, and also significantly increases milk value from the same volume of feed.

Too many people?

Meanwhile the human population has grown from 3.5 to 4.8 million, a 37 PERCENT INCREASE.

It is the increase in the human population which is causing New Zealand to miss its targets on saving the Earth. And talking of population, why doesn't New Zealand have a policy around it? New Zealand is one of the few uncrowded countries in the world.
One estimate has New Zealand's potential human stocking rate at 40 million. Where would you like to see it?

Is five million people a good fit? Our population will be there some time in 2020.

What will we think with 2020 hindsight?

- The Country

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