Welcome to the Spring Update from Organic Farm Systems.
This week has seen the UN General Assembly meeting in New York and one of the primary things that world leaders will be discussing is the climate crisis. Many of you will have seen Greta Thunberg speak and rebuke world leaders for inaction. I wholeheartedly agree with her sentiments.
At home we have seen a number of submission rounds from the Government on climate change and water quality. Some of you reading this will have been involved on advisory panels for this. This has caused the usual wailing and gnashing of teeth from the usual rural suspects.
This is all related. Let me ask you this question.
What is the most important and profitable thing that’s farmed in NZ?
I’ll give you a clue.
It is hardy, long lived, often quite stubborn, but can be easily led, trained and herded.
It is both very profitable to fleece and milk.
The Kiwi Farmer.
The average kiwi farmer is bearing the brunt of the criticism around the environmental impacts to both our water quality and climate change in the press, and with plenty of justification.
Farmers are being urged to stand up and fight against many of the proposals being put forward by government. The “rural support” entities and political opposition will undoubtedly suggest the government is destroying farming etc etc.
But farmers really aren’t to blame. Those who are milking and fleecing them are…
Farmers are only doing what they have been taught or told to do by so called “rural service” entities.
These are the companies, groups and people who make the most money from farmers and the rural sector, and they will protect their patch and profits first and foremost.
Lets name and shame some.
Ravensdown, Ballance, Fonterra, Dairy NZ, Beef and Lamb NZ, Federated Farmers, Silver Fern Farms, Alliance Group, Farmlands, PGG Wrightson, the Banks, various rural political parties, universities….I could go on, but there’s only so many hours in a day…..
These entities all have self interest and self preservation in common and first and foremost in their minds. Management in many of these entities still collect a salary or wage, entirely unrelated to how well the individual farmer is doing. You’ll also notice that a number that I’ve named above are groups who in theory are meant to work for the benefit of stakeholders.
One thing they have in common is the drive for more production. One thing most farmers haven’t worked out, and that you’ll never hear from these guys, is there is no link between production and profit. But when as a “rural service” entity your viability is based on volume, production at any cost is promoted. This intensity has been a fundamental driver of the environmental damage we see, particularly from the dairy industry.
Nobody will tell you a small family farm is still the most profitable. Get big or get out. Borrow more, use more. I don’t see rural communities getting bigger or more services…housing crisis? How about a population displacement crisis.
Change has needed to come. For 15 years we have been talking about this, with most farmers, encouraged by these “rural service” entities, fighting and arguing all the way, only paying lip service, making token gestures, or proffering mitigation technology band aids, rather than being proactive.
In fact in a number of cases, these token gestures and mitigation band aids have been used to fleece more money out of the farmers pockets, even when they have been shown to be the wrong path.
But now push is coming to shove. Farmers will loose the social license to farm, and these “rural entities” loose their license to print money. Expect a massive fight that farmers can only but be the looser in.
This is indeed a sad prospect. Farmers could have been at the forefront of saving and regenerating our environment, and should be a key part of the social make up of our country, and be cherished by our entire population. But I think now its too late…
The government needs to and will act for the needs of the greater population and social outcome. The government is looking to act in a number of different areas.
The three suggested actions that I believe government should take, and would have the greatest impact, both on environment mitigation and for farmers to regain the social licence to farm would be:
- For the government to fully fund and reboot AgResearch and other research institutes for independent science and research.
Currently these “rural entities” fund a majority of AgResearch’s and others budgets under there current models. The science and best practice promoted from these institutions can know longer be trusted to be impartial or in the farmer or countries best interests.
- The disestablishment of the Levy Bodies.
Funding for these bodies primarily comes from a volume of production based funding model, and therefore it is in their self interest to promote production based farming systems, and to support and be supported by the other “rural entities”.
- Government legislation to ban the use of synthetic fertilisers and “cides”*.
This will really get most farmers jumping up and down. But it is the use of these items that can be directly related to environmental damage or by the unsustainable intensification they cause. Farming systems that do not use these items can rapidly go from environmentally damaging to environmentally regenerative.
Fact: You do not need these things to farm.
We have unfortunately come to a point, whilst some farmers have moved in this direction, that the rest need to be forced in this direction. You can see that many “rural entities” will be against this, as this is what they sell.
*The term “cides”, if you are unfamiliar with it, refers to herbicides, fungicides, insecticides etc.
How does this all relate back to Greta Thunberg?
As she has pointed out, the future planet is gravely under threat, as are the future generations of humankind.
Why? Because past and current generations and many of their various political leaders have put the profit of industrial scale capitalism before democratic social and environmental outcomes. Our current government is now looking to address these environmental and social issues.
Lets be quite clear on this – Capitalism and social democracy are not the same thing…One thing we can be certain on is that the rich have been getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, and more numerous. One should note that rural debt is higher than ever. 10% of the world’s population controls 84% of its wealth. 0.003% of the worlds population (about 220,000 people) control 10% of global wealth. Trickle down theory is best referred to as trickle down fantasy. Industrial scale capitalist greed has gotten us to this place.
The capitalist production at all costs model is now at an end. The world needs balancing environmentally and socially, and here in New Zealand farmers have been getting a lot of the blame. They needed to get on board.
The question is, have kiwi farmers over the last 50 years let themselves be put into this position? I’d say, yes they have.