Wednesday, 06 June 2018 12:55

No longer a ‘nice to have’

Written by 
Mike Petersen. Mike Petersen.

Farmers need to understand that good environmental stewardship is no longer just nice to have but is essential in today’s world.

This was the crux of a message to deer farmers attending the sector’s annual conference in Timaru last month.

Guy Salmon, chief executive of Ecologic Foundation, told the conference its new industry code of practice was “detailed, looked good and will drive learnings”.

However, he warned that any voluntary code of practice has major limitations.

Salmon says getting everyone in the industry up to standard will be a challenge and a major risk for an industry, such as the deer sector with a premium product.

“The fat tail of bad practice can damage your entire industry’s image, its reputation. The best way to deal with this fat tail is regulation, and you should welcome it.”

Salmon says farmers must understand that accountability – especially regarding the environment — is needed and expected to meet community-agreed objectives.

“Communities are setting contaminant limits in every catchment in New Zealand and industry codes of practices need transparent linkages to these limits.”

Salmon says community expectations needed more than just “good practice”.

“They need to challenge and implement transformational change of accepted practices.”

He cited intensive winter grazing as an example of current practice that would need to change.

Salmon warns that unless real change is made, NZ’s farming sector grassfed marketing story is at risk from a “ticking timebomb” in relation to market perception issues on water, soil, animal health and aesthetic issues.

And NZ’s special agricultural trade envoy Mike Petersen had a similar message.

He said there is a lot of discussion in agricultural and government sectors about environmental credentials and what this subject actually means.

Petersen says the farming leaders’ group of which the deer industry is a part of is an excellent example of cross-sector work in environmental matters.

“For too long, I have seen different parts of the sector arguing their own corner on an environmental front. In my view, it is far better to be a joined-up, clear voice for the sector,” he says. 

“The farming leaders’ groups allow us to have robust discussions behind closed doors and then speak with one voice to the Government and regulators to get the best outcome for the industry as a whole.”

Petersen told conference-goers the direction is clear regarding the environment and emissions, and “the farming sector needs to get on board and get on board in a big way”.

He concedes it will be “really tough” for the agricultural sector to reach net zero emissions.

“But the government has pledged to work with farmers and has given long transition times for us to meet this goal.” 

Petersen also believes that the direction of travel is clear.

“I don’t think even if there was a change of government that a new National government would not reverse any of this work. So, we need to get on the bus… every farm needs an environmental plan.”

Petersen believes that in time such plans will also address animal welfare, traceability and environmental procedures. “I believe we will need this type of plan as evidence of the integrity of what we do for the story that NZ needs to promote. We cannot have a story without the evidence and the background to support the claims we make.”

Petersen says this will allow NZ farmers to differentiate their products and face down the challenges the industry faces in the future – such as alternative proteins and consumer demands for ethical products.

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