Speech to Federated Farmers of New Zealand (Inc) National Council by Tom Lambie, Wednesday, Nov 19, 2003
2003 has been a significant year for the organisation. The challenges have been many. We have demonstrated the fundamental strength of the organisation. We have shown we can respond.
We learned a great deal about the remarkable talents of our widespread membership But most of all we saw farmers prepared to stand up and be counted.
The FART tax campaign gave us wide publicity but it was just one of the many campaigns that the federation operates at district, regional and national level.
Too often these go unsung.
At this Council meeting we reflect on how we are doing things and plan the year ahead. The staff will report on submissions made. We will consider our wins, losses and stalemates.
What are difficult to report on are the time, effort and commitment that so many individuals have given.
Week in week out they are unsung heroes and heroines who slog away trying to keep farming sustainable for all.
At the end of a hard day on the farm and after a rushed meal our provincial leaders are on the phone or the computer. They front up to meetings are always available to speak to the press and take up the pen to write letters to the editor.
Thanks to every member elected and otherwise who has made this commitment. Without it the Federation could not function.
The Federation has made large gains organisationally in the last five years backing that member commitment. We have a highly professional staff working to help express the views of our farmer members at a local regional and national level. Membership has consistently grown in this environment.
Despite this there is always more to do than the resources and finances allow.That puts pressure on everyone throughout the organisation. Feedback through the council is an essential element of ever improving the way that the Federation operates.
I am looking forward to the discussion over the next two days as to how we can better achieve that objective.
This year we passed another milestone.
After six years of protracted frustration and time wasting we are now re-establishing ourselves in Northland. Charlie Pedersen and I have both spent time in the Northland area.
It has been great to be able to talk directly to farmers in Northland, to open up communications, to listen and learn about their aspirations and to involve them in the work of Federated Farmers of New Zealand (Inc).
So what have we achieved this year?
We defeated an emissions tax and we also stopped our levy funded organisations from allowing the government to dictate how levy funds shall be used. This was a huge effort by everyone concerned. The march on parliament to present our submission at the busiest time of the year for farmers was outstanding and has raised the profile of the Federation both nationally and internationally. It is the first of many fights and wins we must have against ridiculous taxes.
After 5 years effort we have allowed research into commercial use of GM to continue. Amongst all the controversy we should not forget the federation’s foresight and role in this.
Trading unassisted in the international marketplace we know we must make quantum leaps if we are to improve productivity and maintain competitiveness. GM is just a small part of the jigsaw but it was an option that could have been forever closed.
Let's not forget it was the federation that developed a policy of choice and proceeding with caution way back in 1998. We submitted on the PPL sheep prior to the establishment of the Life Science Network and were key in assisting the Network get off the ground. Most of our farmers have no immediate intention to use GM but we all know how important it is to keep options open.
I mention the GM debate because it epitomises everything that is great about the federation in particular its leadership and continuity. Our GM policy was developed through the grains sector and then taken to the national organisation for adoption. The process was led by Grains Chairman Alan Taylor. Leadership then transferred to Neil Barton followed by Hugh Ritchie. But this has not been merely a national debate. Provincial Presidents have appeared before council meeting after council meeting. They have opposed local government efforts to remove farmer choice. Some like Colin Bull and a team of supporters braved a massive Auckland street march and handed out brochures putting the other side of the debate.
Those leaders have not had the same public acknowledgement for their efforts as with the FART tax but I hope on 30 October they felt some level of self satisfaction. Their efforts, the LSN and a Royal Commission all helped give the government confidence to proceed.
Our successes often seem very small. For instance this year we realised that farmers were not getting the fuel excise refund from ACC for farm fuel not used on the roads. Through our efforts we corrected this. Now, a refund of 6c/litre or $60 dollars for every 1000 litres of fuel purchased is available to all farmers. This is a useful win for our members. It also highlights the benefits we deliver to all those who free ride on our efforts.
Also through the time and effort put into individual submissions such as the implementation of the HSNO Act. We are helping keep the cost effective use of chemicals on farm a reality.
What are the challenges ahead?
Theme of the conference is the big squeeze. Farmers will always have to contend with the fluctuating fortunes of climate (Northland wet,Central North Island drought), product prices and exchange rates. .In good and bad times alike we want policy settings from the government that will deliver on the wish to see New Zealand returned to the top half of the OECD economies. Rather belatedly the government has acknowledged agriculture as a key driver to achieving this.
Today we have four key heads of department telling us what they are doing to achieve this. However given the raft of government initiatives that add cost to our business the reality seems different from the talk.
One of the lessons to be learned from the emissions levy debate is that in today’s world productivity and environmental gains can go hand in hand. Efficiencies in feed conversion will give fast growing animals and reduce methane. Nitrogen mitigating technology will grow more grass and reduce nitrate leaching into waterways.
New Zealand farmers in conjunction with the science community have consistently been prepared to invest in ways to drive growth.
Voluntary initiative from QEII, Landcare Trust, and the Balance Environmental Awards are seeing farmers at the forefront of cost effective environmental enhancement..
However, the importance of the sector does not seem to be acknowledged in the access debate. Our right to secure control and possession of our land is under attack. The push for access by some recreational groups is threatening our security, biosecurity, and the welfare of our animals. We run the risk of greater exposure to liability from health and saf