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The dairy industry is once again headlining news this week. I acknowledge this is a tough time for farmers. You and I as farmers know that the dairy pay-out is volatile; it rises and it dips and as a result of this, it has evolved as one of the most financially enduring industries in the agricultural sector. Falling dairy prices means it may be a tight year for many, and budgets are being adapted to counter this.

There has been much emotive talk by opposition about how our Government is ‘failing the dairy industry’, because they can’t actively step into this situation and raise the dairy pay out back to $8kgMS. But the Government does have in progress three incredibly gutsy pieces of legislation that will assist the dairy industry, for which the benefits to dairy are widely unreported.  

Common sense clauses can be found in the reformed Health & Safety legislation as established last year. It is important for our farming people to identify and separate work, home, and recreational spaces. These changes are important in that we are all responsible for work place safety but your home is your haven, and we all know how important recreational activities are socially for our provincial communities. We would not want this to stop. Worksafe NZ are now focused on engaging and educating to ensure that you understand your obligations and that you are able to comply in a way that is less costly and complex than has been previously thought.

Resource Management Act (RMA) reforms have been introduced. The intent is to deliver simplified consenting processes.  The RMA’s slow processes are one of the more often expressed concerns in that it is considered to be a significant factor  in impeding growth in our provincial areas. We all want to protect our environment and our water, but you tell me often that red tape is getting in the way of productivity. The Government’s second phase of reforms is about reducing the bureaucracy that gets in the way of creating business and jobs, whilst supporting good environmental management.  

The Trans-Pacific Partnership will have a significant positive effect on the dairy industry. Dairy is the industry with the most actual dollars to gain from the signing of TPP.  An estimated $96 million is to be saved in annual dairy tariffs once TPP is fully implemented, the most from all sectors. The tangible effects of TPP are significant, as farmers will be able to sell their products into more markets, which means more money in their back pockets. TPP will provide New Zealand with improved access into regions where current access is highly restricted by high tariffs/small quotas. This will unlock access to 800 million consumers for our dairy and other exporters. It’s about helping our local producers, on the international stage. 

Never have I noticed communities looking after each other the way they are doing today. But this is underreported, because the deteriorating financial aspect is more attractive as headline material. I am immensely proud of the work our Rural Support Trusts do across the country. Every day members of rural communities are heading out, running support groups, checking on their neighbours, motivating farmers at local field days, and providing financial hardship assistance. In collaboration with DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb NZ, up to 100 support people are being trained to work for Rural Support Trusts, providing guidance and support to farmers around the country. They increase awareness of wellbeing amongst farmers, and highlight the concerns about high levels of stress, fatigue, and burnout in the industry. Transforming the Dairy Value Chain has invested around $2.1 million in farmer wellbeing initiatives over the last five years, and the programme is investing a further $950,000 over the next two years. This funding is complementary to the injection of an extra half a million dollars into rural mental health advocacy and initiatives last year which was well received, and will make a difference in many lives.

As a farmer, I know the low dairy pay-out is hard. No one is denying this. When you expect X, and get Y, you can find yourself in tough situations. In my 35 year career as a dairy farmer, we have faced volatile pay outs, adverse weather events, botulism scares, global politics, the removal of quotas, and the list goes on. Farming is a cyclical business and always has been. For this reason, farmers are in the game for the long haul, and not just one season. As a collective, we always get through. I am confident that this time is no different but it is taking longer than usual. It’s important to remember to seek help when needed, and to not be afraid to do so. Take care out there – we will get through this!

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