(Warning – off topic, but still important)

Despite statements to the opposite, New Zealand is a country that gains significant wealth from agriculture and horticulture. That we do so, such a long distance from our main markets, is in part testament to the fact that we’re blessed with significant rain which mean significant grass. We can turn grass to meat, milk and fibre in a relatively low impact way.

Having spent significant amounts of time in Northern Europe, and trawling the aisles of the Whole Foods stores in the US, I’m painfully aware of how consumers are becoming more and more aware of food miles and the general impact of the food they consume. In this climate and, once again given our distance from markets, it would seem that New Zealand’s only two points of difference can be the *purity* of our produce, and the application of smart science to agriculture.

The latter is a vast topic, that I’ll come back to some other time, but the former is of vital importance right here, and right now. You see three companies are applying for consent for 16 proposed dairy farm developments managing nearly 18,000 cows housed in cubicle stables. The rational for the stabling is the dual issues of an extreme cold climate and low rain fall.

Now the sensible among us would say that anywhere with an inhospitable climate and low levels of the primary resource needed for dairying (ie rain/grass) is, by default, an inappropriate place to even think of dairying. However, these business people disagree.

Surprisingly, and refreshingly, Fonterra have come out in opposition to the plan, smartly realizing that cubicle grown milk places an extreme threat to New Zealand’s competitive advantage when it comes to the world markets. Unfortunately, that great big red neck brigade, Federated Farmers, is blindly supporting this proposal.

In a statement released a couple of days ago, FF claims that it wishes to advocate for the right of these farmers to make an application but, as I mentioned to Federated farmers directly, over half of the paragraphs in the press release actively advocate for factory farming. They’re still adamant saying:

Capture

I’ve clipped the release below, the paras I consider to go beyond merely advocating the right to due process have been marked in grade a red-neck ink. You’ll see that it’s a statement that goes entirely beyond their mandate to protect their members rights to due process, it in fact advocates this project and in doing so, creates a significant risk for the majority of its members who would potentially lose out medium to long term if this project were to go ahead.

fedfarm

So, without wanting to get all political. this is an issue that needs everyday New Zealanders 9and interested foreigners) to put their hands up. Submissions to the application are due December 18 and further information can be obtained from the Environment Canterbury website – here.

The blackout campaign which turned around the s92a decision shows that the voice of the people can make a difference – I urge you all to use your voices in this case to.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

20 Comments
  • So they are advocating a combined total of 10.5 square metres per animal. From memory, that’s about the same amount for a person in an office. Given the bulk of the animals and their relative lack of freedom of movement (not like they can go for a run after work) this is very intense!

    Put together a basic submission here and publish it so it can be re-used. Councils look at the number of submissions – pros and cons.

  • Daniel Spector |

    Truly, New Zealand is blessed with significant rain and significant grass.

    Alas, cows locked in the wee stalls in such (typically filthy) industrial facilities don’t see the sun, the rain or the grass. The proposed facilities will almost certainly feed the dark-dwelling bovines Palm Kernel Animal Feed imported (on high emission, high sulphur fuel burning ships, of course) from Indonesia or China.

  • Good work Ben

    I’m working on a model submission that hits all the RMA hot buttons now and will post a link soon.

    It’s great to see international attention is growing, and just like the S92A blackout campaign, it will probably take some international embarrassment for the government to do the right thing.

  • This is far too risky for New Zealand (not that I would condone otherwise) – has anyone put together a page (like the #s92a) where people can meet to protest?

  • A proforma submission form is coming. Until then the Greens offering will have to suffice…
    http://www.greens.org.nz/actionalerts/action-alert-factory-farming-mackenzie-country

  • This proposal does not go far enough. There are many other flat areas that could be utilised for the development of our national wealth. While the Mackenzie Basin is an obvious area, which must be approved immediately for GDP maximisation, there are many other places that offer little other than sightseeing for tourists. Given their sheltered nature, I would recommend that Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound and the Marlborough Sounds immediately have anchorage facilities built to accommodate dairy farming barges. Quite apart from the potential to accommodate large numbers of stock (clamped in pens for their own safety) effluent discharge directly into the ocean would avoid polluting our precious rivers.

  • @Peter – good points. Actually now that you mention it, even your ideas don’t go far enough. Why don’t we genetically modify dairy cows so they no longer have legs or tails – we could then fit twice as many cows in a shed (and stack them up nicely on top of each other) to maximise outputs…

    Actually – now that you mention it, why don’t we just take that Fiordland water you were talking about and add melamine to it to make synthetic milk…

    Oh yeah, that’s already been done, I forgot….

  • I have set up a Facebook Fan Page (to help it get momentum rapidly) any content / blog posts or model submissions post over there are well: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Say-NO-to-factory-farming-of-Cows-in-New-Zealand/226151374782

  • I’ve posted my guide to submitting online over at http://farmgeek.co.nz – happy to reproduce here too.

  • Good work, Ben. I couldn’t believe my ears when I first heard about these ludicrous plans. It’s so wrong in so many ways… Let’s make sure common sense prevails.

  • I think you are all so desperate to see the bad, that you are clutching at things that just are not there.

    Federated Farmers press release actually just weighs up the options and even goes as far as to offer up ways of reducing the environmental footprint of farming – “Diluted cow effluent also contains vital nutrients that can be recycled back into pasture over the summer months to support grass growth, which further reduces the need for fertiliser”.

    In reply to the first comment Federated Farmers also state here that IF this was to go ahead regulation would mean “cows must (also) have easy access to feed and water, ventilation, freedom to move and, of course, access to pasture”.

    Personally, I haven’t seen any proof of Federated Farmers directly advocating for cruel factory farming practices.

    I have though, seen that Federated Farmers invited you, Ben, to join Federated Farmers and make your rural voice heard. And, that you backed down there???

  • Hi Sarah, thanks for the reply – always good to have some dialogue around the issues. When the FF goes out saying that the proposal is “almost” inline with European organic standards, that this proposal sees as controlled farming as is possible and that it’s a good way to apply a European style of farming to a European type climate – it pretty much looks like the’re advocating for factory farming.

    I guess it’s up to everyone’s personal morals whether or not that constitutes “cruelty”.
    For myself, I’m less concerns about the animal welfare issues than the long term ones for NZ Inc. Going low cost is a race to the bottom – intensification of dairying would see us do to farming what Asian manufacturing has done to our manufacturing sector IMHO.

    In terms of FF’s invitation to me to join, despite living in a rural location I’m not a farmer so an organisation that lobbies for farmers isn’t overly logical for myself.
    I am however involved in a number of different organisations that further the interests of my community when they are applicable to my situation.

  • @Murray – thanks for that

  • Thanks for that, although I don’t recall Federated Farmers then saying that because the proposal is ‘almost’ in line with EU standards NZ should definitely go ahead with it. To me it seems more like a statement than clearly on one side than the other.

    From the press release, what I gathered was that Federated Farmers were having a go at council as well as pulling together interesting information on other examples of the methods.

    Council are the ones who have made it hard for these farmers to farm their land – Federated Farmers has stated that “tighter regional council and national rules may force other farmers to consider this type of farming (too)”.

    Have you pursued council to find out why they are not working together with farmers to help them farm their land in a more sustainable manner?

    I think one line of Federated Farmers press release sums up what Federated Farmers are trying to do – “these are only applications and as such, they have to go through the full resource consent process. I think it’s safe to say we’re going to have a very helpful debate”.

  • Hey Sarah… I guess it comes down to interpretation. Most people I talk to interpret the PR similarly to the way I do. Notwithstanding any of that I would have thought that FF have a responsibility to think about what factory farming might do long term for our image and come up with a policy statement around that?

  • Sarah, some parts of NZ are simply not suited to dairy farming. To give the councils a hard time for doing their part to protect the environment is missing the point.

    Given that more than 95% of the milk we produce in NZ is exported, squeezing every last bit of production from marginal, fragile land is nothing more than short sighted opportunism.

    NZ doesn’t need this type of farming and if Federated Farmers were really friends of the farmers they claim to represent, they’d take a stand for what is right. Blindly supporting everything (a small number of) farmers want to do does them (and the country) no favours.

  • @FarmGeek – go you good thing!
    @Sarah – and back to you

    (always nice to play a little two on one tennis!)

    😉

  • I guess that’s why they say – this is only an application. I would like to think that if these ever became anything more than applications (and I am definitely not for this happening) that Federated Farmers would come out with socially responsible opinions and advise for their members.

    I seriously doubt it would ever get to that stage though, again I have to side with Federated Farmers – if it has done anything, it has made for a seriously good debate.

    I wonder, if Federated Farmers had stayed out of it completely, I presume you have chastised them for staying quiet. When you are such a public figure, I guess you can never win.

  • Thanks John, I am completely aware of that. I think more than anything, Federated Farmers is opening up the floor for interesting debate, they have never said they are openly for factory farming, nor mentioned the words factory farming.

    They have though openly backed the right for the farmer to place an application. I’m sure you would be outraged if these freedoms were taken away. It is those freedoms that allow us to have this kind of debate. This is democracy at its best.

    Remember the applications have not been approved, you can’t criticise someone’s right to float an idea, no matter what your personal opinion is.

  • Sarah, you seem to have all the Federated Farmers’ talking points down pat – are you involved with them in some capacity?

    If it’s just an application, when should we express our concern? When the proposals are passed unopposed? Surely the time is now for Federated Farmers to take a stand, and nobody has suggested they should stay out of the debate.

    I’m sure the Federated Farmers members that have paid their $500 to join are pleased to see them now spending their efforts taking on a devil’s advocate role. As you suggest – at least it’s making for a fun debate.

    I think Federated Farmers have seriously underestimated the depth of public feeling at these proposals. Think GE or Nuclear Free.

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