In his address as Chairperson to the Federated Farmers Dairy Council in Wellington on Tuesday, Wayne Langford canvassed where he thinks the sector is heading and what challenges are coming over the horizon…
We are entering a new era for New Zealand dairy, in a decade where the world will never see change as fast as what we’ll witness by 2030.
Where we will be is hard to predict in the current climate, but I believe our sector could not be better placed to capitalise on this. We are moving from volume and velocity, to quality and value. Our environmental efforts over the last 10 years will begin to pay dividends; the discussions on farm are moving away from the basics of fencing waterways and effluent ponds (which were all costs), now into nutrient management and precision placement of water. These are alll things set to drive efficiency and profitability. We may just be what some would call ‘Fit for a Better World’.
Our milk companies are recognising that there is no more extra milk volume to be gained, instead their task is to turn what we as farmers are proudly producing into a product our markets want, our markets need and most of all, one our markets will pay for. I talk about quality and value, but this does not necessarily mean boutique cheeses and glass-bottled milk. I’m talking about the world’s best ingredients products, the most efficient and high-quality milk powders and a touch of consumer goods to show just how good we really are.
So where do Feds fit within all of this? It is a time when our country and our economy need us the most. Farmers should be proud to be the heartbeat of the team of five million. We can achieve all that is listed above but let us make sure we are not doing it with our hand tied behind our backs.
We will play our part in climate change, remembering we are the most efficient producers in the world, with our emissions per kilogram of milk solids around half the global average. That does not mean we can rest on our laurels; we signed up to the Paris accord and we have a responsibility to meet our obligations. Just remember, climate change is a global issue, for every kilogram we produce, another country produces that with twice the pollution. Feds are continuing to drive this message home.
Many dairy farmers are facing uncertainty with the new freshwater regulations. Feds have gone to bat for those farmers who have been pushed into unworkable scenarios. Again, as farmers we have our part to play, our environmental capital has been eroded and we need to get some of that back. Let us find solutions that work on a catchment-by-catchment basis and not just a broad-brush approach across the whole country.
It has been eight months since I took on the role of Dairy Chairman for Federated Farmers NZ and what a ride it has been so far. Fortunately, the state of the dairy section was left in good hands by my predecessor Chris Lewis and he kept hold of the immigration and employment portfolios to lighten my load. With the troubles that Covid-19 has brought on, having some extra support and experience around the table has been invaluable.
Chris has had many sleepless nights on the “ridge”, on our behalf. The NZ dairy industry had a large proportion of migrant workforce. Feds have pushed for visa extensions and to get skilled staff back into the country. Not just by banging our fists on the table but by working collaboratively with other sectors such as horticulture, aged care, hospitality and construction. Going to government with options rather that ransoms has worked so far.
Workplace conditions have improved dramatically even within my short time on the dairy executive. Farmers are now talking of staff working 45-50 hours/week rather than the traditional 60. Modernised rosters and improved housing conditions are making farming opportunities even more attractive to employees.
Even the smaller but still especially important issues – live export review, DIRA, NAIT, fallen stock, Animal Code Welfare Review, winter grazing and MBovis – are just a fraction of what has come across our table.
Our sharemilkers section and sharemilker farm owners section continue to work hard to provide guidance to an integral part of our industry. With Aaron Passey and John Numan at the helm we have a fresh sense of enthusiasm to work on key issues.
I have been working proactively on the Dairy Tomorrow strategy’s six commitments to help ensure our industry thrives. We are keeping a strong working relationship with DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb.
Of course, it’s easy for me to stand up here and make everything look good. However, we do have some challenges ahead. Increased attention on the dairy industry’s wintering practices cannot be ignored and it is now time to be at best practice or better. This year we will have increased pressure on animal welfare standards, as much as water quality. I encourage farmers to take heed of this warning and plan accordingly.
We will have discussions on bobby calves at our Council today. This is drawing increasing attention overseas and we would be fools not to have plans around what we are doing in this space. With significant improvements in the last three years, we need to ask what now can be done to get to the next level. Let it be clear that Feds Dairy is here for our members, but we will not condone poor practices.
To finish off I want to bring up an issue which I will work hard on in the next three years as Dairy Chair – farm progression. We will have over 5000 farms come on the market in the next five years, we need to ensure there are 4500 farmers left at the end of this, not 500 farms. Having young families on farms, forging their farming businesses has been the success of NZ ag for almost 200 years, we must not lose this. Many of the issues I’ve outlined above are seen as challenges and opportunities to these farm owners, they will use their skills and ‘can do’ attitude to meet what comes at them.
Thank you to my dairy executive, our dairy council, the staff at Federated Farmers, Chris Lewis and most of all Kerry Gray, our hard-working dairy policy advisor. Someone who can manage our jokes but at the same time keep us serious, really does have a true gift. These topics, this workload is far more than one man could take on alone. So thank you.
I look forward to the next two days of Council discussions; Feds dairy is not my voice, it is our voice and these two days are pivotal in understanding that message.