Dairy farmer Gerald Spain, from Southland says good
communication between farmers and regional councils is
Third-generation Southland dairy farmer Gerald Spain
acknowledges farmers in the region are highly regulated
''whether rightly or wrongly''.
But, at the moment, he said farmers could work within the
regulations imposed on them by Environment Southland.
''We are adjusting. Farmers are very resourceful people,'' he
They were building good relationships with the regional
council, despite what he described initially as a ''massive
knee-jerk reaction'' from Environment Southland.
The situation was not as bad as had been made out and it was
not until staff got on the ground and saw first-hand what was
happening that the situation changed immensely, he said.
Dairy farmer and David Wilson, who farms on the Taieri,
from Southland says good communication between farmers and
regional councils is crucial.
Mr Spain has been heavily involved with the Waituna
Catchment Action Plan, which was produced by dairy farmers in
the Waituna catchment, with the support of DairyNZ, and
released in December, 2011.
Environment Southland had previously told farmers that the
lagoon - part of the internationally-recognised Awarua
wetlands southeast of Invercargill - was facing serious
problems that included a build-up of sediment and loss of the
ruppia (seagrass) which helped to maintain its ecological
There was a serious chance it could ''flip'' to a permanently
degraded state. When that was revealed to farmers, Mr Spain
acknowledged it came as a ''bolt of lightning''.
''We were fully compliant farmers, doing what we do,'' he
When they were called to a meeting, it was ''like a foreign
language. What's flipping? What's eutrophic?'' he recalled.
Mr Spain said some misrepresentation in the media had been
unhelpful, particularly statements that the lagoon was going
to be returned to a ''clear'' and ''pristine'' state.
The lagoon was sitting in the middle of thousands of hectares
of peat and it was ''always going to be a dark brown cup of
There was a perception among people living in Invercargill
that dairy farmers were putting effluent straight into it.
Since that first meeting, a ''tremendous amount'' had been
achieved and education and awareness had been the key.
Farmers had opened up their farms to independent assessment,
identified and developed a broad range of practical
initiatives and incorporated them in action plans for each
There needed to be a well-balanced approach to environmental
issues, rather than just fingers pointed at farmers, and a
big-picture approach needed to be taken.
''We're all in this thing together. We all need to make an
effort,'' he said.
The issue did not happen overnight and it would not be
repaired overnight, he said.
Mr Spain, who said he wanted to leave a good farm for his now
6-year-old son, said farmers were trying new things.
In his patch, a strength was the community, which included
third and fourth-generation farmers, supporting each other.
Another bonus was that Environment Southland was willing to
put three farmer representatives ''around the table'' every
month so the council had a direct line to what was happening
on site. That relationship was reciprocated.
''We have got good communication lines there,'' he said.
But, he said, common sense had to prevail for New Zealand as
''Everyone has to realise its going to take time. We need
time up our sleeves,'' he said.
The Otago Regional Council took a slightly different view to
other councils, basically deciding to set levels and then
letting farmers decide how to achieve those levels, Taieri
dairy farmer David Wilson said.
While it was hard to disagree with that logic, ultimately the
council faced the same problem as others - where those levels
And if they were set at levels that were too low and
''basically unachievable'', then Mr Wilson believed farmers
were being set up to fail. In such an instance, the only way
to get the levels down was to reduce stock numbers or cease
Mr Wilson believed debate ''really needs to be had as to
where we are heading with this process'' as he did not think
that debate had been properly held.
If the levels were achievable, then it was a positive for
both the environment and the farming. But if farmers could
not meet them, then there were much wider implications.
It was not just dairy farming - which contributed millions of
dollars to Otago's economy. Sheep and beef, deer and
horticulture were also affected.
Farmers had to continue to have a good relationship with the
council and continue to communicate - that was a key issue -
and that was what Federated Farmers had been doing. It was
not all negative, he said.
The council was trying to achieve good environmental outcomes
and, if farmers could assist in those outcomes, then it was a
''win-win'' for everybody.
A lot of people, politicians especially, were thinking
globally and a lot of things they were doing was acting
When acting locally, the impact it would have from a global
perspective needed to be considered.
New Zealand was one of the lowest producers of carbon. If
production was affected here, then food was going to be
produced somewhere with a bigger carbon footprint, he said.