Collaboration and partnerships.
Two words mentioned often during a Federated Farmers high
country field day in the upper Waitaki last week.
It was a fitting location for such an event, with what could
be dubbed the ''green versus brown'' debate a very hot issue
in both the upper Waitaki and neighbouring Mackenzie
Starting in Twizel, about 140 people travelled in a convoy of
vehicles through Doug McIntyre's dairy farm operation, on to
Ohau Downs, where Kees Zeestraten is battling to bring
irrigation to his property, then through Ribbonwood Station
and into the Ahuriri Valley before viewing irrigation
development at Tara Hills near Omarama.
North Otago Federated Farmers high country chairman Simon
Williamson described it as a far cry from the ''barren,
rabbit-filled desert'' the properties once were.
There had been an enormous amount of work done to transform
some of that barren land into productive pastures and
irrigation had been a fundamental part of that
In an opening address, Federated Farmers national
vice-president Dr William Rolleston said there had been
''quite a swing'' in how both Federated Farmers and farmers
in general were trying to deal with the issue of long-term
sustainability , moving from a combative approach to one that
was far more collaborative.
Farmers lived in areas like the upper Waitaki and Mackenzie
because ''you value the values the rest of New Zealand
They did not want to live somewhere where there were polluted
streams and degraded countryside, Dr Rolleston said.
Looking at goals people were trying to achieve, 80% of those
goals were actually the same - it was the 20% that were being
Talking to each other and understanding each other's point of
view took people a long way forward. Progress would never be
made unless the opposition's point of view was understood, he
Dr Rolleston was disappointed with the lack of representation
from Forest and Bird at the field day, saying there should
have been ''a whole heap of people'' from the organisation
present to see the effort farmers were making.
Barry Hanson, partnerships director for the Department of
Conservation in the southern and eastern South Island, said
Doc and farmers were responsible for New Zealand's high
country, which was the ''envy of New Zealand and the world''.
An opportunity existed for Doc and the high country community
to get more aligned, which would be a ''massive positive'',
for the economy and environment, and the communities that
depended on both.
Working together in a collaborative approach was ''really a
no-brainer''. A partnership approach was much more rewarding,
satisfying and fun and when there was a shift in mindset to
working with people, good things started to happen, Mr Hanson
Mr Williamson said a fundamental change in the mindset of Doc
had ''certainly started'' and farmers looked forward to
working with Doc.
Dame Margaret Bazley, who leads Environment Canterbury's
commissioners, said the farms visited were ''really
''It's a reminder how lucky we are in New Zealand to live in
such a wonderful country,'' she said.
She was ''blown away'' by what farmers were managing.
They were running some of the biggest businesses in the
country ''and you don't see it'', she said.
Dame Margaret was conscious there were concerns throughout
the region about aspects of the Land and Water Plan.
Farmers were wanting to expand agriculture, there were
concerns for the economy and concerns for ''feeding the
world'', while on the other side there were
''We've got to bridge that gap,'' she said.
In talking to farmers, along with Forest and Bird, Fish and
Game and other environmental and recreational groups, a
movement in attitudes was evident, she said.
''You have to get around the table with them, sort things
out, get a middle road, because otherwise it will be forever
in the hands of courts,'' Dame Margaret said.
Ecan was there to work with farmers to grow the country's
economy through farming carried out in an environmentally
sustainable way, she said.
Labour's agriculture spokesman, Damien O'Connor, said the
high country was a very special place.
''Every Kiwi thinks they have part ownership of it, which is
part of your problem. It is also hopefully part of your
solution,'' he said.
From a dairy farm on the West Coast, Mr O'Connor recalled
driving through the upper Waitaki and seeing the dairy
development on the flats and thinking ''what bloody idiot is
going dairy farming here?''''Today has helped me get through
that,'' he said, after the tour.
He recognised the economic driver for converting to dairying,
saying given the absence of a viable meat industry ''everyone
who can is going dairying, because that's where the money
From an economic perspective, that was ''bloody dangerous''.
But the reality dairy farmers were getting 10 times the
return of drystock farmers could not be denied.
The meat industry needed to be ''sorted out'' and something
needed to be done with fine wool because it was
When it came to the dairy industry, ''where it goes and where
it stops'' was the big question.
''You here are at the cutting edge of the single biggest
question facing New Zealand at the moment.''
There was almost total dependence for growth on the dairy
industry and on China.
''So if we get it wrong or a biosecurity incursion happens,
we're a one-trick pony at the moment,'' Mr O'Connor said.
Mr Williamson said high country farmers achieved a lot at the
field day and he welcomed the attendance of Dame Margaret,
fellow ECan commissioner Tom Lambie, Mackenzie Mayor Claire
Barlow, Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher, councillors and Doc.
''The big thing that we can take away from [the field day] is
that we are incredible innovators and we are achieving great
''New Zealand's high country farmers are made of strong stuff
and it has by no means been an easy road but it just proves
how resilient we truly are,'' he said.