Dairy farmers vote on levy next month

Dairy farmers have only until the end of next month to have their say on whether they want to continue to pay a levy to fund activities to benefit the industry.

The present levy of 3.6c per kg of milk solids will stop in February next year if a ''yes'' vote is not returned. All who produce milk from cows and supply a dairy processor, including farmers, sharemilkers and dairy farm leaseholders, are levied and entitled to vote.

Under the Commodity Levies Act 1990 they must be asked every six years if they want to keep paying the milk solids levy.

At least 50% of the votes cast must support the continuation before an application can be made to the Minister of Primary Industries for a new order to be struck.

However, if the majority of farmers vote against the levy, ''industry good'' activity would stop. This happened for wool growers when sheep farmers voted against the continuation of the wool levy in 2009.

The levy is used to pay for research and development, lobbying on behalf of industry interests and bidding for Government funding.

It also covers the introduction of new technologies and employment of consulting officers, and contributes to such interest groups as Dairy Women's Network and the New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards.

In 2008 there was a 52% response or 7403 votes from about 14,000 eligible voters, with 74.6% voting ''yes'', 25.1% voting ''no'' and 0.3% of votes invalid.

The DairyNZ board is able to increase the levy up to a maximum of 5c per kg of milk solids after June 2016 but farmers would be consulted first.

DairyNZ is holding a series of forums this month to help farmers make an informed decision and to get feedback on what farmers see as future priorities for the organisation and its regional work.

Results of the levy vote will be announced in June.

- by Ruth Grundy