Environmental issues hot topic in Europe, farmers told

Dave Harrison
Dave Harrison
Dave Harrison is pleased environmental issues are increasingly being talked about in New Zealand.

Debate in Europe - still New Zealand's highest-paying market for red meat - had moved on from greenhouse gas emissions to water quality and quantity, biodiversity and other environmental issues.

''It's really important to get our head around all these sorts of things as quickly as possible,'' he said.

Mr Harrison has been based in Brussels, as Beef and Lamb New Zealand's regional manager for Europe, since 2010.

As part of Beef and Lamb NZ's market access team, he worked on environmental, technical and trade policy issues affecting access for New Zealand sheepmeat and beef into Europe.

During a visit home, Mr Harrison attended a land and environmental planning workshop in Waikouaiti for farmers.

Beef and Lamb NZ's Central South Island extension officer Aaron Meikle said changing rules and regulations had ''always been a part of life'' in farming.

The Land and Environment Plan process was about accommodating and dealing with them.

The plans guided farmers through a recorded assessment of a farm's land and environmental issues and helped them develop a written plan outlining how those issues would be managed.

It involved a stock-take of land, soil and water resources, an assessment of production opportunities and environmental risks, and development of a plan showing what actions would be undertaken, where they would be targeted, and when they would be implemented.

Mr Harrison said it was great to have farmers like those involved in the Waikouaiti workshop taking those ''initial steps'' and more of that engagement was needed.

Originally from the UK, Mr Harrison worked for the Ministry of Agriculture (now Ministry for Primary Industries) and the Meat Industry Association, before joining Beef and Lamb in 2007 as legal counsel.

In Europe, Beef and Lamb's team had two main functions - market development, which was promotion, and the market access programme, which monitored policy within the EU.

Lobbying for better beef access was a ''perennial thing'' and, with the possibility of free trade negotiations in two years, would begin to ''take up a little bit more time''.

Beef and Lamb was also involved in a project with the European Meat Trade Association to develop methodology for assessing the impact of meat production.

It also worked alongside farmer groups in Europe on issues they had in common, such as attracting young people into the industry, or the best way to communicate with farmers.

While it was easy in New Zealand to look at Europe as being the European market, it was very diverse between countries. That diversity ranged from consumer preferences to how people did business, he said.

Mr Harrison also sat on the steering committee of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations' livestock environmental assessment and performance partnership.

A comment heard ''time and time again'' was of the challenge of feeding nine billion people by 2050 ''without stripping the planet and doing it sustainably'', he said.

Where regulations were being imposed, there was a stick - but there was also a carrot. New Zealand's meat industry had a long-term investment in Europe, with partnerships extending over decades. There was proven stability, as well as the best returns, he said.

His view and the view of most major European producers was that demand for sheepmeat and beef was going to be strong, he said.

An agreement between Federated Farmers and Beef and Lamb New Zealand means sheep and beef farmers will have a stronger voice in the regions on environmental issues, the two organisations say.

Beef and Lamb NZ has added a regional policy capacity to its national and international policy activities, directed at sustainability, through a contract with Federated Farmers to use its regional policy network.


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