Excluding stock from waterways concern for farmers

Stock exclusion from waterways may prove more contentious for meat and fibre farmers than the implications of the Otago Regional Council's 6A water quality plan, Federated Farmers Otago meat and fibre chairman Simon McAtamney believes.

Late last year, the Land and Water Forum published its fourth report on water management and one of its key recommendations was to exclude all large livestock from waterways to protect the water quality of rivers and streams.

In his report to the branch's annual meeting in Balclutha, Mr McAtamney said while sheep were exempt, it got "a little more complicated'' with cattle and deer.

There were many questions over the issue and it would not go away.

Farmers would have to make compromises and the tricky part remained finding practical and economic solutions to the problem, he said.

Spring and summer had been seasons of real contrasts for Otago farmers.

Some areas, particularly South and West Otago, had good rain and favourable pasture growth, while most other areas had been "hammered'' by extremely dry conditions for the second consecutive year.

Markets had also been mixed, as there had been very good beef and wool prices, and venison and velvet prices made a good recovery to the levels of several years ago.

But for lamb, mutton and store sheep returns, it was a case of "enough said'', Mr McAtamney said.

"For those who had no rain and run predominantly sheep, this would have been a very tough year,'' he said.

Some prices paid for store lambs in the early summer were "awful'', but reflected a lack of surplus feed in the South Island and very shaky buyer confidence with a plummeting lamb schedule.

Although farmers had been well warned that schedules would take another dive after the last boats left for the Easter trade, the message left Mr McAtamney "a little disillusioned''.

"The Easter trade value revolves around mainly UK supermarkets buying lots of chilled lamb and then discounting it in store to entice customers to shop. Where is the real added value here?

"Ultimately, we want shoppers coming back, week after week, to repurchase high quality cuts because they value the product.

"The message many farmers will have taken from this year for next will be to kill as many lambs as possible as early as you can, no matter the specification.

"Can the companies process more lamb at the time of year? Can they actually sell much more through that Christmas and Easter trade channel? This season has shown that the industry does not have the depth of markets that consistently absorb regular high volumes of chilled lamb,'' he said.

Another area of real concern for many drystock farmers was the uncertainty regarding dairy grazing.

There had been quite a shift by many dairy farmers to winter some or all of their own cows on farm.

Winter grazing had become a big industry in Otago and quite a few farmers were going to be "caught short'' as cows would not be available.

Some farmers had been desperately trying to source alternative stock as they had some "huge holes'' in their budgets.

Uncertainty over potential payments was also a concern as contracts were often difficult and costly to enforce.

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