Concerns about regional councils aired

Sheep and beef farmers attend at meeting at Strathview Station, Clarks Junction, to listen to...
Sheep and beef farmers attend at meeting at Strathview Station, Clarks Junction, to listen to politician Mark Patterson. PHOTOS: SHAWN MCAVINUE
Regional councils ignoring direction from central government is the number one issue for sheep and beef farmers, a government minister says.

Sheep and beef farmers fired questions at Associate Agriculture Minister Mark Patterson in a woolshed in Strath Taieri last week.

Agriculture ministers from the coalition government launched a national woolshed roadshow in April and the latest tour stop was Strathview Station, in Clarks Junction.

Mr Patterson, a South Otago sheep and beef farmer, said the roadshow aimed to seek feedback on how the government was addressing challenges facing sheep and beef farmers.

Sheep and beef farming had never been tougher for this generation.

"Low returns and high interest rates is a toxic cocktail," he said.

Farmer Peter Lawson, of Middlemarch, asked Mr Patterson for his thoughts on the "Otago Regional Council debacle".

Mr Patterson said Environment Minister Penny Simmonds had "tried to reel them in".

Otago regional councillors approved a report to Ms Simmonds last month outlining the council’s timeframe on its land and water plan.

Ms Simmonds called for the report after telling the council she did not want to see it wasting ratepayer money on its plan as there were significant changes on the horizon for the overarching national policy statement for freshwater management.

Mr Patterson said the changes to the policy statement could take more than a year.

"So we are trying to get them [ORC] to pull back so they are not doing a whole lot of piece of work, that then needs to be redone. "

Many farmers he had talked to on the roadshow also lacked confidence in regional councils implementing any direction given by central government.

"It is the number one issue coming up on the tour."

However, the central government wants to move towards "localism" and regional councils overseeing it rather than a "one-size-fits-all" type of regulations coming out of Wellington, Mr Patterson said.

Mr Lawson said he wants the central government to apply more pressure on regional councils to follow national directives.

"You’ve got no clout around the table."

Steven Nichol said if central government moved to scrap a need for winter grazing consents, would those farmers who already paid to obtain one would get reimbursed.

Mr Patterson said he had not heard of any refund being given if there was a change.

Ian Ritchie, of Middlemarch, said the price increase of council rates and insurance premiums was inflationary and needs to be reviewed.

"Is anything being done to bring these buggers back in line?"

PGG Wrightson agent Gerard Shea asked for an update on the progress on lifting a ban on the export of live animals.

Mr Patterson said lifting the ban could unlock $390 million in revenue and open a market for dairy steers.

Minister for Rural Communities and Associate Agriculture Minister Mark Patterson, of Lawrence,...
Minister for Rural Communities and Associate Agriculture Minister Mark Patterson, of Lawrence, fronted a meeting about the challenges facing sheep and beef farmers in a woolshed on Strathview Station in Clarks Junction last week.
However, high standards for exporting live animal were needed to protect the reputation of New Zealand.

"We cannot afford another disaster," he said.

About 6000 cattle died aboard the Gulf Livestock 1, which sank in a storm on the way to China in 2020.

Mr Patterson said the government was reviewing rural banking.

"Banks are blaming the Reserve Bank for capital requirements and the Reserve Bank is blaming them for having some of the highest margins in the world so we want to get to the bottom of that."

Mr Patterson, the minister responsible for wool, said there was a "deep cynicism" when anyone claims the state of the strong wool industry could be turned around.

"I’m here to tell you we can and we absolutely have to. It is not about wool, it is about the viability of high country sheep and beef farming. If we don’t get some profitability back in there, the whole place is going to end up in pine trees, which is not good for our rural communities."

Wool scouring service provider Woolworks was "highly motivated" to improve the price for strong wool to reverse a trend of a "noticeable swing" of more farmers running shedding sheep.

The auction system for selling strong wool had failed farmers and an alternative pathway to market was needed, Mr Patterson said.

"We are absolute price takers," he said.

Chris Thomson, of Hindon, said it was a "sad state of affairs" when a farmer could make more by growing trees than running livestock.

The government needed to be doing more to protect the sheep and beef industry.

"I feel if we don’t do something our industry is going to die," Mr Thomson said.

Mr Patterson, who is also the Minister for Rural Communities, said the issue was big and the settings must be right to get the balance right.

He asked farmers for their feedback on red meat co-operative Alliance Group’s capital raise from shareholders.

Jim Stevenson said it was a bad time to be asking farmers for money, but he supported the move.

"If you lose Alliance where is everybody going to get their lambs killed?"

Asking farmers to contribute was better than selling half of the company to an international investor.

Willie Jones floated the idea of Alliance and Silver Fern Farms working together to make a more efficient business.

"Imagine the efficiencies," Mr Jones said.

Mr Patterson said the government was targeting doubling export value.

"Given that 80% of our exports come from our primary sector, we are going to have to go back to the well we always go back to as a country — you guys."

The next woolshed meeting is being held at 1838 Puketoi-Highfield Rd, Maniototo, from 10am today.