Environmental campaigner appointed to grazing task force

Campaigner Angus Robson will join the winter grazing task force. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Campaigner Angus Robson will join the winter grazing task force. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor has appointed environmental campaigner Angus Robson as part of a winter grazing task force to help identify why winter grazing practices "were not currently working for all".

The 10-member task force is being chaired by Dr John Hellstrom, a director of Biosecurity Ltd and chairman of the national animal welfare advisory committee. It lists Southland dairy farmer Ewen Mathieson, Gisborne sheep and beef farmer Pania King and DairyNZ director Elaine Cook as the farmer representatives.

Other members include Drs Helen Beattie and Stephen Hopkinson of the New Zealand Veterinary Association, Dr Arnja Dale, chief scientific adviser of the SPCA, Dr Ross Monaghan, a senior scientist with AgResearch and Dave Harrison, GM policy and advocacy at Beef + Lamb NZ.

Federated Farmers dairy industry group chairman Chris Lewis said Fedfarms looked forward to a positive outcome from the task force.

"Feds will provide input when and if required," he said in a brief statement.

Environment Southland chief executive Rob Phillips said Environment Southland welcomed the announcement.

"Even though the main focus of the task force is on animal welfare issues, we know that winter grazing also has an environmental impact, so by addressing one issue we should see improvements in the other."

Otago Regional Council acting general manager regulatory Peter Winder said winter grazing presented challenges not only for animal welfare but also for the surrounding environment.

"Done poorly, winter grazing can result in elevated nitrate leaching, sediment run-off, phosphorus contamination and increased bacterial levels in waterways."

Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker was more critical of the task force's composition, saying it was "money down the drain". He expressed concern over the appointment in particular of Mr Robson and the lack of farmer representation.

Mr Robson recently published photos of cows standing in muddy conditions to reinforce the extent of harm to animals and also to Southland waterways. He said they were not isolated pictures.

Mr O'Connor expected the group to do a "stocktake" of the initiatives under way to promote good winter grazing practices and identify what was working and what was not.

"Then we need to come up with actions as to how we can get farmers where they should be."

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