High country topics aired at field day

Rob Stokes (left) chats to his Lees Valley farm manager Tim Sowman. PHOTO: SUPPLIED BY ROB STOKES
Rob Stokes (left) chats to his Lees Valley farm manager Tim Sowman. PHOTO: SUPPLIED BY ROB STOKES
High country issues got a fair airing at a recent field day.

Government agencies, farmers and industry organisations came together at Rob Stokes’ Lees Valley property, near Oxford, to discuss subjects as diverse as fire danger, adverse events, pastoral leases, water quality, biodiversity and forestry.

The issues have come to the fore in recent months with major high country fires and new government legislation.

The field day provided a chance for farmers to discuss their challenges with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz) and Environment Canterbury staff, as well as MPs.

Federated Farmers, Beef and Lamb New Zealand and the agency Alpine Fault 8 were also represented.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand North Canterbury principal rural fire officer Bruce Janes (left),...
Fire and Emergency New Zealand North Canterbury principal rural fire officer Bruce Janes (left), with Rangiora Volunteer Fire Brigade chief fire officer Hamish Peter, says fire danger can be reduced with forward planning. PHOTO: DAVID HILL
While no government ministers attended, Mr Stokes, the Federated Farmers high country chairman, hoped a ministerial visit was in the pipeline next month.

"It seems like there’s light at the end of the tunnel. It’s good news that these organisations have come on board and we can work through some of these issues."

Fire and Emergency New Zealand North Canterbury principal rural fire officer Bruce Janes says...
Fire and Emergency New Zealand North Canterbury principal rural fire officer Bruce Janes says forest fires can be avoided. PHOTO: FIRE AND EMERGENCY NEW ZEALAND
Federated Farmers national board member Chris Allen said recent government legislation seemed to be a "one-size-fits-all approach" and was unworkable in a high country environment.

"It was a great to be part of an event in an iconic part of the landscape, which really lent itself to get the discussion into that practical side.

"Our job as Feds is to help inform policy makers so they can come up with something that is workable, and the field day was a really good showcase of what isn’t going to work."

In the firing line were new stock exclusion rules, which should not apply in the high country, Mr Allen said.

"We need to go back to the basics and ask what is the problem and what are we trying to fix? There is a lot of cost to farmers and for not much outcome."

On the positive side, Mr Allen said there was good engagement between farmers and MPI in tackling wilding pines.

"There’s a lot of good work going on in the high country and people don’t see it."

Fenz North Canterbury principal rural fire officer Bruce Janes said the field day was a good chance for firefighters and farmers to discuss the benefits and dangers of controlled fires.

"Not all fire is bad. We’ve had an increasing number of inquiries for burns for 100 to 300 hectares of land.

"Burning is part of our history and our land management, and we can help farmers and address their concerns. Farmers were very receptive."

Fenz offered a free service to advise farmers on how to manage controlled fires.

Farmers were advised to prepare a five-year burn plan.

"We know the devastating impact of escaped burns. But these can be avoided with smart land management.

"If you’re out on the quad bike and think ‘it’s calm, so I’m going to light up’, but you haven’t looked at the weather forecast, you’re asking for trouble."

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