Director James Cameron's NZ 'enviro-farm' turns to dairy cow grazing

Some of the cows grazing on Cameron Family Farms. Photo: Supplied via RNZ
Some of the cows grazing on Cameron Family Farms. Photo: Supplied via RNZ
James Cameron's plans to convert his Wairarapa properties into organic vege farms appear to have fallen short - with hundreds of cows now understood to be grazing in his paddocks.

The Avatar film director owns more than 1500 hectares of land in South Wairarapa, and has been outspoken about the need for New Zealand to move away from agriculture to curb carbon emissions.

Locals say he's not walking the talk - with plans for crop farming giving way to more lucrative dairy grazing.

However, they did note the farm had moved to get away from agriculture, that there was no intensive stock grazing taking place, and that staff did an excellent job with the property.

James Cameron. File photo
James Cameron. File photo
Cameron and his wife Suzy Amis Cameron spoke two years ago at a Just Transitions energy summit in Taranaki run by the New Zealand government, where they shared their thoughts on reducing carbon emissions.

They touted the benefits of moving New Zealand away from animal products - a task as tricky as turning the Titanic.

"You can't really talk about reducing emissions in New Zealand without talking about the future of ag[riculture] and food," Cameron said.

"The elephant in the room - or the cow in the room - here is obviously animal agriculture."

It was a cause the Camerons obviously cared a lot about. They shut down two dairy farms when they bought land near Featherston and established a large vegetable-growing operation.

Their website proudly states that 'Cameron Family Farms are dedicatedly leading the next generations of eco-warriors and farmers towards large scale animal-free organic eco-agriculture'.

Wairarapa locals say those words are starting to sound like a bunch of hot air.

Denise MacKenzie lives with her husband on a property neighbouring the Cameron Family Farms near Featherston - she said they had seen cattle on the property since last year.

The MacKenzie family used to own some of the land the Camerons now farm back in the 1980s and '90s and used to run cattle on it.

MacKenzie said there was plenty of interest when the Camerons first came to town and announced their plans.

"For anybody coming in and specifically wanting to grow new sorts of crops and vegetables - which was their emphasis - we thought 'well, this is going to be interesting to watch', just to see how successful it's going to be."

She said while the farm originally did have a lot of organically grown vegetables and crops, those activities appeared to have ground to a halt over the past year.

"I think they were unrealistic given the sort of climate and conditions, particularly in this area, that you would ever run a farm without animals."

She said that with the vegetable shop Cameron Family Farms had supplied in Greytown having since closed and cattle grazing in their paddocks, a lot of people were wondering what was happening.

"It's not being nosey, it's just kind of the Kiwi way in farming communities - people like to sort of learn from each other and look over the fence and see what somebody else is doing.

"At the moment we're just not sure what's going on, and that's our concern really. Is it all going to crank up again eventually? Or has it stopped indefinitely? What is happening?"

Jim Hedley has been farming in the area for nearly 50 years and said there were hundreds of cows on the Cameron farms.

"He's got dairy support as far as I understand. They graze the cattle there, and to my understanding there is quite a large number."

Hedley said Cameron was pushing a vegan way of doing things, while making money out of beef or dairy cattle.

While he said there was no milking taking place on the farm, he believed Cameron was falling short on his promise to move away from agriculture, and would do well to look at his own carbon emissions before taking aim at farmers.

"Perhaps he looks into taking a rowboat back to America when he goes back so he lowers his carbon footprint."

Checkpoint contacted many South Wairarapa residents for this story. Most did not want to speak, citing non-disclosure agreements they had signed due to connections with the Cameron Family Farms.

Others were happy to provide background, saying they were frustrated by the Camerons' public claims compared to their on-the-ground reality.

While Cameron was in New Zealand last year to work on the latest Avatar films, it is understood he has since returned the United States.

James and Suzy Cameron did not respond to requests to comment.

 

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