Congratulations for organising Open Gates initiative - Gerald Piddock

Fonterra and their farmers deserve a pat on the back for organising the open gate days on farms taking place on December 10, says Waikato Times Farming Editor Gerald Piddock.

It's a good initiative and will hopefully be well supported.

The only concern I have is the people who will go are either fellow farmers or those associated with the industry. That's preaching to the converted.

They are not the people the industry needs to reach.

What Fonterra should do is publicly challenge Greenpeace, Choose Clean Water, Fish & Game, the Environmental Defense Society, Safe, Farmwatch and other critics and all of their followers to put their money where their mouth is and attend the days.

Offer them an open invitation and challenge them to front up, leave their respective echo chambers and respectfully listen and talk to farmers.

They can ask farmers the hard questions about water quality, climate change or animal welfare.

The groups claim their gripe is with their leaders, not with grass roots farmers, well guess what - the bulk of the farmer hosts of these days are exactly the latter.

For farmers, the opposite rings true. They can try to justify their farming system to these people. If they believe in what they are doing and have the evidence to back it up, this should not be a problem.

Instead, this day will be a missed opportunity. It will never happen, which is a pity. Heaven forbid that Greenpeace or animals rights groups such as Safe are seen engaging with the 'enemy'.

It might affect their donations.

Who knows, if they did, maybe, just maybe, some middle ground would be found and a better appreciation of each other's views would lead to behaviour change for the better.

The open days came on the back of some big announcements from the dairy industry. Fonterra has revealed plans to combat water pollution and climate change and more lately the dairy industry announced its new strategy, Dairy Tomorrow.

Its commitments and goals are part aspirational and part challenge for the industry.

Of course it was decried by the usual suspects, claiming it failed to address cow numbers.

The main reason for not imposing a cap is that the industry wants to address water issues on a regional or catchment basis with iwi, regional and central government.

If a specific area  requires a fall in cow numbers, then it will happen through plan changes and national limits about swimmability standards.

It's a perfectly rational process to take because how a farmer operates in Northland is different to their farming system in Manawatu or in Canterbury.

In the end, the strategy aims to have farmers producing more with less. Lincoln University's Dairy Farm and DairyNZ's own award-winning Pasture21 project have led the way with research on this and it is being adopted throughout the country.

Arguably, it is already happening with LIC and DairyNZ's own latest statistics showing cow and herd numbers fell for the 2016-2017 season, yet milk solids production lifted.

You would think environmental groups would be congratulating the industry on this achievement, but so far the only audible noise has been the chirp of crickets.

Despite all this, the dairy industry is still failing in its messages. For all of the money the industry spends on PR campaigns, TV ads, and countless communication staff, it's astounding they did not front foot the cow numbers issue when launching Dairy Tomorrow.

They should have known they would be attacked on this. It is a festering scab that environmental groups will continue to pick at whatever initiative the industry tries to do to improve its environmental footprint.

It does not mean giving into their demands, but it does mean explaining why it is not directly addressed in the strategy or with Fonterra's water quality announcement.