Rowarth - Farmers already proactive over land use changes

Former Chief Scientist at the EPA, Dr Jaqueline Rowarth, spoke with The Country’s Jamie McKay recently on the topical issues of water quality and land use.  

Currently attending the Dairy NZ farmers forum at Mystery Creek, Rowarth said the main point of discussion was farm nutrient limits:

“The main worry is absolutely the capping of nutrient loss, farmers are pretty concerned about the amount of regulation that appears to be coming with that.”

These proposed nutrient limits are part of a wider government initiative to proactively address the environmental impacts of agriculture, a movement furthered today with the release of the terms of reference for the Dairy Industry Restructuring Act.

The terms address land use change and the issue of organics or non-organics, posing the question: what in fact is the best system for New Zealand? According to Rowarth, it depends:

“Everything depends upon your soil type, your climate, reliability of water, topography, the presence of infrastructure, and the natural inclination of the farmer- they tend currently to be moving towards more of an interest in dry stock than, for instance, kiwi fruit. I think we should also factor in the problem of labour availability, I mean look at what’s happening to kiwifruit at the moment.”

Rowarth says farmers are already making land use changes, and have been for some time:

“The latest Statistics New Zealand report says that, actually, farmers are making a heap of changes in terms of what appears to be the most environmentally and economically sensible production system; that’s why there are more cows on the Canterbury Plains, its why there has been an expansion in kiwifruit. We have very adaptive farmers in New Zealand.”

McKay also questioned Rowarth on the subject of destocking, something which she says, in the dairy industry, is dependant on the farm’s starting point:

“I know that there is some research that says you can destock and make just as much, if not more money, but I keep asking people: “well what was the starting point?” Because if your starting point was overstocked- as in more animals than you can feed appropriately- then of course there will be a positive change!”

The industry now waits for the next move from Parker and the Labour government, a move that may bring these questions over destocking and land use into far sharper relief for farmers.