19 Endeavour Fund projects directly relate to agriculture and food production  

As an organisation that consistently calls for science and ground-truthed research to underpin policy and regulations, Federated Farmers says it has no problem with the government investing $249 million in the 2018 round of the Endeavour Fund.

“It’s a lot of money but it should be viewed as an investment in our future,” Feds science and innovation spokesperson Andrew Hoggard says.

“The nation has some big challenges ahead, including improving resilience to climate change, protecting biodiversity and maintaining economic performance.”

The Endeavour Fund is New Zealand’s largest research and science contestable fund and the 69 multi-year projects approved should deliver real gains in knowledge and future opportunities, Hoggard says.

He notes that at least 19 of the projects directly relate to agriculture and food production.

In particular, Federated Farmers is pleased to see an $11.4m NIWA project to advance the carbon inventory locked up in forest, grassland and urban environments, and $7.7m to a Lincoln Agritech-led team which will seek better understanding of the pathways by which nitrogen travels from land to waterways. This is a project which the Feds have identified as a priority.

Massey University will get $11.2m for its project Milks Mean More: Unlocking the potential of New Zealand’s ruminant milks, and NIWA will use $8m to explore new technologies to double the effectiveness of on-farm diffuse pollution mitigation.

New Zealand farmers pride themselves on being world leaders in both production and sustainability, Hoggard says.

They need the best science and research data available to step up our game even more.

Source:  Federated Farmers


Soil & Health is pleased that Federated Farmers has dropped legal action around GMOs

The Soil & Health Association says it welcomes Federated Farmers’ decision to drop legal challenges to several local council resource management plans controlling their outdoor use.

Soil & Health reminds us the farmers’ organisation has run a number of cases before the courts challenging the rights of communities in Auckland, the Far North and Whangarei to manage the outdoor use of GMOs within their own districts and regions.

The courts continued to find that territorial authorities have the right under the Resource Management Act (RMA) to set their own policies and rules controlling GMO use, a finding that Federated Farmers repeatedly challenged.

Marion Thomson, Soil & Health National Council Member, congratulated the farm organisation

” … for seeing the sense in dropping further litigation, allowing Councils to get on with making GMO policies and plans that reflect the needs of regions and communities”.

Soil & Health has held strong concerns about the potential impact of GMO land use on regions dependent on an agricultural export sector increasingly reliant on non-GMO requirements of key trading partners.

“This affects both the traditional agricultural sector and New Zealand’s growing organic sector,” Ms Thomson said.

The New Zealand environment and our local communities should not be guinea pigs for GMO land use, she said.

Auckland Council, Far North District Council and Whangarei District Council all prohibit the general outdoor release of GMOs and made field trials a discretionary activity with performance standards in place, whilst Northland Regional Council adopted a precautionary approach in its regional policy statement.

Soil & Health, representing organic and GE-free farmers, primary producers, home gardeners and consumers across New Zealand, has long campaigned against Federated Farmers in each court challenge brought by the feds.

On its website, Federated Farmers sets out their policy stance on GMOs (HERE):

“Federated Farmers’ policy on GMOs is designed to be neutral, recognising that members have a diversity of opinions on the subject.

“Federated Farmers does not advocate unrestricted use of GMOs, especially in relation to allowing foreign DNA into organisms. At the same time, we want to avoid a moratorium on new biotechnologies.

“Fundamentally, the Federation’s policy asserts farmers’ right to use technologies that are approved as safe. We support responsible, flexible farming systems which can respond to changing consumer preferences, market dynamics and advances in technology. We also want to ensure that New Zealand farmers can hold their own with our international competitors, in terms of on-farm productivity.”


Nutrient limits look likely to result in curb on dairy cow numbers

Environment Minister David Parker has signalled the imposition of rules which set limits on how much pollution farmers can put in to waterways.

Limits on dairy cow numbers could be among the consequences.

Mr Parker told TVNZ’s Q+A programme (HERE) there would not be a direct cap on the number of cattle but there may be limits on the amount of nutrients lost from a farm into a waterway.

“Cow numbers have already peaked and are going down, but yes, in some areas, the number of cows per hectare is higher than the environment can sustain. That won’t be done through a raw cap on cow numbers; it will be done on nutrient limits, the amount of nutrient that can be lost from a farm to a waterway, because it’s not just a dairy cow issue.”

Mr Parker conceded there had been no analysis of the economic impacts.

“But it’s very, very difficult to model, because second-best from the farmer perspective may still be very close to the same outcome profit-wise. Can I go back to what I was saying that I think one of the answers to this in south Canterbury, for example, lies in land use change towards more cropping, more horticulture, which are high-value land uses.’

The Government would not subsidise a change of land use change but would facilitate change through new technologies whose development it was willing to subsidise.

Mr Parker was unsympathetic to the idea of compensating farmers forced to reduce stock numbers.

“No you don’t compensate people for stopping polluting. Just because you could pollute last year doesn’t mean you should be allowed to do it all, or paid to stop doing it.”

Following up on the Minister’s TV interview, he was questioned on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report (HERE), when he acknowledged new rules to limit cow numbers could damage dairy land values.

Radio NZ recorded the reaction of National’s leader Simon Bridges HERE.

Federated Farmers dairy chair Chris Lewis told Radio NZ farmers are adaptable and prepared for changes, but he’s worried about what the Minister might be planning (HERE).

Mike Joy, a freshwater ecologist at Massey University, comments HERE.


Federated Farmers welcome new council – but where are the scientists?

Federated Farmers was quick to react to news of the new Primary Sector Council’s membership.

National President Katie Milne said having a dedicated panel for the primary sector was exciting, giving a chance “to really get focused on how New Zealand’s most important export earning sector will respond to a fast-paced changing world”.

The New Zealand Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Science was considering the council’s composition, when this item was posted.

It will be hard-pressed to find many scientists among the 15 appointees.

So what ringing endorsement does this amount to for agri-science leaders and the senior scientists at AgResearch, P&FR, Landcare Research, Scion and ESR, let alone Massey or Lincoln?
The new council (see HERE) will be chaired by Lain Jager.

At least he will – or should – have some sneaking regard for science.  He was with Zespri as scientists helped the kiwifruit industry recover from the impact of PsaV.

National’s spokesperson for agriculture, Nathan Guy, had misgivings, too.

Continue reading

Farm leader gives views on climate change committee and Govt’s policy aims

Radio New Zealand’s Nine To Noon programme today included an item on the Government’s climate change committee, “expected to do the hard yards for the Climate Change Commission to be set up next year…”

The commission – which in turn will make recommendations to the Government – will be chaired by David Prentice, who was most recently the CEO of the infrastructure firm Opus International Consultants.

Federated Farmers has expressed support for the committee’s membership but says there are huge challenges bringing farming into the Emissions Trading Scheme.

You can hear Kathryn Ryan speaking with the feds’  climate change spokesperson Andrew Hoggard HERE (duration 15′ 44″)

Source: Radio New Zealand

Federated Farmers is headed for court to challenge another council’s GM-free status

Undeterred by a string of failed legal attempts to stop other councils banning GM research, Federated Farmers is proceeding with its court challenge to Hastings District Council’s GM-free status.

News of this follows AgScience advising scientists (HERE) they should keep an eye on new legislation aimed at restoring the promotion of social, cultural, economic and environmental well-being of communities to the statutory purpose of local councils.

The legislators may be pressed to strengthen local authority powers to determine what happens in their regions on issues such as genetic modification research.

The Local Government (Community Well-being) Amendment Bill is designed to restore “four well-beings” (including economic and environmental wellbeing) to the statutory purpose of local government.

“By inserting the four well-beings back into the Local Government Act we acknowledge the valuable role local leadership has to promote the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of citizens and communities,” Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta said.

Radio New Zealand reminds us today (HERE) that the Hastings council was the first local authority in the country to ban genetically modified crops and animals under its 2015 district plan. Federated Farmers immediately challenged the rule in the Environment Court.

The Auckland and Far North councils have also declared their regions to be GM-free. Federated Farmers attempts to challenge them have been lost in the courts.

Radio New Zealand reports:

In 2016, the High Court upheld Northland Regional Council’s right to decide whether to allow genetically-modified organisms in their region.

The farmers’ lobby group appealed the decision, but lost, arguing the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, not the RMA, was the overarching legislation that governed GMO use.

Federated Farmers tried to overturn that ruling in the Court of Appeal in February 2017 but withdrew its case in November, just weeks before a scheduled hearing, citing changes to the RMA would have reduced their chances of winning.

But the feds are now challenging the specific rule in Hastings’ district plan that prohibited GMOs from being released into the environment.

Rule 29.1 forbid any release or field testing of any genetically modified organism, even if it already been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.

GMOs being used in labs or for medical use, such as in vaccines, were allowed.

Federated Farmers national president Katie Milne says the legal challenge is not about the “rights and wrongs of GMOs”.

“GMOs are managed within a national framework, and local authorities such as the Hastings District Council (and communities within local authorities) have a role within that framework. The framework is set up under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, not the Resource Management Act.

“Federated Farmers’ challenge to the Council in the Environment Court is about the Council attempting to pre-empt the national framework.”

Hastings District Council is being supported by the GM-free lobby group Pure Hawke’s Bay, which represents local farmers, growers and exporters.

The council submitted its evidence to the Environment Court last week.

Federated Farmers had until this week to respond before a hearing date was set.


Local government powers to constrain GM projects may be revisited

Scientists should keep an eye on new legislation aimed at restoring the promotion of social, cultural, economic and environmental well-being of communities to the statutory purpose of local councils.  The legislators may be pressed to strengthen local authority powers to determine what happens in their regions on issues such as genetic modification

Two new Bills also aim to re-introduce the ability of councils to collect wider development contributions and make it easier for them to bring in online voting.

The Local Government (Community Well-being) Amendment Bill is the one designed to restore the “four well-beings” to the statutory purpose of local government.

Previous National-led administrations had narrowed the statutory purpose of local government to focus only on service delivery and not broader community well-being, Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta said (see HERE)

“By inserting the four well-beings back into the Local Government Act we acknowledge the valuable role local leadership has to promote the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of citizens and communities,” she said.

“We are confronted with various challenges as a country such as the impact of population growth, climate change and ageing infrastructure. Quality of life outcomes as well as regional growth and prosperity require a broader focus in the way councils meet the challenge of setting priorities and planning for the future.”

There are implications for the constraint of research involving genetic modification.

Before the election, Labour said it would  maintain the status quo of new GM techniques requiring EPA approval for use.

Labour also declared it would maintain the ability of councils to decide on economic grounds whether and where release and commercial use of GMO plants and animals is allowed.

It would also protect farmers who do not wish to adopt GM technology by ensuring the liability regime for use of GMOs that cause harm is strengthened.

Green Party policy is that genetic engineering should occur only in a contained laboratory setting.

“Our food and environment should be GE Free,” the Greens say.

A second Local Electoral Matters Bill addresses the design, trial and analysis of new voting methods for local elections, and will make it easier to trial electronic voting, including online voting.

In November last year, GE-Free Northland expressed its delight after Federated Farmers withdrew two “vexatious” appeals to the Court of Appeal to challenge GMO provisions in the Northland regional policy statement and the council’s right to have the region declared GE-free. 

GE-Free Northland, along with appellant Whangarei District Council and other interested parties including Tai Tokerau mana whenua and the Soil & Health Association, at that time had successfully defended the right of local authorities to manage the outdoor use of GMOs in their region after Federated Farmers sought a ruling in 2015 that the Northland Regional Council had acted outside the law. 

Federated Farmers had argued that the Environmental Protection Authority had sole responsibility for the regulation of GMOs under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, and disputed the right of councils to put in place precautionary GMO provisions, and the right of local mana whenua to identify Issues of Significance.

The Northland Age reported (HERE):

The broad suite of interested parties standing behind the Whangarei District Council, the robust existing case law (unequivocal decisions by both Principal Environment Court Judge Newhook in 2015 and Justice Mary Peters in the High Court last year) and recent amendments made to the RMA (confirming the High Court ruling) had led the federation to the view that they were likely to have materially reduced the prospects of the appeal succeeding, he said.

A spokesman for GE-free Northland, Martin Robinson, said:

“Parliament acknowledged last April that local councils can regulate or ban outdoor use of GMOs under the Resource Management Act, in keeping with the wishes of farmers and other ratepayers.”

Councils across the country accordingly were now free to act on their duty of care to their constituents and the environment, putting in place a much-needed additional tier of local protection against the risks of outdoor use of GMOs, Mr Robinson said.

Whether the Government might be pressed to make sure councils are free to act on these matters by fortifying their powers is among the questions raised by the announcement of new legislation.