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Feds president reflects on challenges of storms, land use and representation

From left to right: Sam Hain (Vice President)Toby Williams (president) Kristi Roa (new executive member) Macauley Jones (Senior policy advisor Fed farmers) Salli Baldock (provincial sales and engagement advisor federated farmers).

“It's been one hell of a year on the East Coast.”

That is how Gisborne Wairoa Federated Farmers president Toby Williams summed up the year at the organisation's 77th annual general meeting this week.

His report drew attention to the need for better recovery response during storms, land use changes and rural representation.

With four “significant” storms dating back to July last year and the “big one” in March this year, farming communities throughout the Coast had experienced widespread damage, he said.

Much like Tokomaru Bay and Tolaga Bay, Frasertown and Ruakituri were significantly damaged and experienced power outages and cellular connectivity shutdown.

Mr Williams said throughout the storms the “Feds” had a response team up and running, meeting every day to share information and making sure support was given if someone was in urgent need.

“One thing that became apparent with the response to the storms — and now with the recovery — is that we, Federated Farmers, are expected to do much of the heavy lifting.”

The Feds were trying to bring some changes that could help the farming community in a more efficient way, he said.

Wairoa branch chair Allan Newton said farms in the district would take years to recover from the damage inflicted by the March storms.

The district received close to 700ml of rain on average for the month of March.

“There has been a lot of growth during this time for grass and crops yet, due to the weather, many crops have been damaged or are struggling to be harvested,” he said in his report.

“Yields have been affected and farm incomes will be down.

Coupled with the slips and roading closures and major bridge damage, “the event had impacts on farms physically and financially that will take years to recover from”.

Mr Williams said the Feds were working closely with the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Gisborne District Council recovery team to gather information and ensure that farming communities were not left alone in this recovery phase.

“We are running a survey and will look to be hosting some community events in the areas that have been most affected by the storms.

“From my perspective it's important that the contact and connections continue throughout the next year or more.”

Mr Williams said land use change remains the biggest threat to the region.

“Barely a week goes by without a farm in either Gisborne or Wairoa going on the market.

“Almost exclusively they will be sold to forestry and in many cases to offshore investors for conversion to forestry,” he said.

The Government had earlier this year put forward a proposal to exclude “permanent pine forests” from the Emissions Trading Scheme and the playing field would be levelled out between pastoral farming and forestry.

Federated Farmers, however, were not too confident or feeling too positive about the Government's initiative, he said.

The fight to prevent the sale of Huiarua and Matanui stations to offshore interests for conversion to forestry continues.

Mr Williams said personally he would have “no problem” if the land was kept as productive farmland.

The other issue discussed at the annual meeting was the local government representation review.

“It's fair to say that we are not happy with the decision to have no dedicated rural representation,” he said.

In April the Local Government Commission rejected the GDC's preferred option of six city general ward councillors, two rural general ward councillors, and five Māori ward councillors. Intead it opted for just two wards, one general ward made up of eight councillors, and one Maori ward, of five councillors.

“One thing remains sure that in the next review, in six years time, we will be pushing strongly to remove the Single Transferable Voting system and reinstate a rural ward if it's deemed that the current representation does not work well for us as rural people.”

Other discussions at the annual meeting included the important win for the Wairoa region last week, which involved the Wairoa District Council winning its court case against the Forestry Growers Association over its rates decision.

Mr Newton said the outcome was “leading the way for the rest of New Zealand.”

However, he said the Three Waters proposals were a “minefield” for district councils, as there were a lot of concerns among farmers in terms of the inevitable taxes that would be imposed on them for water usage.

Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard, who attended the meeting on a Zoom call, said another “big one” for the organisation was around He Waka Eke Noa – Primary Sector Climate Action Partnership.

For the Feds, one of the key points was getting “real clarity” on the pricing principles, he said.

The government was bringing in numerous changes — He Waka Eke Noa, Three Waters, Paris Accord implications and ratings increases — at once.

“This mad rush to get as much done at the same time might create ugly-looking legislation,” he said.

  1. Bob Hughes says:

    True, a hell of a year for climate-related events it has been, not only here on the East Coast but elsewhere also.
    I relate this Earth-day message from Papatuanuku our Mother Earth:
    “Dear humans, my atmosphere’s Co2 readings have reached 422 parts per million. The highest since you have been here.
    I have been experiencing the effects of climate change and signalled my warnings. You have walked my soils for centuries and the effects are intensifying. Please help me.”
    In this item, Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard said the Government was bringing in numerous changes at once, and “this mad rush to get as much done at the same time might create ugly-looking legislation”.
    Although He Waka Eke Noa was only formed three years ago, He Waka Eke Noa means we rise together, fall together, work together, keep going together – a good choice of title, with hope and strength. Because “numerous changes” and working together will be necessary as climate change brings with it increasing challenges ahead.

  2. Maurice Tibble, Lake Kaniere says:

    Papatuanuku will regenerate itself in its own way. It’s doing it as we concern ourselves with ourselves.

    1. Bob Hughes says:

      Please tell that to Federated Farmers branch president Toby Williams, chair Allan Newton and Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard and those involved with He Waka Eke Noa, and all others affected by this one hell of a year of climate events. Tell them Papatuanuku is already healing itself in its own way, as we concern ourselves with ourselves, Maurice Tibble.

  3. Rae, Tamaki Makaurau says:

    The Fed’s quote: “a lot of concerns among farmers in terms of the inevitable taxes that would be imposed on them for water usage”. Imposed on them?? If the farmers are trying to stop Three Waters for the sake of their own pockets, how about the rest of the population who have paid for their water usage for many, many years? Is it alright that farmers continue to use the majority of water all the while not paying for their share of water use? Selfish! Bring on Three Waters please.