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Meanwhile, back on the farm . . . Federated Farmers North Otago president Jared Ross was at home on a Duntroon farm earlier this week before heading to discussions with Environment Canterbury. PHOTO: SALLY BROOKER

North Otago farmers are feeling the effects of a dry winter, Federated Farmers provincial president Jared Ross says.

“We’re 100mm behind in rainfall,” he said of his Duntroon dairy-support farm.

Local contractors had sold out of their feed supplement supplies in the lead-in to winter, and one had been bringing in feed from Central Otago and Southland.

“It was priced accordingly.”

Demand would increase again soon, Mr Ross said.

He had heard that Hakataramea Valley farmers were selling livestock already and agents were looking for beef cattle.

Conditions from one farm to the next seemed more varied this year than in the past, he said. Some farmers he spoke to reported wet conditions while others were struggling with lack of moisture, and some had good plant growth while others had sparse results.

Calving conditions had been “as good as it gets”, with excellent feed utilisation and no mud.

“It makes it easier when checking cows. It’s far more pleasant.

“The late frosts would have been a bit challenging.”

Farmers around Duntroon had been irrigating for a couple of weeks and Mr Ross said if he had already been connected to the expanded Kurow Duntroon irrigation scheme he would have been, too.

He expected water to start flowing to his place in about a week.

He was the only completely new shareholder to receive water from the scheme. Having always been on dairy farms until he and wife Susan bought the dryland block in 2018, he was “looking forward to getting irrigation”.

“It’s all I know.”

He was thankful the weather had been favourable since they moved on to the farm, but irrigation would allow them to achieve their planned production.

“I still keep a plastic rain gauge. We’re near 100mm behind. We’ve had 173mm now for the current year.”

The weather forecast predicted nor-easterly winds with a cooler, moister air pattern.

The Rosses had invested in an Angus bull from Fossil Creek and were looking forward to breeding their own pedigrees.

They had also grazed hoggets and lambed a few ewes.

Mr Ross said he enjoyed their first shearing – a novelty for him. He was impressed by the efficiency of a shearing gang in full operation.

Farming across New Zealand was “almost on autopilot” while everyone was preoccupied with politics, he said.

As well as the Covid-19 pandemic, farmers were concerned about the new freshwater standards and zero carbon targets.

He believed everyone, urban and rural, needed to combine their understandings to come up with a “good clean blueprint”.

Mr Ross is on a South Canterbury-North Otago regional policy committee that was talking with Environment Canterbury this week to get updates on its water zone committees and discuss how incoming freshwater standards would be met.

While some older farmers resented the imposition of such regulations, his generation, especially from the dairy sector, was used to working under a “compliance regime” that included auditing and discharge conditions.

“We’ve got to have economic discussion. My generation of farmers are only here because because we’re running a tidy business.

“Business pressure will emerge.”

Mr Ross said farmers felt betrayed by the Government, which had asked them to go along with its “softly, softly”, opinion-gathering approach to freshwater then suddenly imposed a September deadline “to beat the end of the parliamentary term”.

“It’s got to be fair, reasonable and balanced.

“It discredits the process of consultation. They’re telling us how to do it.”

Farming was primarily driven by the weather, so it could not meet arbitrary dates dictated by the Government, he said.

“We don’t need blunt tools.”

Such rules would not touch those who most needed to improve their performance, he said.

Good management practice should be the focus, led by those who were doing it.

And science should be the basis of all policy.

“We don’t have enough data. There’s a lot of modelling, hypothesis and projecting.”

Mr Ross was also concerned about Resource Management Act reforms, which were welcomed by many people for different reasons. They could lead to separation of interest groups and formation of hierarchies, rather than overall balance.

“The biggest demand for this type of system is from those with the least business acumen.”

He feared New Zealand was “on a slippery slope” back towards the farming subsidies that were removed in the mid-1980s.