If you think Trading Among Farmers (TAF) is the big issue facing farming, you have another thing coming. It is nothing compared to the implementation of National Policy Statements on freshwater (NPS).
Believe it or not, the starting point for water quality benchmarks is pre-human New Zealand, say 900AD.
Wouldn't we all like to have moa and those big eagles that lived off them about? Who knows, it could have been another industry with the world’s largest poultry. If we could turn back the clock we’d have all sorts of long gone animals about instead of possums, stoats or rabbits. We wouldn't have giardia or didymo either, both introduced by humans.
Thankfully, the Land and Water Forum knows 900AD is a really silly place to start.
It is why we need water quality benchmarks recognising we live in houses, we clear land for industry, we drive cars, we farm animals and we grow crops. Everything humans do affects water.
The Avon River was among New Zealand's most polluted even before the earthquakes struck. Now, there is well over half a billion dollars worth of work just to get Christchurch's sewage to first base. You also have to ask if it is OK, like some of our coastal cities do, to simply pipe treated human sewage further out to sea.
So the starting point for water quality benchmarks needs to start with the likes of the Avon River and not some imaginary alpine stream before Maori set one foot on the foreshore.
What gets me is that the NPS for freshwater requires regional councils to set limits on freshwater by 2030. It is meant to be about engagement with communities to establish “robust and durable solutions”. As we well know, these can take time. It's meant to be about quality, rather than quick processes and frameworks.
Some councils saw the bit about limits in the NPS and skipped right past working with the community. The places where tensions are most felt include Southland, Otago, Canterbury, Horizons and the Bay of Plenty. There are other regions in varying stages of setting limits too.
This is where the government turns schizophrenic on us farmers.
On one hand, they want lots and lots of export earnings from us, more cows, and more milk. On the other hand, they've put in place policies that give over eager regional council staff a blank cheque guaranteeing their wages as environmental bravehearts.
So who is running the show, is it the government or council officers? Frankly, I don't know, but it feels as if we've given the keys of our Caterpillar D8's to the bureaucrats. They found the light switch, what's next?
It denies the progress we're making as farmers and doesn't have any kind of perspective. So here is some.
In Holland, home to the tallest people in Europe, the nitrogen balance per hectare is around 229kg. Then again, nitrates are scientifically proven to build muscle. In Belgium, it is 184kg per hectare and in Germany it is 113. Here in New Zealand, it is 46kg per hectare.
Given those other countries are green aware but less efficient than New Zealand’s farmers, I think councils need to take a deep breath and look closer to home. We've been told in one crusading regional council, half of the consents relating to urban sewerage and wastewater are either expired or non-compliant.
Doesn't that tell you something big like we're all in this together? That's why we need everyone in the primary industry to help us pull back to reality, what some regional council planners have in mind.
Unless we do that and soon, the good stuff coming out of the Land and Water Forum may come to absolutely nothing, all because the regional council horse has bolted.
Otago Regional Council is pretty much Exhibit A. Their plan sets limits on the amount of phosphorous, nitrogen, sediment and bacteria in the water leaving farms. It creates strict standards as to where stock can access water and sets Otago-wide Nitrogen limits.
These are measured by an annual limit of 30 kilograms of Nitrogen per hectare and an even stricter annual limit of 10 kilograms, if a farms falls into a sensitive groundwater zone. 10 kilograms of Nitrogen per hectare puts farmers out of business.
Is this what we dream of when we talk about national standards?
There is no doubt in my mind that dairy farmers want the same thing as every other community group. We want to live life in a sustainable manner so there is even more left for our kids and our kids' kids.
So we need to get on the front foot. Let's get together with our industry partners to develop a plan for the future. We must become master of our own destinies again, but do not think we won't have to change.
There will be big shifts needed in how we farm. Paradigm shifts in fact. We can and will do more because agriculture has done that for thousands of years. Right from when we first started herding and milking cows.