Farmers facing tough times, says new Fed leader

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By Toni Williams

Farmers are facing some of the toughest times in the industry since the 1980s, says new Federated Farmers Mid Canterbury provincial president David Clark.

Mr Clark, who took over as president from Michael Salvesen at the last annual general meeting, said the agriculture industry faced some of the toughest since the financial downturn of the 1980s.

However this time, there was uncertainty around climate change regulation (with a seemingly moving goal post), ongoing concerns about Mycoplasma bovis, which had seriously affected individual farmers and, with recent surge figures, thrown the confidence of many farmers within the farming community.

“Added to that there’re high debt levels in farming systems.”

And land values were not going up, but staying static or falling.

“In my view we’re facing some really serious pressures.”

Mr Clark said New Zealand producers were some of the most efficient in the world but “we’re unfairly being used as whipping boy in New Zealand.”

“We’re facing environmental regulations and don’t know what the new government has got planned.”

He said under the Environment Canterbury commission some vital changes were being made and yielding results.

However farmers no longer knew where they were heading, or what changes were likely with the new government especially around climate change rules, mistakenly too focused on methane gas.

“It’s a diversion to allow the energy and consumption-intensive modern human lifestyle to continue,” he said.

Mr Clark along with wife, Jayne, and parents Pam and Terry, have a 463 hectare arable grain farmer at Valetta/Westerfield, southwest of Ashburton, which they have farmed for the past 25 years.

They grow herbage and vegetable seed, and also breed ewes and run store lambs.

His parents Pam and Terry have retired, but still live on farm.

It is a fully self-contained unit, using a fully irrigated system – with pivot, lateral and roto-Rainers – sourced from bore irrigation.

Mr Clark has a sheep and beef background but grew up on a dairy farm in South Auckland.

The Mid Canterbury farm has been through two major redevelopments in the past 16 years, as the family tried to inject life from the rundown dryland sheep farm they originally bought.

He said the latest development, in 2010, saw a move into pivot and lateral irrigation system.

Having just returned from an overseas study trip on Herbage Seed Production to Orgeon State University, in the United States, Mr Clark said the visit reinforced to him that “Mid Canterbury farmers are among the leading edge in the world with egronomic use of technology and sustainability.”

Mr Clark has formerly been Federated Farmers Mid Canterbury arable chair (seven years), Federated Farmers national arable industry group chair (eight years), been on the Federated Farmers agricultural transport forum, and Mid Canterbury senior vice-president (three years).

He, along with senior vice-president David Acland (sheep and beef), were available to any farmers wanting to talk about any issues, with a mix of farmers from across the agricultural sectors on the executive.