Report creates discussion

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Not all Ashburton District councillors were in favour of receiving an updated report on the proposed Resilient Business Programme at last week’s council meeting.

The programme aims to develop the district’s economy to be more diverse, resilient and sustainable and will support farmers to explore and implement land uses that will deliver good environmental, social and financial outcomes.

A working group of farmers, industry organisations and entities active in the community was set up 12 months ago to understand what it means for farms to be positioned more resiliently to address a number of new environmental regulations coming in.

“We see council in the role of a broker and facilitator in this process and what has been become clear in this last year is that there is market failure and a gap for the broker’ and someone with who has visibility and the best interests of the community to help broker conversations,” council agricultural portfolio broker Richard Fitzgerald told councillors.

The programme was proposed to empower farmers and provide them with solutions and not tell them what to do.

“It’s about creating an environment and knowledge and using skills to solve their own problems and to build resilience,” he said.

Funding for the programme would be sourced from government and also from local and regional entities with a vested interest in the success and prosperity of the agricultural industry.

Councillor Stuart Wilson said there were more farm consultants in the district per farmer than anywhere else in the country and also a number of discussion groups.

Farmers saw opportunities, “were not stupid” and followed revenues.

“Who is the council to tell them farmers what to do?” he asked.

Cr Rodger Letham said he agreed and did not believe the programme was a core business of council.

Cr Lynette Lovett and Cr John Falloon both shared similar sentiments.

Cr Falloon said farmers were the best judges of their own futures and had the best advisers and representative groups available.

Cr Carolyn Cameron said there was no down side in receiving the report and nothing would happen unless funding could be accessed.

A majority of councillors voted to receive the report.

The Resilient Business Programme is estimated to cost $5 million over three years.

-By Mick Jensen