With extreme weather events leading to widespread flooding and with crashing global dairy commodity prices, farmers are describing this as a terrible winter. 

However Greenpeace has been consistently making the point that what we are experiencing in farming today is the new normal thanks to short-sighted and unsustainable climate change policies by the Government and Fonterra.

Way back in June 2009 we attended the National Fieldays to show that sustainable ‘low-input’ dairy farming was possible - but not if Fonterra’s mind-set of industrial and commodities dairying continued.

At Fieldays a Greenpeace ‘newspaper’ called “The Better Times” was handed out for farmers to read. Looking back at The Better Times’ content it feels spookily prophetic.

So yet again, in order to remind everyone that climate change is the greatest threat facing the country (yes even farmers!), we reprint below the editorial,

The Perfect Storm Threatens NZ Farming

By Bunny McDiarmid, Greenpeace New Zealand Executive Director

There is a Perfect Storm arriving, threatening the very future of New Zealand farming as we have all known it.

We have unstable commodity markets and doubt amongst consumers in our key markets about the integrity of our clean, green brand due to our inaction on climate change.

All of these of these factors combined with a New Zealand public increasingly annoyed with the deteriorating state of our environment threaten to tarnish New Zealand’s farming image, which has traditionally been held up as a shining light to the entire nation.

The new style of the New Zealand dairy industry, piloted by Fonterra, risks being driven full ahead onto the rocks by its myopic focus on turning our dairy products into a mass milk- powder commodity. Change is needed if the NZ dairy industry is to prosper over the next 20 years and beyond.

Commodity markets are very volatile, as we have seen with the current market prices for milk powder being half of what they were 12 months ago. Commodity markets often have relatively low margins.

The translation of our NZ dairy products into a generic commodity risks destroying the NZ brand loyalty of our European and US consumers and will leave NZ dairy competing with developing world producers for a commodities ‘race to the bottom’ that the NZ farmer and NZ environment will lose.

Turning our milk into powder is as foolish as the Australians wood chipping their magnificent eucalypt forests to sell to Japan as faceless bargain basement woodchip.

The continued intensification of our dairying necessary to stay competitive in international commodity markets, means squeezing more product from the same land often with lower margins. Farmers are feeling the economic pinch – where increased production does not equate to increased on farm profitability and where the land is literally being milked.

By relying on intensifying year on year we lose the opportunity to produce and market our dairy products via the well established and proven NZ clean and green brand. It’s this ‘added value’ to our dairy products that could be our best seller. And this advantage over other dairy producers will be lost if we simply take it for granted, and don’t ensure its integrity i.e. ensure that products sold under this branding have taken into account its greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts.

We also have the financial and physical impact of climate change. The debate is over, climate change is real, human induced and its effects are increasing at a rate not imagined five years ago. “The Big Dry” that has now gripped Australia appears to have crossed the Tasman and changed rainfall patterns across the east of New Zealand – NZ scientists are now predicting reduced rain fall in the east of New Zealand as a result of climate change.

Farming is in the front line of the effects of climate change in New Zealand. As NZ’s Agriculture Minister David Carter stated “most of the farmers up here… recognise the climates are changing. I think that’s symptomatic of climate change so it does mean that more frequently farmers are going to be placed under pressure from drought.”

How we deal with climate change will significantly impact on our farming industry. Unless NZ “does its bit” in tackling climate change our consumers abroad will question why they are buying products from a country that does not share their concern on climate change. If we look bad on the world stage at the Copenhagen United Nations climate negotiations in December by not agreeing to the necessary target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions we will risk an economic backlash in Europe.

The only way to survive this perfect storm is for leadership from Government and the agriculture industry. Leadership that can put NZ dairy back on track to weather the storm and reap the rewards as a result. Our advantage lies in value added, low-impact farming the products of which are marketed and sold to consumers on the basis of being really Clean and Green. It will get NZ farming off the commodities treadmill, look after our land and help ensure farmers in the true tradition can pass on a farming livelihood to the next generation

New Zealand farmers helped build the backbone of our economy– let’s keep it that way.”