Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor has denied the Government is pushing to put a cap on New Zealand’s dairy cow numbers.
Instead, it wanted farmers to better manage their nutrient outputs to improve water quality standards to make rivers swimmable, he told about 500 farmers at a forum at Mystery Creek on Tuesday.
He called claims on a cow number cap a “misinterpretation” of what Environment Minister David Parker said during a recent TVNZ interview.
“David [Parker] said this is about nutrient management. Farmers understand that and have been understanding that for years. It’s a question about how we get on and better improve that nutrient management.
“There’s no plan on [reducing] cow numbers at all. In fact, what we said to Greenpeace, who are thinking about asking for a moratorium, is that we don’t buy into it.”
O’Connor said institutions including the Lincoln University Dairy Farm as well as other farmers had shown it was possible to reduce cow numbers and maintain profitability. He trusted farmers to get on with making those adjustments needed to reach the target of swimmable rivers.
Better nutrient management had been addressed in Waikato and Canterbury for some years with some progress been made.
“We are getting to a point where we as a government have said we will have swimmable rivers as the water quality standard for every New Zealander and so it should be.”
That could mean adjustments to the various regional council plan changes, although O’Connor did not imagine that would mean too much disruption.
New Zealanders expected clean rivers and the country had “overstepped the mark” on water quality standards but had made good progress in improving, he said.
“Nutrient management and catchment management is part of that progress.”
Overseer, the nutrient management tool used by farmers to determine the amount of nutrients such as phosphorous or nitrogen entering waterways, had to be improved and made more user friendly.
He said more science was needed in the tool to validate some of the calculations it had made. There were also gaps in soil science to determine what happened when farm inputs hit soils.
O’Connor said he remembered as a sharemilker in the 1980s going to farmer meetings about the removal of subsidies.
“We were told to start farming for profitability, not for capital gain. Well, I think we are back to a similar situation.”
Whether that included an adjustment in cow numbers or a change in farm systems, it was not for the government to decide on how that should happen, he said.
“I trust New Zealand farmers to adhere to the changing expectations of the New Zealand public around water quality to adapt in a way that ensure they can maintain a profit and run a very viable farming operation.”