OPINION: There’s some agitation out there at the moment about farming being under threat from forestry. Much of what’s circulating is based on misinformation so it’s time to lay out the facts.
“The reality is we are in a world that is scrutinising every part of our farming operation,” he says.
“They want to know where their products came from; whether they are a supermarket or a consumer, they want to know more about what they are consuming.”
For the most part, we produce fine food, nutrition and fibre, O’Connor told the NZ Institute of Primary Industry Management conference.
However, he claims a recent apple contract was lost in the United Kingdom because the exporter couldn’t guarantee that the labour component of that production system gave fair wages and conditions.
“It’s a wake-up call for that industry; we will be under the same level of scrutiny for every part of our systems – animal welfare, environmental management, labour.”
He says NAIT was seen as an unnecessary cost when it was introduced, in the same way as water and nutrient management are now seen by some as an extra cost to farming operations.
O’Connor was questioned about the purpose of the Primary Sector Council which he set up to ‘provide advice to the Government on issues confronting the primary industries, with an immediate focus on developing a sector-wide vision’.
“We are spending hundreds of millions in the Primary Growth Partnerships (PGPs) and hundreds of millions in infrastructure supporting our industries. What for? So we can double our exports? Give more profits to the banks?
Make people work harder and rely more on migrant workers?” he told the conference.
“The question is, ‘why are we doing it and are we heading in the right direction?’ [The council] has quickly identified the issues on training, CRIs and research… where there is dysfunction.
“In some areas we are certainly not using our capability as we should. In the few meetings the council has had, I think they are on the mark.
“They will not come up with a magical solution, but they will come up with some direction for each of the sectors to work through.”
O’Connor then had a dig at PGPs – implemented by the previous government – for being like “confetti thrown around”.
“Most people in agribusiness have benefited in some way from PGP. The problem is when that finishes, where are you?”