tatjna (tatjna) wrote,

In defence of dairy farmers

This morning the wind is blowing straight off Antarctica with enough determination to get here in force. Bits of stuff blowing down the waterfront, large pieces of fabric torn off the building site which I think is fancy loos for the Rugby World Cup drunken rugbyhead pen *ahem* village, I watched a cyclist get one tangled up in his back sprocket and be brought to a sudden halt as the spokes in his back wheel broke and the thingy that the chain goes round sheared off. Poor bugger ended up carrying his bike to work after I helped him remove the stuff and threw it in a bin. I was amazed by how many people didn't try to catch this stuff before it ended up in the sea.

Also, what's up with all the older white men in fancy European cars driving around the waterfront this morning?

Headline on the front page of Dominion Post this morning - "Average dairy farmer only pays $1506 tax. Average worker pays $8020." I didn't actually read the article, but noted the bit at the bottom (inset in a box) where they did a comparison of who pays how much tax. They covered dairy farmers, agricultural/forestry sector, small business owners, workers, beneficiaries and couples on the state pension.

Notably missing from the list of who pays how much tax were investment bankers, property developers and corporations. It's no secret that these three groups are the largest guilty parties for dodging tax, and yet the article focuses on the dairy farmers.

So, why?

Well, if I were a cynic I'd say we were being softened up to be ok with some thing in the budget (due tomorrow) that's going to be particularly hard on dairy farmers. NZ still has, to an extent, that "Backbone of the nation" attitude about farming. Most of us know a farmer or two, and there's a perception that things that hurt the farmers hurt us. And really, NZ is the largest dairy exporter in the world. Quite something considering our diminutive size.

Anyway, dairy has been taking a bit of flak lately - the increase in cows is responsible for a considerable amount of pollution in our waterways due to both cow shit and fert runoff. Water requirements for dairy conversions have put water tables under threat, particularly in areas such as Canterbury where rainfall is not high and water is sourced from streams. Fonterra (the cooperative company collectively owned by dairy farmers that deals with marketing their produce) is seen as an evil corporate giant that will stop at nothing in the name of profit. And now, we're told, the average dairy farmer is a tax dodger.

And many of these things are true. Farms that were carrying 200 cows in the 1980s are now carrying a lot more - farmers got more productive in response to the challenges created by removal of subsidies and floating the dollar. They had to, or they'd go bust. Consequently, more water input, more waste output. We are reaching (and some would say have already reached) the critical mass of intensive farming of dairy cows in this country, to the point where it's affecting our clean green image - never mind the environment we live in. No more cows thanks, we can't cope with the ones we have.

In response, there's talk of regulating water, and of sanctioning the polluters of waterways. I'm thinking probably hefty fines and the like, along with potentially a payment scheme for water use. But the farmers won't like it (imagine having to cough up $4500/ha on a 200ha farm for water use), and Federated Farmers is a noisy group who object to anything that 'harms' farmers.

And here's where there needs to be some differentiation. You see, there are two kinds of dairy farmer. There's the ones who started off sharemilking then bought their own farm, who essentially run a small family business. Then there's the ones like the Crafar farms, the Chinese company that bid for those farms after the trouble, and the proposed Otago factory farms. We all know which of those are likely to create the most environmental issues, and I'd be willing to bet which of those are most likely to be avoiding paying tax as well. Yet in the paper, this distinction isn't made and I don't know about you, but when I think of 'dairy farmers' I think of the small business kind - in the national psyche it's likely a whole bunch of people now think the dairy farmers are ripping us off.

I reiterate, there is no mention of investment bankers, property developers and corporations in the article. Not even dairy farming corporations.

Anyway, here's where my conspiracy theorist rears her ugly head. Y'see, there's this trade treaty being negotiated right now. You may have noticed me mention it before, it's called the TPPA. One of the big 'selling points' is increasing our milk powder access to US markets. The problem with that, apart from the historical US protectionism that is likely to prevent that, is that in order to increase our milk powder production we'd need still more cows. We're already selling as much as we can produce. Fonterra, I'm sure, are aware that we can't sustainably increase the national dairy herd. They're probably aware that sanctions for polluting and payment for water are coming.

So what would you do? I know what I'd do. I'd be looking to increase markets for high-price, specialised dairy products such as fancy cheeses and the like, which means less cows required to make more money. And since the US is highly unlikely to be opening up their market for such things (traditionally tarriffs have mostly gone on 'processed' products and raw products are cheaper to import), there is little trade-based reason for Fonterra to support the TPPA. In fact, given the stuff in there about patents and how that might affect a) sales of products with names like camembert, and b) purchase of products that dairy farmers use (hey Monsanto, I'm looking at you!), I'd suggest that Fonterra has reason to oppose the TPPA.

The TPPA has been getting some traction in the media lately, and kiwis are uneasy about it. We don't trust the US and our government seems to be hellbent on sacrificing our sovereignty and way of life to get this trade deal signed, and it all looks dead dodgy. So what better way to undermine Fonterra's (speculated by me) opposition to the TPPA than by making us all think the dairy farmers are a pack of money-grubbing tax dodgers? And what better way for us to be ok with whatever's coming to them than that we think they deserve it?

Yes, water should be regulated. But I'm afraid that under the TPPA it'll be privatised and that's a whole different kettle of fish. Yes, pollution in our waterways should be reduced but that'll affect both productivity and income for farmers, and as far as I can tell the farmers' collective is attempting to create a situation where farmers can become less productive while not going bust by focusing on boutique products instead of MOAR COWS. I'm aware something has to happen now. And I think this slagging of the dairy farmers for tax dodging is propaganda/manipulation in preparation for something. It'll be interesting to see if I'm right.

Remember kids: investment bankers, property developers, corporations (including dairy farming corporations). Don't be sucked into finger-pointing at the wrong culprit.

Gosh. Looks like I felt strongly about that.

Anyway, last night I spun 2 spools of brown/white mottled romney. Tonight I'll warp up my loom. This time it's a full-width (36") piece of fabric. There is no purpose for this fabric except to be pretty and lie around making me feel good about my crafting productivity. Hey Happy! I'm a Weaver!
Tags: fricking newspapers, kiwi media sucks, speculative musing

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.