In a comprehensive survey conducted by DairyNZ, New Zealand's dairy farmers have expressed growing concerns about the impact of inflation and regulations on their businesses, exacerbated by a recent dip in farmgate milk prices.
DairyNZ chair Jim van der Poel underscored the urgency of addressing these issues, recognizing the critical role farmers play in local communities and the national economy. The dairy industry is expected to contribute over $25 billion in export revenue this year alone.
Financial Struggles and Inflation
The survey found that nearly 75% of dairy farmers reported cost increases of over 20% in the past year, reflecting the broader effects of inflation. These rising costs, combined with reduced milk prices, have left many farmers grappling to maintain profitability.
Van der Poel stressed the importance of prudent government spending to mitigate inflationary pressures and support the dairy sector.
Government regulations have also been a significant concern for dairy farmers, with 72% citing impractical regulations, 69% expressing unease about the pace of change, and 64% highlighting the challenge of managing multiple regulatory changes simultaneously.
DairyNZ is advocating for an independent regulatory review panel, comprising experienced farmers from the primary sector, to assess the necessity, practicality, cost-effectiveness, and outcomes of proposed regulations.
The survey revealed pressing workforce challenges, including staff shortages and retention issues.
A quarter of farmers reported inadequate staffing levels, while 29% struggled to find staff with the required skills and experience. DairyNZ urged policymakers to collaborate with sector organizations to enhance recruitment and retention efforts, emphasizing the importance of flexible immigration policies and support for the Great Futures in Dairying Plan.
Mental Health Concerns
Mental health emerged as a significant issue in the dairy sector, with 48% of farmers reporting mental health challenges on their farms in 2023. Additionally, 60% believed that rural areas lacked sufficient mental health support. DairyNZ called for dedicated rural mental health funding and expanded service delivery in rural communities, recognizing the heightened financial pressure facing farmers in the coming year.
Climate Change and Ambitious Targets
Dairy farmers expressed scepticism about the methane reduction targets for 2030 and 2050, deeming them overly ambitious. Van der Poel urged that these targets should align with scientific advancements, global emissions goals, and economic realities.
DairyNZ plans to advocate for a balanced approach when the Climate Change Commission reviews emission reduction targets in 2024.
DairyNZ's View from the Cowshed survey highlights the multifaceted challenges facing New Zealand's dairy sector.
While farmers continue to play a crucial role in their communities and the national economy, they grapple with financial pressures, regulatory complexities, workforce shortages, mental health concerns, and climate change goals.
DairyNZ and dairy farmer asks for the 2023 general election:
Farm finances: Tight control of government spending to avoid exacerbating inflationary pressures.
Regulations: Establish an independent regulatory review panel, to provide feedback before regulations are implemented.
Workforce: Collaborate with sector organisations to improve recruitment and retention of dairy workers.
Mental health: Allocate dedicated funding for rural mental health, and targeted delivery of services in rural areas.
Climate change: Ensure review of emissions targets is fair, works for farmers and accurately accounts for the warming impact of methane.
Read the full View from the Cowshed report at dairynz.co.nz/VFTC.