Tar seal good, pasture bad

Wairarapa farmer Roger Barton is facing an onslaught of lifestyle blocks. At least he’s trying to have control over those on his farm.

In Home Block6 Minutes

Wairarapa farmer Roger Barton is facing an onslaught of lifestyle blocks. At least he’s trying to have control over those on his farm.

SOME YEARS AGO A WONDERFUL POM by the name of David Hughes (Professor of food marketing. Imperial College, London) spoke at the Red Meat sector conference in Auckland. My distinct memory of the start of his address was for him to stand up on his chair, a hand shading his eyes and looking out to the crowd.

His words were “I’m 65 and I can just about see the end”. He then continued to give us his vision of world food trends with a particular focus on New Zealand products and markets.

I, along with a bunch of other younger farmers had the opportunity of engaging more closely with David as part of a two-day meat marketing workshop/seminar back in 1988 in Hawke’s Bay. This was a forerunner to our involvement with the Atkins Ranch programme that we have been involved with since its start just after that.

In 1995 David and I spent a weekend together in Milton Keynes, north of London, as part of a group of about 25. Same focus and themes.

While a year younger than David’s 65 I can feel that if I look into the horizon, I too can nearly see the end. Over the last period we have done the unthinkable and subdivided another five lifestyle blocks from our southern edge.

Fringed with native bush, the good people of Wellington have been keen to help us contemplate retirement in style and with options while still retaining the balance of the area of 470-odd hectares although only 185 growing pasture.

Have I tired of farming? Answer “No”. Do I approve of lifestyle blocks? Answer “not really.” Why have we done it then? Because a wholesale marketing of this property would definitely go to developers with no control of the outcomes by us.

This way we have control while easing back on physical farming needs. We have already been courted by two scale developers with proven track records. The hope of this property staying “as is” remains a forlorn thought.

If I stitch together the thoughts of David Hughes with many aspects of Atkins Ranch supply needs and springboard on to Geoff Ross’s expose, via Country Calendar, of his vision for Lake Hawea Station and its attendant publicity, both good and bad, I realise that NZ producers are still hugely disconnected from their markets and their underlying requirements.

Hungry people just want to eat, whereas we need to fish at the better end of the pond. We need to meet the needs of affluent people. Yes some of the Lake Hawea expose went too far. A white shearing board becomes slippery and dangerous. I’ve shorn on polyurethane surfaces. It’s no fun. But, the messages around care and attention weren’t lost on me and shouldn’t be lost on the wider farming fraternity.

Laugh all we might about “carbon neutrality” but the legislation is coming for me and you. There is a market focus. I would prefer it to be on efficiency but that doesn’t have the same ring to it. Efficiency sounds too “clinical”.

The government is intruding on our abilities more than they should, as was the situation when I got into farming. Think “Livestock Incentive scheme” and “Land Development Encouragement scheme” – frustrating policies that dogged our efforts and direction at the time, in retrospect.

Forty-odd years later and we have more taxes just over the horizon. Taxing livestock seems such a difficult science to mitigate and regulate. We’ve done the Beef + Lamb calculator thing and look hugely in credit because of our QE 2 bush, but then I’m advised that this can’t be included.

I’m getting cynical about it all. So cynical that I am advocating a new tax. This new tax will be known as the “Impermeable Surfaces tax.” It will apply to all concrete surfaces, tarseal and other roading plus roof areas. In short, all areas that don’t allow the biosphere to operate as intended. That nature’s own solar panels, where leaves of any description, can’t operate as nature intended will attract a tax.