Producer Board Reform Process About Farmer Control

  • Dr Lockwood Smith

The Government's producer board reform process is about farmer control of the future of our key agricultural industries, Agriculture Minister Lockwood Smith said before leaving Wellington to meet with Waikato farmers today.

"Right now, the current and future operations of our most important industries are controlled by politicians and bureaucrats in Wellington," Dr Smith said.

"In the dairy industry for example, the New Zealand Parliament dictates that the Dairy Board may only export products with at least 30% dairy product content. The New Zealand Cabinet - farmers and non-farmers alike - decides what a dairy product is. In contrast, the shareholders of Nestle decide what the Dairy Board's main competition can do.

"With horticulture, it's the New Zealand Parliament that decides who can sell apples, pears and kiwifruit overseas, and restricts the products the relevant boards can market overseas.

"With meat and wool, it's the New Zealand Parliament that decides there shall be a meat board and there shall be a wool board. Politicians decide that farmers shall pay levies whether they like it or not.

"And, all the time, our most important industries are at risk of a parliament being elected which could decide to act unilaterally and abolish the whole lot overnight. That uncertain environment is hardly the most satisfactory for these businesses to thrive.

"The Government believes decisions about farming and its future should be made by farmers, not by politicians and bureaucrats in Wellington. To that end, the statutory provisions will be removed over time, but we want the industries concerned to control the change process, with ongoing consultation with farmers.

"This Government's process of freeing agriculture from parliamentary control will stop any future parliament from being able to impose hasty, confused and anti-farmer change in the future."

Dr Smith said those who were opposed to the change process seemed to imply that the status quo was acceptable.

"As a farmer myself, I can tell you it is not. If the current environment is as good as it gets, we may as well all get out of the industry right now.

"The only future for farmers in this country is better market access and better marketing. While it won't improve everything overnight, producer board reform will certainly help with both issues."

Dr Smith has taken three months out from his international travel commitments as Trade Minister to discuss producer board reform with farmers throughout the country - a two-way dialogue he describes as "my most important priority right now".

Today, he will be in the Waikato for a farmers' meeting at Hamilton's Gordonton Hall at 11.45 am, and for a tour of the New Zealand Dairy Group's Te Rapa Cream Factory at 3.00 pm. In addition, he will visit the Livestock Improvement Corporation in Newstead at 10.00 am and AgResearch at 4.45 pm.