Thursday, 27 March 2014

Vote your levy

Last evening's #agchatnz discussion on twitter was about the levies farmers pay.

For dairy farmers, this levy is paid to the "industry good" body known as DairyNZ. We currently pay 3.6c/kg of milksolids. National production has been growing at an average of 4% per annum, so this is also the growth rate of DairyNZ's levy revenue. But there is still a proposal to increase the levy to 5c.

Last night's discussion showed that there are different views about how the levy is spent. Here is the current breakdown, from DairyNZ's most recent annual report.
How Dairy NZ spends the levy (% shares)
We all have different priorities about what we'd like this chart to look like - that's natural. My main concern is that DairyNZ is of approximately zero help to people like us who are running farms with very little urea. Legumes are a substitute for urea - biological life interacts with legumes to harvest nitrogen from the atmosphere, whereas urea supplies nitrogen from fossil fuel resources. It is also believed that urea inhibits the growth of legumes or at least that it can do. So urea and legumes are in competition with each other.

I would like our industry good body to help us understand this competition, for example by doing scientific work on biological farming systems and the role of legumes in sustainable dairying. Unfortunately, DairyNZ appears to just not care. Six months ago, I did a wee test by searching DairyNZ's website for the terms "urea" and "legume". Urea won by miles with 521 search results compared to 8 for legume.

Six months is a long time in dairy research though, so I've just repeated the exercise and the new results are

urea: 780 search results, up by 50%
legume: 8 search results - no change.

Pretty clear where their priorities lie isn't it?

OK, so that's just my own gripe and many farmers will have different ones. An obvious way to resolve these is to allow farmers to vote their levy, or even just part of it. We could for example set aside 30% for stuff that just has to be done (disease control, admin, databases) and then allow farmers to allocate the other 70% of their own levy payment to particular categories. That way those of us whose interests are just not being served can at least band together and get a bit of value.

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