26 Nov 2019

Farmers keen, but need time to change winter grazing practices

3:32 pm on 26 November 2019

A Southland farming leader says some changes to intensive winter grazing practices will take time, but it's important the sector does get onboard.

Southland dairy farmer Jon Pemberton co-founded Ag Proud to support farmers' mental health.

Southland dairy farmer Jon Pemberton Photo: RNZ / Maja Burry

In August, the Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor established a winter grazing taskforce after environmentalists released images of cows in Southland wallowing in mud after being confined in a restricted area, which was soon trampled into a quagmire.

In a report released yesterday, the taskforce made 11 recommendations on how animal welfare could be improved. These included establishing an action group and making changes to regulations and codes of welfare to help ensure stock have access to dry bedding and a balanced diet.

Southland dairy farmer Jon Pemberton co-founded the farmer advocacy group Ag-Proud this winter. The recent winter grazing campaign by environmentalists in his region and some of the stress it created among farmers sparked the group's formation.

Mr Pemberton said there were some sensible expectations around farming practices outlined in the report, including making sure stock were slowly transitioned from grass onto crops, to ensure there were no health complications.

But he said he did have some concerns around the practicality of providing dry-bedding for livestock at night and worried about what any new regulations could mean when farmers faced adverse weather events.

Environmentalist Angus Robson is campaigning against winter cropping.

Angus Robson Photo: RNZ

"There will be a lot of guys scratching their heads thinking how are we going to work around this ... so I just do hope we are allowed the time to work through this," he said.

Mr Pemberton said the sector needed to be seen to be doing the right thing.

"If we don't try and work with this, things could get a bit more difficult," he said.

Angus Robson led a campaign against winter grazing and was later invited to be part of the minster's taskforce.

Mr Robson said he was pleased with the report, but acknowledged some of the recommendations would take time to implement.

"It might take sometime before we get to the outcomes we're after, but certainly we're heading in the right direction I believe," he said.

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