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Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

SocietyMarch 1, 2024

‘Do I seem like a dick to you?’: Alice Snedden vs Federated Farmers’ Wayne Langford

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

Extended highlights from the interview in part two of Alice Snedden’s Bad News Saves the World.

Though she freely admits to eating dairy, Alice Snedden is committed to picking a fight with farmers. For over an hour, she interviewed Wayne Langford, a spokesperson for the 13,000-ish Federated Farmers members. She questioned him on the failed negotiations of He Waka Eke Noa, which were supposed to develop a system to price agricultural emissions, and why the industry has pushed back against environmental regulations. Some of their exchange features in the second part of the latest Alice Snedden’s Bad News, but much, much more was discussed. Here’s four bonus moments.

On the government’s ‘tsunami of regulation’

Alice Snedden: What do you think the biggest challenges are farmers facing in New Zealand right now?

Wayne Langford: Yeah, good question. So, currently, right now, today, you know, the increase or the almost tsunami of regulation that’s coming, or has been coming from the government. Obviously, we’ve just seen an election, so it’ll be interesting to see what changes now as soon as the government’s formed.

When you refer to the tsunami of regulation, what’s forming the sea?

So we’ve got, you know, some freshwater regulation, we’ve got our winter grazing rules, climate change and not knowing where we’re going with our emissions pricing or anything like that. And then on top of that, you’ve got different immigration rules and settings and you’ve got increased financial costs on farms – so whether that be through interest rates or massive on-farm inflation. So while we’ve seen seven or 8% inflation in urban areas, on farms it’s been more like 15 to 16%. And for our key products, which most people can identify with, like wages, 30 odd per cent more than what they were five years ago. Interest rates are significantly up, while the interest rates on a home loan in town is 6 to 7% on a farm it’s 9 to 10%, and we’re talking some big, big numbers when we talk farm debts, so significant impact.

So regulation and debt are really the kind of top issues for farmers.

Yeah, and that cost of production. We’re not gonna lie, we’ve seen some record prices over the last few years. But what they’ve also matched for this is record inflation and cost of production.

It’s so interesting to me to hear you say the tsunami of regulation, because one of the things I’ve been talking about a lot with people is He Waka Eke Noa and my understanding of that – and jump in if I’m fucking this up because I am prone to do that – is Jacinda Ardern said ‘we’re going to regulate farmers and then the way we’re going to do it is we’ll get a whole bunch of people together around a table and we’ll all talk about it and then we’ll come up with a framework.’ And then there was six years of discussions and at the end we walked away with no regulation from that. Is that correct?

That’s correct, yeah.

Wayne Langford is a sixth-generation dairy farmer based in Golden Bay.

On taxing emissions

Do you feel like it’s fair to tax farmers on emissions?

Not right now, no. 

Do you imagine getting to a place where it would be fair to do that?

I really hope that we don’t have to. Look, I think we can get our direction of travel in the right direction so that we don’t have to.

So if the goal, or the hope or the desire is that we never have to get that to that place, is the mechanism by which we achieve that, pushing regulation further and further down?

I think the place that we’re at now as farmers are all too aware what could happen, right? And we’ve seen that over the last few years. The question is, can we get there ourselves without it? It’s almost like a threat sitting in the background and, and I think that we’re going to get there without it.

Stunner at the A&P Show.

On calculations

Can you explain to me what a common calculator is?

Yeah – so we obviously have a number of processes across the country, whether it be for our dairy products and meat processors. They’ve typically all got a different calculator, potentially with a different number that comes out of it at the end of the day. Don’t get me wrong, the science is roughly right behind it [the modelling which calculates emissions]. But again, back to my point, if we’re going to get to a point of pricing or anything like that, you know, it needs to be a lot more accurate. What we’re saying is – can we merge that all into one? Can we have one common calculator that all these companies feed into and farmers know one number?

Do you think that’s an unrealistic view of government and policy implementation that it has to be perfect in order for it to be instituted? I can’t think of any other industries or any other public services where we’ve gone, ‘until we have the perfect plan for this, with no bad consequences seen or unforeseen, we have to wait.’

I’d probably flip that around and say, Do you think it’s fair on a farmer to be potentially taxing them, you know, $100,000 or tens of thousands of dollars with not a true accurate measure?

What kind of farms would be taxed $100,000?

Particularly our larger sheep and beef farms, some of our larger dairy farms.

And what would be the sort of revenue that they’d be generating?

That would be in the millions of dollars. I’m not denying that, these are big, big businesses.

Photo: Alice Snedden’s Bad News

On the rural urban divide

Do you think there’s a rural urban divide?

No, I don’t. It gets talked about a lot, but no.

I mean I’m just curious about it because I’m like, I guess I’m like, this is such a weird question to ask, but how do you see me? Do I seem like a dick to you?

No, absolutely, not. What I see is you’ve got your world and I’ve got my world. 

Keep going!