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Cows in deep mud after winter grazing went wrong (Image: Radio NZ/Supplied)
Cows in deep mud after winter grazing went wrong (Image: Radio NZ/Supplied)

The BulletinNovember 26, 2019

The Bulletin: Crackdown on winter grazing cows sinking into mud

Cows in deep mud after winter grazing went wrong (Image: Radio NZ/Supplied)
Cows in deep mud after winter grazing went wrong (Image: Radio NZ/Supplied)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Minister wants winter grazing cleaned up before next season, elite figures wade into port debate, and golfers win Chamberlain Park fight.

Environmental and animal welfare concerns have been at the forefront of a hard hitting report on winter grazing. It came from a taskforce convened by agriculture minister Damien O’Connor, to look into the farming practice which involves cows (mostly, sometimes other animals) munching through a restricted area of crops. It can sometimes be deemed necessary, to provide cows with enough food over winter. But it can also leave cows effectively wallowing in mud, and can increase the amount of runoff from paddocks – particularly if it is done over-intensively. Radio NZ’s Eric Frykberg covered the taskforce report, which concluded that it wasn’t clear exactly how prevalent poor performance was – it could be as low as 5% of farmers, or as high as 30%.

That matters a lot, because public perception has played an outsize role in this particular issue. This winter a campaign against intensive winter grazing was launched, with horrific images coming out showing cows languishing in deep mud. Southland was a particular focus, with tense standoffs between farmers and environmentalists. Farmers later pointed to the fact that MPI found no breaches of the Animal Welfare Act over the season in Southland, though campaigner Angus Robson questioned whether they were looking all that hard. Either way, winter grazing is a key skirmish in the wider PR battle over dairy farming, and it’ll be interesting to see if it anything is said about it in Fonterra’s upcoming Sustainability Report, to be released at the end of the week.

The issue is something of a proxy for wider questions around how farming should be regulated and monitored, with many farming organisations stressing that bad practice was rare, and that farmers effectively self-regulated each other. That may be true, but a section of the taskforce report made it clear that farmers weren’t often narking on each other. “It may be hindered by parties feeling uncomfortable, a lack of understanding that complaints are anonymous, an unwillingness to report on clients or neighbours, or not knowing how to or when to report what they see.” But the taskforce also noted that it could just be so common that people become desensitised to the practice, and don’t really notice it as a problem.

Regardless, the taskforce has recommended more surveillance to monitor and enforce compliance. The full report with recommendations can be read here, and changes are now expected of the industry. What’s more, they’re expected by next winter – it’s pretty clear that the agriculture minister doesn’t want more pictures of cows in mud to land on his desk. Farmers Weekly reports the minister wants a ‘pan-sector’ approach to solving the problem, so like with recent moves to reduce agricultural emissions, there will be a hope from the government that they’ll be able to accomplish this without antagonising farmers further.

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A bunch of elite figures have got their feet wet by wading into the debate over Auckland’s port being moved. They include former PMs John Key and Helen Clark who support a move to Whangārei, and former minister for everything Steven Joyce who does not. Politik has a good rundown on the tensions playing out behind the scenes on this, and whether other options – like the Firth of Thames – could start to look more attractive given the heavy costs of moving north.

The fight over central Auckland golf course Chamberlain Park has come to an end, and the golfers have won. The NZ Herald (paywalled) reports the original plan will be thrown out by the Albert-Eden Local Board, the course will remain as 18 holes, and a few other minor accommodations will be made to other, non-golfing members of the public. It’s a story that local government guru Hayden Donnell spent a lot of painful time with over the past several years, and this latest development reflects the immense amount of campaigning pro-golf activists put into the recent local elections.

Here’s a really strong piece on a story that hasn’t been covered in the Bulletin yet – Tamarind’s Taranaki oil field crisis. Tim Hunter from the NBR (paywalled) has written about their risky strategy of buying end of life oil fields, and squeezing the last few bucks out of them – only in this case, the company is in huge financial strife and has gone into voluntary administration, with big responsibilities to decommission oil wells looming. Hunter likens it to the old Warren Buffett adage of picking up a discarded cigar butt with one more puff in it – but with Tamarind Taranaki now in administration, will they still be around to dispose of their responsibilities properly?

Meanwhile, in two bits of related news, a small oil spill took place at the end of last week near a Tamarind facility, reports Interest. It naturally dispersed, and it hasn’t been confirmed whether or not Tamarind was responsible for the spill. And in Timaru, a Greenpeace occupation of a vessel used by oil company OMV has continued for a second night – several arrests have been made but the remaining protesters say they aren’t planning to leave any time soon.

The amount of mould in New Zealand houses is in the spotlight after a Stats NZ survey, reported on by the NZ Herald (paywalled) Basically, it found just over a third of Auckland households lived with mould, and an even higher proportion in Wellington. That contributes to tens of thousands of hospital visits each year, and is closely associated with poverty related illnesses.

Safety concerns have preceded a delay in the awarding of school bus service contracts, reports Radio NZ. FIRST Union, who represent some of the bus driver workforce, say that those concerns have stemmed from the previous awarding of tenders to lower-bidding operators. That’s a concern that bus drivers and their unions have been talking about in a range of contexts – for example the Wellington bus debacle – because it generally means the drivers on the road are less experienced, and have poorer working conditions.

Don’t get too carried away yet, but this could be a big development in the process of decarbonising the world’s transport fleet. Stuff reports a Taupō company has found a way to extract lithium from geothermal fluid. Lithium is basically the key element that wide-scale electrification relies on, and is normally quite resource intensive to mine from rock.

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It’s a massacre ya’ll.

Right now on The Spinoff: Donna Miles-Mojab has written a counterpoint to an earlier piece, arguing that Behrouz Boochani should indeed seek asylum in New Zealand. Catherine Woulfe interviews the legend who covered up white supremacist posters with poems. Emily Writes reviews the new slide at parliament. Leonie Hayden picks out the best (and absolute worst) moments in a trainwreck interview on The Hui by Auckland protester Lisa Prager.

And two more pieces that give views on the Grace Millane murder trial. Associate professor of law Khylee Quince argues that the defence lawyer was right to discuss Millane’s past as part of their strategy, and actually did so in a careful and respectful way. And Nicola Gavey writes about the trial as a crucible of modern gender and sexual politics under the spotlight of unprecedented media coverage.

For a feature today, an excellent analysis of a recent news story from one of my favourite columnists. Medical student Emma Espiner has written on Newsroom about the recent scandal of other students rorting an overseas travel elective, to go on holiday instead. She doesn’t defend those students, but gives a much wider picture of the system that they’re operating in, and also the cohort of medical students generally. Here’s an excerpt:

I’ve seen people calling for the final year medical student grant to be abolished as a result of these revelations. ‘Taxpayer-funded rort’ is an old favourite that I remember from my time working at Parliament. I wish those people would think about what they’re really asking for.

It’s a bit like the army back in the day. Officers received less pay than the soldiers beneath them. It seems counter-intuitive until you realise that it’s a method of reinforcing class power structures. Only the wealthy could afford to have sons in the officer class.

It’s the same in medicine. When we classify all medical students as undeserving of any financial support because of ‘entitlement’ we erase the efforts of our social justice schemes which are attempting to diversify the medical workforce to better serve our population.

Three basically perfect days of cricket have given the Black Caps a 1-0 test series lead against England. After struggling on the opening two, the hosts showed complete mental fortitude to first bat England out of the game, and then shut down any chance of survival on the fifth day. Neil Wagner took five wickets, and they weren’t even necessarily the sort of brutal bumpers that he’s known for. BJ Watling was player of the match for his double century and tidy glovework. The only other game in the series starts later this week in Hamilton.

On a much less happy note, English fast bowler Jofra Archer tweeted about a spectator throwing racial insults at him while he was batting. It’s quite frankly shameful to hear that happened. NZ Cricket have said they will be issuing an apology to Archer today, and I’ve got no doubt many real fans will share that sentiment of apology and disgust at the insults.

Finally, a sports correction: The Auckland Tuatara scored their first win of the season over the Perth Heat, not the Brisbane Heat – after all, the Brisbane Heat play cricket, not baseball. The four game season-opening series was won by Perth 3-1.

That’s it for The Bulletin. If you want to support the work we do at The Spinoff, please check out our membership programme.

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