Monday, 9 August 2021

In your corner: how Ravensdown works to influence policy matters


Policy. In the current climate, the word itself is enough to send shivers down New Zealand's rural backbone. But policy is unlikely to go away any time soon, so the best option for Ravensdown and other industry bodies is to take a stand to ensure sensible outcomes for our farmers. Ravensdown’s Environmental and Policy Manager Anna Wilkes and Sustainability Manager Allanah Kidd tell us how Ravensdown works in this space for the good of our shareholders and the farming community at large.

Over the past few years, Ravensdown’s involvement in policy advocacy has risen, particularly as environmental regulations for farming have become increasingly complex.  

Our farmers’ time is better spent farming, not necessarily advocating their cause as a lone voice in a council hearing or environment court process, and this is why we act on behalf of our shareholders to represent their interests in these processes. The benefit for farmers is that Ravensdown can call on specialist advisors when we need help to present a robust case, helping drive pragmatic outcomes that are both achievable for farmers and necessary for environmental improvement.  

When it comes to policy, it’s important to consider the broader context of what we can achieve. Typically, a regulator is focussed on a narrow issue such as water quality. Our approach is to look for opportunities that will enable a farmer to gain multiple wins as they make changes on their farm. For example, an action to reduce sediment losses by retiring an area of erosion-prone land and planting with native species would have benefits for water quality, biodiversity and climate change. All these benefits would then be reflected in a robust Farm Environment Plan. 

We do not have the time or resources to submit on every consultation process that comes our way. We review documents released for consultation and consider the material impacts of the outcome on our shareholders and on our own manufacturing, distribution and quarrying activities. We also consider where our interests may be better or more adequately represented by other industry bodies. During 2020 and 2021 we have been involved in 16 different policy or plan review processes, which are at various stages of the submissions, hearings and appeals processes.  

Industry collaboration saves time and money  

We work closely with a range of primary industry bodies on environmental policy, including DairyNZ, Federated Farmers, Beef + Lamb New Zealand and Horticulture New Zealand. We also collaborate with Fonterra and other processors, and sometimes with our counterparts at Ballance Agri-Nutrients through The Fertiliser Association of New Zealand (FANZ). Regulatory processes are both costly and time consuming, particularly at the appeals stage. Increasingly, the primary sector is looking to work together, aligning views and sharing resources to present a united front that ultimately carries more weight for the sector. 

How we work for shareholders  

Ravensdown prepared a submission on the Essential Freshwater package of proposed regulations announced by Environment Minister David Parker in 2018. Our submission was one of more than 17,500 received by the Government. Since the regulations were released in August 2020 we have presented a summary of the key points at shareholder meetings around the country and have more recently been providing feedback to the Ministry for the  

Environment on a guidance document for the nitrogen fertiliser cap requirements. In addition, Ravensdown’s environmental consultancy and field teams have been fielding many queries from farmers looking at compliance with the various policy requirements and the staggered dates for implementation. 

Tackling climate change  

Climate change is a growing threat and there’s renewed focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions which has come with much political discussion and consultation with industry. Ravensdown contributed to the Sustainable Business Council’s briefing to the incoming government on climate action priorities, and the Climate Change Commission’s draft advice to government. Membership to the Sustainable Business Council enables collaboration with business leaders from a diverse range of sectors collaborating on workable solutions that can be presented to government. It has also enabled discussion by a subgroup of agri-businesses, focused on impacts and contribution of farming specifically. Where possible through this process, we seek input from farmers, directly and through our agri managers.  

Policy advocacy into the future  

Ravensdown is entrusted by its shareholders to ensure that new policy is appropriate and fit for purpose and we take that role very seriously. We anticipate an ongoing role both at central and local government levels, and we are currently reviewing the latest Freswater Farm Plan regulations. Our involvement visibly extends to submissions on plan changes and plan reviews, the presentation of evidence to hearing panels, and in some cases participation in Environment Court appeals. Less well known perhaps is our involvement in primary industry stakeholder groups that work with the regulator as policy documents are being prepared, providing feedback on drafts and assisting with interpretation and implementation of newly released plans and plan changes.  

The regulations are inevitably complex and we see part of the role of the co-operative is to translate the regulations once set and to help farmers adapt to the new regulatory regime. The ongoing focus of our role in defining the future direction of agriculture is on solving problems collaboratively and being part of the solution. Our contributions to policy processes are valued by regional councils as we seek to strike a rational balance between agricultural production and environmental protection.