28 Apr 2015

Dairy farmers get thumbs up

6:51 am on 28 April 2015

A survey into attitudes towards dairy farming has found the majority of the public view the sector favourably.

dairy cow

Dairy farmers are often worried about how their sector is perceived by others. Photo: 123rf

So-called "dirty dairying" is still a perception held by some urban dwellers concerned with polluted waterways and nitrate leaching

But the survey, commissioned by industry advocates DairyNZ, found that more than two-thirds of respondents had a very positive or somewhat positive impression of dairying.

DairyNZ brand manager Andrew Fraser said although the public's view of dairying had been quite stable over the past five years, farmers were often pessimistic about how others saw the sector.

"They are really sensitised to seeing a headline in the news," Mr Fraser said.

DairyNZ brand manager Andrew Fraser.

DairyNZ brand manager Andrew Fraser. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

"The whole environment has been talked about a lot and that going on leads them to thinking 'if that's being talked about, that must be what everyone thinks'.

"Whereas the reality is people actually hear that but they also make up their own minds."

Mr Fraser said while the public was concerned about the environmental impact of farming, they were attracted to the down-to-earth qualities farmers represented and the reputation for being the best in the world.

"It is something we are really good at and New Zealanders like being really good at stuff on the world stage so they are quite proud of that.

"And also what's come through in the research is they like that idea of the farming lifestyle, the hard work and the good honest values that farmers espouse."

The ongoing study surveys 1500 people every six months, and a smaller number are involved in focus groups. It is supervised by Auckland company Perceptive Research.

Other findings of the research include that dairy farming is viewed more positively than forestry and the oil and gas sectors but less positively than tourism and beef and lamb farming.

Respondents also ranked "protect the environment" and "protect animal welfare" as the two most important attributes of a dairy farmer.

The research results were unveiled to about 150 farmers at a forum in Taranaki last week.

Bad farmers capture attention

A Pihama dairy farmer, Jacques Le Rou, said the survey results were not what he had expected.

"I was surprised that the perception of dairy farmers was as high as what it was because my thoughts are that people in the urban areas think that we are not as good as we know we are."

Mr Le Rou said everybody in the sector suffered when one farmer stepped out of line.

"There should be more good stories about dairying because 99 percent of farmers are really good and there's always the one percent that are going to do things that are wrong. And that happens in any industry and they're the only ones that get blown up in the media."

Dr Mike Joy, a senior lecturer in Environmental Science and Ecology at Massey University, has been a vocal critic of dairy farming regulation, which he said encouraged a situation where nitrates and other pollutants leached from dairy farms into waterways. However, he does not blame farmers for that.

Dr Joy said farmers were business people and were just working within the rules laid down by central and local government.

"I feel a bit frustrated that DairyNZ are spending time and money polling the public about perceptions rather than doing the job which they should be doing which is really explaining to farmers the reality of the business they are in and the impacts that they have."

Dr Joy said DairyNZ should be helping address the fundamental problem of the unsustainable use of fossil-based inputs such as nitrogen and phosphorous in dairying.