This past week, nine farmers from Central Hawke’s Bay ran a large advert — Open Letter from the Farmer Reference Group — in the CHB Mail.
These farmers — Eliot Cooper, Graham Anderson, Hugh Ritchie, Jeromy Greer, Phil King, Richard Dakins, Will Foley, Campbell Chard and Bob Cottrell — implored CHB farmers to sign water user agreements (WUAs) that would commit such farmers to purchasing irrigation scheme water for 35 years. The agreements would require farmers to pay for their stipulated water each year, whether or not the water was actually needed or used.
The advert asserted the benefits of the dam scheme and touted the discount being offered to early signers of WUAs, noting “the time to do it is now”. It made no mention of the substantial on-farm costs farmers would need to bear — estimated at up to $300 million over and above the cost of the proposed dam and its distribution network to farm gates — if they indeed signed on to the scheme.
The advert closed with this offer from the Farmer Reference Group: “We are happy to discuss this opportunity with you and discuss the potential of irrigation in your farming operation.”
What is amazingly missing from this advert is the strongest possible persuasion point these nine farmers could possibly have made — “We’ve already signed up.”
Their statement might have read something like this:
“We nine fellow CHB farmers have already put ourselves on the line, each of us having signed water user agreements committing us, collectively, to purchasing [insert big number] cubic metres of water from the scheme each year for the next 35 years.”
Surely that would be impressive! HB Today would give it 3-inch headlines. The CHB Mail would run photos of each signer.
Why is there no such statement in the advert?
Three possible reasons I can think of:
- Some or all have not yet signed WUAs.
- One or another might not farm in the projected scheme’s footprint.
- Or maybe they’ve all signed WUAs and they’re all just too bashful to talk about it.
So here’s a simple suggestion for the Ruataniwha Farmer Reference Group. Why don’t you lay your signed purchase agreements on the table, in full public view? The HBRIC Board conducts its annual shareholder public meeting on Monday afternoon. That might offer a decent opportunity.
I have no doubt that demonstrating your confirmed ‘skin in the scheme’ would do far more than your advert to impress the other farmers you are urging to tie their fortunes to the proposed scheme.
It would certainly impress me as a Regional Councillor, because I’ve yet to be shown any evidence by HBRIC — publicly or privately — that Water User Agreements are actually being signed.