Looking back at 2016

What a year 2016 has been.  There’s been no shortage of topics to debate.  We’ve had the ‘Brexit’ vote, and then the US Presidential election.  Closer to home, there has been the destructive New Zealand earthquake, and of course we now have a new Prime Minister.

It was no different for the farming legal scene.  This year we debated everything from Fonterra’s decision to defer invoice payments to farmers’ safety records. 

The year started off with Fonterra in the spotlight with its decision about invoice payments.  Was Fonterra acting as a good corporate citizen? Is it obliged to? Or did its decision just reflect good business sense? 

Health and safety has also been a hot topic, and widely debated with the new Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.  Why is the agriculture sector overrepresented in workplace fatality statistics?  Has the new Act really made a difference to reduce workplace deaths? And should dairy farms be regarded as high hazard workplaces?  2017 will offer us further insight in the workplace health and safety scene as the new legislation continues to bed in.

Employment standards also gained significant attention, with legislative changes brought in creating tougher penalties for non-compliance with minimum wage payments, and appropriate record keeping.  Have farmers been unnecessarily put in the spotlight, or has there been a history or poor practice that has necessitated a higher degree of monitoring by MBIE. 

Ninet-day trial periods, also remain controversial, and do they really afford farming employers the flexibility needed when recruiting and hiring staff? Or do they simply create a costly trap for the unsuspecting farmer?

Environmental issues continue to remain relevant for farmers.  Farmers often get caught in the crossfire over debate about effluent management, dirty dairying, and whether New Zealand’s ‘clean, green’ reputation is fact or fiction.  Are there double standards when it comes to enforcement of illegal discharges?  For example, in 2014, the Hamilton City Council avoided prosecution when 800 cubic metres of untreated waste water spilled into the Waikato River from its Pukete Wastewater Treatment Plant.  The spill was considered ‘not foreseeable’ and ‘adequately mitigated’.

We have debated also whether the new food standards are necessary, or simply an overly burdensome compliance requirement for small market suppliers, and in particular farmers market vendors.

Last but not least, the low dairy pay-out has been a source of frustration for Farmers over the last year, and in itself a fuel to many legal issues, including looking at alternative income sources (it was suggested in one article that the legalisation of medicinal cannabis supply could create a controlled and sustainable alternative income for farmers), land subdivision, sale, or conversion.

2016 has certainly been an interesting year in review, and as the sun sets on the 2016 year, we hope that everyone is able to enjoy some well-earned time off with family, and friends.

We will see you in the New Year.

The content of this document is necessarily general and readers should seek specific advice on particular matters and not rely solely on this document. 

If you would like more information on any of the topics in this document, please contact your usual Auld Brewer Mazengarb & McEwen adviser. 

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Philip McCarthy