NSW Farmers president Derek Schoen has denied he has given his backing to intensive farming over broadacre farming when appearing to give his support to a piggery at Harden.
The denial comes as it appears it will be at least another two months before a report is given to the administrator of Hilltops Council over the $12 million plan for a piggery by Blantyre Farms at the property Eulie, 6km outside Harden.
It follows the decision by three NSW government departments not to issue General Terms of Approval (GTA) to the piggery’s proponents, because of, according to one of the authorities, the Environmental Protection Authority, “unacceptable risks”.
In the meantime, the Farmers’ president has found himself involved in the piggery debate. Mr Schoen lives next to the biggest piggery in NSW at Corowa, Rivalea, and says he supports more intensive farming and that he has no problems living next to a piggery.
A series of events started when Mr Schoen was interviewed for ABC radio on February 2. Mr Schoen was simply described as Derek Schoen in the radio interview.
The next day an updated web story was published by the ABC in which he was referred to as NSW Farmers president.
NSW Farmers later told a Harden farmer that Mr Schoen was simply speaking in his private capacity as someone who lived next to a piggery.
"Now with intensive industries using methane capture and co-generating [electricity], emissions have decreased enormously," Mr Schoen told the program.
In response to the interview, the president of the Cunningham Valley Action Group (CVAG) Julia Atkin rang Mr Schoen to express the group’s concern Mr Schoen did not represent the views of many farmers at Harden who are opposed to the piggery, due to concerns over possible damage to the water table, pollution of waterways and odour.
Dr Atkin said Mr Schoen agreed that “his intent had not been to directly support the specific proposal but rather to communicate the benefits that Rivalea piggery had brought to the town of Corowa which he believes would have died without it.
He also told her that he lives next to RIvalea and that despite his, and other landowners’ initial opposition, the current owner’s management and practices were such that there were lots of benefits to the community though there were some occasional odour problems.
His intent had been to encourage Hilltops Council not to reject the piggery but to find an alternative location within the shire should the site chosen not prove to be suitable.”
Dr Atkin then wrote to him saying she was concerned that “although it was not stated that he was talking as President of NSW Farmers, everyone knows his name and once he was introduced by name he is automatically known as the president of NSW Farmers and it is readily assumed he is speaking on behalf of NSW Farmers”.
She also told him that he had “fuelled a concern” that there was “a bias in NSW Farmers towards supporting the interests of intensive livestock agriculture over the interests of broadacre meat, dairy, wool and grain producers”. (Mr Schoen in a statement to The Land has denied this).
Dr Atkin invited Mr Schoen to visit the Harden neighbours of Eulie opposed to the plan. On February 24, Mr Schoen toured the area near Eulie at Harden.
The tour started awkwardly for the group as one of the neighbours who supported the piggery turned up. The person did not continue on the tour. Mr Schoen spent nearly four hours touring the area, hearing concerns of the farmers, some of whom have been, or are, Farmers members.
On the 26th of February, Schoen wrote to CVAG, thanking them for the tour : “I would like to thank you all for your time in showing me around, listening to my story of the establishment of a piggery next door and giving me feedback as to some of the concerns of current and past members of NSWFA. I hope they could see the benefits of becoming or remaining a member.
“When you have time it is worth Googleing Corowa and District Concerned Citizens. I hope I was able give some clarity to the debate and that a satisfactory resolution can be found to retain this development within the Hilltops council. All the best, Derek.”
One of the neighbours said he would come and do a tour at Rivalea.
All seemed quite on the issue, until it was reported that Mr Schoen had spoken about the Harden piggery proposal at a NSW Farmers meeting at Illabo in early March, which was convened to talk about concerns over RMS road rules on moving farm machinery.
At the meeting, Mr Schoen addressed farmers and described his recent tour to many places of NSW, he mentioned his tour to Harden and his views about the Office of Environment and Heritage (one of the three departments vetting the Eulie proposal) not issuing general terms of approval, and his concerns at the reasons they had not issued at this stage GTA for the Eulie proposal, to do with possible destruction of aboriginal artefacts. One farmer thought Mr Schoen gave a positive viewpoint of the Harden piggery plan.
Following this information that Mr Schoen had spoken as Farmers President at this Illabo meeting, The Land put a number of questions to Mr Schoen to ask him about his comments.
He provided this reply, here quoted in full:
“The Eulie piggery proposal has been a contentious issue for the local community.
“As NSW Farmers represents members who both oppose and support the proposal, the Association respects the views of both sides of the debate. We will not pit farmer against farmer.
“In February after an invitation by the Cunningham Valley Action Group, I joined members for a 3.5 hr. tour of the proposed location and had productive discussions with members of the Group as well as an informal meeting with members of the NSW Farmers local branch. I also extended an offer to show members of both groups around the location of the largest piggery in Australia, Rivalea in Corowa, which dwarfs the Eulie proposal. We have lived next door to it for 43 years. This offer has been taken up by some of those who were at the meeting.
“My comments have always focused on the importance of promoting and sustaining not only existing enterprises that are looking to expand, but also new agricultural enterprises that would provide local jobs and investment, where appropriate.
“The future of the Eulie piggery proposal is in the hands of the relevant authorities but as I have stated if the environmental concerns cannot be overcome with the current proposed site it would be a shame for the residents of Hilltops council if an alternate location could not be found . Broadacre farming and intensive farming work collaboratively and do co-exist.”