Friday, July 1, 2022

Campaign hurting farmers

Southland Federated Farmers president Russell MacPherson described the Southland Times clean water campaign as terrible, saying “they are giving us caning”.

He said the campaign was turning off young people from farming and creating a negative impression of farmers in the towns. In mid-December he received an email from a new farmer who had hosted some Irish dairy farmers. They had gone into a shop in Invercargill where two women asked the visitors what they did. When given the answer, the women had retorted: “You are just dirty dairy farmers”.

MacPherson believes the Southland Times has helped engender that attitude with its campaign.

The newspaper had lost many rural readers as a result, he maintained.

“The only reason I buy the paper is to read the hatch, match and despatch column and I like reading the letters to the editor to see what people are thinking.”

MacPherson’s advice to editor Fred Tullett is that farmers are more aware now of what they can do to mitigate losses to waterways. Rather than criticise and put down the bad farmers, the good ones should be encouraged, praised and rewarded.

A few dairy farmers tarnished the industry’s image, “but we all seem to be villains, on the street,” he said. “I’ve been a farmer for almost 25 years, a sheep farmer for 18 years and a dairy farmer for seven.

“I don’t want people to bow to me. All I want is to go about my daily life and not be ridiculed and looked upon as an environmental terrorist.”

The Southland Times’ water-quality campaign was also turning off young people from going into agriculture.

“Meanwhile we must import overseas labour to work on our farms, and the question is going to be asked: Who is going to buy our farms when we don’t have these young people coming through?”

MacPherson thought farm-bashing had been popular at the time the campaign was launched, because of the high dairy payout and high costs of dairy products in shops. But the editor “has cooked his goose with rural people, because they are not buying the paper”.

Former Federated Farmers president Don Nicolson said the newspaper’s editorials on one day could be strongly worded and anti-farming while on others there might be something reasonably pro-farming, relative to dairying’s economic importance, such as an increase in the payout.

“But it’s always tainted – it’s alright to have the extra payout, guys, but you need to clean your act up – and it’s wearing farmers thin.”

Nicolson said he sees the massive investment to try to improve farms, based on advice from regional councils and DairyNZ , sinking more money into something the farmers thought was the best just five years ago such as effluent ponds or effluent disposal systems.

“And it’s never good enough.”

The education of society hadn’t kept up with improved farm systems – “farmers have evolved systems massively in the past 20 years”.

Nicolson wondered why so much noise is made by a select group of people, lambasting their lifeblood, in a province of just 90,000 people dependent on farm exports.

“The hand that feeds gets smacked all the time.”

Don Nicholson – criticism wearing thin.

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