Monday, April 22, 2024

ALTERNATIVE VIEW: First step on long journey

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I was pleasantly surprised recently to receive an email from Federated Farmers, Beef + Lamb NZ and DairyNZ telling me that they were all going to work together. That in future all three organisations will be presenting a united front to the world. It was good to see and long overdue. As you know, I’ve been extremely critical of our sector that has portrayed itself as a collection of tribes, which enabled our opposition to divide and conquer – and they did. I’m pleased that’s changing.
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There will be issues to be sorted, but it is a solid first step in what will inevitably be a long journey.

Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard told me that there was a meeting he’d called a few weeks ago with the chairs of Beef + Lamb and DairyNZ and that a deal wasn’t signed and sealed as yet, but it was a work in progress.

Andrew said it was a matter of deciding who’s doing what and not stepping on each other’s toes. It was also a matter of not wasting resources by arguing internally.

He made the point that no organisation could do it on their own and I’d agree. If the three groups are going to coordinate their efforts for the ultimate benefits of farmers, then that is to be applauded.

The joint approach has started well with the three groups working together to develop an educational resource on “the important role of NZ dairy and red meat in feeding a growing global population”. It’s an informative, factual module that has the support of the NZ Horticultural/Agricultural Teachers Association, which will be vital in the rollout.

Another of the critical areas are the regional and district plan consultations taking place over the next few years. In the past, Feds have worked solidly through all of them and that alone has been instrumental in allowing us to keep farming. We are told that in future there will be a “joint advocacy plan for each of the regional and district plan consultation processes”, which is a major step forward.

Another area where the organisations have agreed to collaborate is over the vexed question of nutrient discharge. The agreement is to develop an approach that deals with the problem in a fair and equitable way for all farmers.

The group wants to develop their own solutions rather than seeing the Government imposing solutions on farmers.

We well know the absolute shambles that can be handed down from the bureaucrats in Wellington who have their own agendas and little practical knowledge of the intricacies of agriculture.

We’ve seen ridiculous rules coming out about water quality and 10-degree slopes.

For us to develop our own solutions is vital for a prosperous sector.

Doing that effectively will take considerable resources, resources that the individual groups just don’t have. It’s also going to require a broadening of the expertise that the organisations currently employ and that’s not a bad thing.

There will be the inevitable speed wobbles, but it will be a small price to pay if we control our own destiny more than we are doing.

Another issue identified is the need to develop consistent messages on policy issues to central and local government. The groups rightly believe that it will have a greater impact on decision-makers and provide clarity to farmers and rural communities.

That is going to be a considerable challenge for the groups but vital for the future of farming. Currently, we have Beef + Lamb and DairyNZ in the Governments’ behind closed doors talkfest about the future of agriculture in New Zealand. It has the august title Food and Fibre Partnership Group.

Despite the grandiose title, there’s nothing remotely relevant coming out of it that I’m aware of.

My wish would be for the two levy organisations to wash their hands of the talkfest and present a united voice with Feds from outside the tent. That would certainly be preferable to farmers than the secret meeting and cone of silence that currently exists.

The sector showed in Southland that if we came together, encouraged other players on board and presented a united front then we could get a workable result. Long may that continue.

The issue for farmers is that we’re being consistently hit over the head with what I’d call the ideological arrogance of Wellington. Essential freshwater would be but one example.

Realistically that noise from Wellington is going to get louder. We need to counter it.

If we move forward with a single voice, sharp focus and strong commitment we can win those battles. Without that single voice I don’t believe we can.

I’m really pleased that the three groups have come together and look forward to seeing the results of that team approach.

It desperately needed to happen. I’m pleased it has.

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