The rural-urban divide does not exist, according to a comprehensive survey on the attitudes of New Zealanders to the farming sector.
However, there is work to do to create a better dialogue where concerns and questions can be aired and answered, the researchers from Massey University found.
The Diverse Experience of Farming project, co-funded by Our Land and Water National Science Challenge, found New Zealanders across all regions, genders, ages and ethnicities value farming.
Dr Alice Beban from Massey University’s School of People, Environment and Planning told the Farmers Weekly that the results are surprising.
“Despite what some media and politicians might claim, there is no deep, authentic, antagonistic chasm between urban and rural New Zealanders,” she said.
“In fact, what we found is that farmers are valued for the food they grow and [people] recognise the role in creating jobs and managing the environment.”
However, recognising the sector’s benefits does not equate to greater trust or knowledge about farming, said rural scientist Dr Janet Reid from Massey University’s School of Agriculture and Environment.
“Farmers tend to focus on the bad news and to feel like they are constantly under attack,” Reid said.
Surprisingly, urban consumers, and farmers and rural people, do not blame each other for this lack of trust, with respondents showing a sophisticated understanding of challenges such as climate change, high prices, farm debt and increasingly tight regulations.
Instead, people across regions tend to point the finger at the government, media and supermarkets, who they consider to be creating or promoting an urban-rural divide.
“More than half of urban respondents claimed that supermarkets are the most influential source of information about farming,” Beban said.
“Neither urban nor rural consumers believe supermarkets are fulfilling their responsibilities to farmers.”
Likewise, rural people believe that the government isn’t fulfilling its responsibilities to farming, highlighting interference and regulation that is not effective, clear, or practical.
“There are diverse views of farming across urban, rural, and farming communities,” Reid said. “But we all agree that the benefits of food and jobs that farming provides are valuable for New Zealand.
“People genuinely desire engagement in dialogue and want trust and connection. Farmers, government, supermarkets, agribusiness, primary sector organisations and urban people all have a role in building this connection.”
Reid said the farming sector needs to focus on communicating clearly.
“The public wants assurances and confidence that the sector is sustainably farming and is being environmentally responsible.”
One key factor in people’s attitudes to farming is the cost of buying food, Beban said.
She said there were “a lot of people who felt that there should be more focus on feeding New Zealanders first”.
The Diverse Experience of Farming project, co-funded by Our Land and Water National Science Challenge, found New Zealanders across all regions, genders, ages and ethnicities value farming.Download
About a third of the farmers surveyed strongly agreed with this, although a quarter believed the export focus should remain the priority.
Māori respondents on average disagreed with the statement that the farming sector is fulfilling its responsibilities to Māori, while other ethnicities also disagreed with this statement, but less strongly.
New Zealanders across ethnicities were positive about buying food from Māori-owned and -operated farms.
Creating deeper connections between communities is vital, Reid said.
“If we’re looking at how we can improve connections, one of the challenges – but also I think the opportunity – is how do we get those personal connections between the farmers and the growers and our primary sector and the consumers who may not be related, or may not have those personal experiences?”
Beban agreed, saying that people need to feel like they are genuinely being listened to.
“There was a real distrust of PR spin. And so I think it is difficult for the farming sector – it’s not just about telling their story, but it’s also about engaging with people and clear consistent communication that listens to the public point of view.”
To help foster this, the researchers are holding an interactive exhibition in Palmerston North in November and hope to take it on the road after that.
In Focus: The myth of the urban-rural divide
This week Bryan talks to two Massey University researchers who have done a massive survey on how people view farming in New Zealand (listen from the six-minute mark). They’ve found that there is no urban-rural divide, but there is a need for better communication and while telling farmers’ stories is important, so is listening to the concerns of others.
Then he catches up with a young Federated Farmers member, Danielle Hovmand, who thinks young farmers should be able to use their KiwiSaver funds to invest in land or livestock (from the 19:30 minute mark).