Sunday, March 3, 2024

OFF THE CUFF: Every dollar counts in recovery

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Human behaviour is becoming more apparent as this lockdown drags on from days and weeks into months.
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Initially, we had total compliance, installed in us by fear of a huge death toll if we did not listen. 

Next came the herd mentality, witnessed outside supermarkets and other essential services as we humans waited in lines like lambs to the slaughter. 

There have also been many examples of kindness with neighbours helping those in need, offers of donations and charity and even smiles and conversations with complete strangers.

Like all true tests of character this lockdown also shows us the frailties of our human behaviour. 

One example of this is the sudden and widespread flocking of the masses to stuff some fast food into their mouths as soon as level four was lifted.

Seeing a line of cars outside McDonalds extending halfway to Timbuctoo during a visit to Wanganui made me realise how sad some of our population’s lives are. They were willing to spend half their afternoon stuck in a car waiting for a soggy burger and some salty fries just to satisfy a craving. 

But the most shameful behaviour, in my opinion, has come from our farming industry. 

I have read quite a lot of negative sentiment from farmers towards others, particularly the tourism industry. 

To have your entire industry virtually wiped out overnight is for some Kiwis gut-wrenching at best and life-destroying at worst. Tourism is arguably the hardest hit but there are many thousands of other businesses facing ruin. 

And I know exactly what that feels like.

My wife Kylie and I have been involved in tourism since 2008 when we started Rangitikei Farmstay. It started with some old farm buildings and a dream and over the next 12 years has evolved in ways we could never have dreamed of. The road was not easy, with thousands of hours of work and a significant financial investment. 

We could not have done it alone and have relied on help from all four corners of the globe. We have also had the privilege of hosting people from all over the world and they have enriched our lives with memories and friendships. 

Just before the lockdown was announced we reached a milestone that took over a decade of blood, sweat and tears. Our little farmstay had just secured a bus contract with an international tour company for next summer, where visitors would experience a slice of Kiwi farming during their inbound tours. 

Kylie, who is the driving force behind the farmstay, had realised a dream she worked bloody hard to achieve. 

We knew and agreed with the concept of the total lockdown but it was not until we were living it that reality began to set in. Virtually overnight our bookings flatlined, our bus contract was left in limbo and the future of an industry left in turmoil. And for us as business owners it was heartbreaking.

But we are some of the lucky ones. Even though the farmstay is a significant contributor to our business we have a sheep and beef farm and other revenue streams to keep us afloat. Many others do not have this luxury as the economic fallout from this virus becomes reality. Many businesses will shut their doors permanently, many will face years of struggle just to keep afloat and thousands of workers will lose their jobs.

There has been a lot of commentary about how the primary industries are going to be the shining white horse the country will ride out of this crisis. 

While it is true we will play a part there are many other industries equally as important. 

We farmers work and operate with privilege many would kill for so we need to justify that privilege with our behaviour and not say “I told you so”. 

Collaboration across all industries is vital for our country’s economy to survive.

We have a vital role to play in rebuilding our economy and not just by carrying on producing the best meat and fibre in the world. 

We need to reach out well past our farm gates and into our communities to help those who are struggling. 

It might be initiating a project you have been thinking about but have been waiting for a rainy day to start. It might be expanding or diversifying to try to future proof a farming business. Or it might be something as simple as becoming a more regular client at your local coffee shop. Better still, don’t have a favourite and share your custom as far and wide as you can.

The only certainty I know that will come from this lockdown is brutally simple.

Every dollar will count.

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