Friday, December 8, 2023

Young farmers must drive change

Avatar photo
Former Young Farmer of the Year Nigel Woodhead played a vital role in creating the new vision for the food and fibre sector released by the Primary Sector Council last year.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

He runs a 400ha Otago sheep and beef farm with 3500 stock units and is the only farmer on the council.

“I am the only person on the Primary Sector Council who gets up every day and puts boots on,” he said.

“Everyone else gets up and puts shiny shoes on. That’s not a criticism of them. That’s just the reality. I’m the only farmer.

“I had an obligation on behalf of the industry to be there on behalf of those of us who get up and put boots on every day and have dirt under our nails and those of us under 40.”

Last year the council, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor unveiled Fit For a Better World.

The vision is for the food and fibre sector to be a world leader in modern regenerative production systems and provide the world’s consumers with ethically produced food, natural fibres, drinks, co-products and bio products.

Woodhead was asked to be an observer member of the council after winning FMG Young Farmer of the Year in 2017.

“I was intrigued so I decided to become a part of it,” he said.

Woodhead was able to give his input, listen and learn. A year in he was asked to become a full member with voting rights.

“Someone has to step up and fight the good fight,” he said.

Being involved in the discussion he also felt he had a lot to contribute.

There were some serious and vigorous debates around the table with everyone having expertise in different areas.

“I learnt a ridiculous amount about all sorts of stuff involving international and New Zealand agriculture and agricultural trade, business management, change management, human behaviour and the list goes on,” he said.

“Being involved in the process over the last few years also means my network has exploded.”

Everyone involved in the discussion he now calls a friend and said he will ring them to ask for anything.

“The more time I spent around the table the more I grew to respect the people who sat around that table with me and the more respect I think I gained from them,” he said.

Woodhead said he is 100% proud of the vision they have created.

“This is huge. This is a turning point for NZ agriculture and our food and fibre sector.”

He believes the vision allows farmers, growers, crafters and makers flexibility in how they want to operate and gives people a purpose. 

“It’s not a dictation of ‘this is how you will operate and this is how you will act’. It gives the ability for each individual to say this is what X, Y, Z means for me and this is what I’m going to do about it.”

Most farmers will look at it, relate to it and say they’re already ticking most of the boxes, he says.

He hopes it will challenge people to go further in a positive sense, not because they have to but because it’s the right thing to do.

And he also believes young farmers have a huge role to play with the average age of NZ farmers increasing.

“As young people in the industry we just need to back ourselves and say we’re doing the right thing because it’s right and get stuck in and do the hard work because the future is so bright and I’m 100% positive for where we’re going to go.”

As guardians of the land they are all in charge of looking after the scenery and landscape as well as feeding and clothing people.

“I believe in the future we will be valued beyond belief because of the role we play in humanity. We feed people, we clothe people and we produce the timber to build their houses. Such a tiny number of people look after such a huge part of the countryside in every country, especially NZ.”

The council is developing its final report with recommendations expected in March. A new Government-industry partnership, Food and Fibres Aotearoa NZ, has been established to bring the vision to life.

People are also reading