Monday, March 4, 2024

Ending a tough year all facing forward

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Alan Emerson takes heart from an upbeat Federated Farmers end-of-year gathering.
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It was great to be invited to the Federated Farmers end-of-year bash held recently in Wellington.

It was both relaxed and positive, extremely positive. From feeling punch drunk on previous occasions, it was farmers looking forward to 2024 and beyond. I thought that was pretty amazing considering the crap year many farmers had endured.

Prices aren’t great, costs are increasing, interest rates aren’t coming down but still the room was buzzing.

In addition, all the agriculture players were together in one place with everyone talking to each other. That in itself was an achievement. It hasn’t always been that way. 

Looking around the room I felt that grassroots farmers were in good hands.

In addition to the Feds national board, provincial presidents and key executives, Beef + Lamb New Zealand chair Kate Acland certainly mixed with the team. Dairy NZ were prominent, with board members Professor Rowarth, Mary-Anne Macleod and Chris Lewis. Previous agriculture minister Nathan Guy was there in his current role as chair of the Meat Industry Association.

Ministry for Primary Industries director-general Ray Smith plus several of his senior management team also mixed with the grassroots farmers from Feds.

The rural commercial sector was well represented.

My point is that the leading players from the primary sector were all in the same room, facing the same direction. It is hopefully a sign of things to come. 

The credibility of the gathering was further enhanced by the large number of politicians.

Andrew Hoggard is well used to such functions but was keen to talk to individuals.

His ministerial roles will be taxing but I’m sure he’ll do it all and with flair. I’m reassured that as associate minister of agriculture he’ll have responsibility for animal welfare. 

As I’ve written, the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee doesn’t impress. Its job, “to provide independent advice”, has often seemed to me as more coming from a pre-determined position than demonstrating independent thought.

That won’t work with Hoggard. As minister of biosecurity and food safety he’ll be good and having him as associate environment minister will be great for farming. 

NZ First’s Mark Patterson certainly mixed and mingled. As another associate minister of agriculture he’ll do a great job. I thought he led Otago Feds well and when serving in the 2017 to 2020 coalition government he quickly picked up the vagaries of the political system.  The third associate minister, National’s Nicola Grigg, is relaxed talking to farmers and knows and understands the key issues facing agriculture.

Having those three associate ministers from the three parties of the coalition really strengthens the primary sector’s arm. That they’re all from farming backgrounds is of major benefit.

Miles Anderson did a great job as Feds meat and wool sector head. He suggested that he is keen to serve on both the Primary Industry and Conservation Select Committees and I hope he’s successful on both.

I really rated ACT’s Mark Cameron over the last term of the Labour Government. He was the pick of the opposition primary industry MPs. 

I was somewhat humbled by all the positive feedback on Farmers Weekly, especially from the Feds. As a minute clog in the large wheel that is Farmers Weekly, it was good feedback to get.

Federated Farmers did a great job leading into the election. It played the ball not the person and portrayed the issues succinctly and without fuss. Also, I’d suggest the number of farmers in Parliament didn’t happen by accident.

Feds went into the election wanting 12 policies. The coalition gave them all 12. Not many lobby groups can claim that level of success.

I was somewhat bemused by the Green Party selecting ex-Greenpeace activist and noted anti-farmer campaigner Steve Abel as its agricultural spokesperson. It obviously doesn’t expect the sector to take the party remotely seriously. 

With the Greenpeace mantra of putting emotive rubbish before facts, it seems to me appointing one of them to a farming spokesperson’s role is either extremely ignorant or a two-fingered salute to our sector. I suspect the latter.

Conversely, Labour has appointed Jo Luxon as agricultural spokesperson. She is sane, sensible, knows the sector and has developed good networks.

It was an extremely positive end to a harsh year that had many farmers and growers suffering greatly from extreme climatic events and other factors well beyond their control.

That suffering was lessened by the superb work of the Rural Support Trust plus Feds, many in the commercial sector and several government agencies. It demonstrated that farmers aren’t alone.

While 2023 was a shit year I feel reassured that 2024 will be better, hopefully much better.

As this is my last column for the year can I wish you all the best for 2024 and thanks for all your feedback and emails.

I don’t care whether you agree with me or not – your feedback is important. Have a good one.

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