Saturday, April 13, 2024

Harness the power of not being a dick

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With the way things are going, farmers are going to need to get better at winning friends, says Ben Anderson.
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Ladies and gentlemen, please excuse me but I need to interrupt regular programming to bring you some breaking news. 

It seems, and I hate to be the bearer of such sad and worrying tidings, that there is a plague slowly making its way over our fair hills. It is a plague that we have met before, but never has its reach been so wide and insidious. I am of course referring to the manifestation otherwise known as Agriculturalus dickerus,  or dickery for short.

Now normally I wouldn’t think to write an article on the subject of dickery within our beloved sector, but a couple of recent events have made me consider the topic in more detail. 

The first involved me talking to an ex-business owner who had served farming customers most of his adult life. It transpired he didn’t have much sympathy for my standard monologue on the life of the poorly appreciated farmer. His take was that farmers tended to be rude, arrogant and entitled. Although he didn’t use the word “dick” specifically, I think we can safely read between the lines.

My second experience was being mistaken by a farmer for a member of our regional council. After being given both barrels on my parentage, my failings and how all the expertise that I actually needed was currently sitting on the other end of the phone, I came to the conclusion that all public-facing members of the council should be awarded an extra allowance for exposure to chronic dickery.

Admittedly, life does not always line up for those of us who spend most of our time behind the farm gate. Rules do not always make sense, policies are sometimes disconnected from reality and it’s hard to keep the blood pressure in check when you are sent an “education” letter from a faceless bureaucrat with an obvious penchant for spreadsheets and walk socks.

But ladies and gentlemen, I am here to tell you that we need to rise above these provocations. It is time we do a bit of public navel gazing and see the world for what it is. You see, and this may come as a surprise to some of you, but people don’t like dealing with dicks. They may put up with you, but they will cease to support you. And that is the real issue. 

You may have heard: the positive reputation that we farmers used to have with our communities and the voting public at large is starting to fade. I know this because a certain Penelope Clark did a Kellogg Research paper on this very subject. She noted that in a 2017 UMR poll, only 59% of urban respondents had a positive view of the New Zealand sheep and beef industry, down from 78% of urban respondents who had a positive view of farming in general in 2008. She concluded that NZ’s primary sector was “sitting at the lowest level of acceptance, and on the precipice of its legitimacy being questioned, in light of a diversifying economy and food innovation”.

This trend worries me, and I feel that it should worry you too. Farming is not going particularly well right now. We are going to need the support of our politicians, our voting public and our consumers to help us as we work through some difficult years ahead. Somehow farming is going to have find a way to be profitable in a new world of increasing public scrutiny, consumer expectation and environmental conformity. Doing this is going to require friends. Lots of them.  

Now, I know that every industry has its fair share of dicks. And I don’t think that we are all out there acting badly. You only need to look in your local paper to see farmers out there amongst their communities giving their all for rural and urban folk alike. But the unfortunate reality is that nothing creates news or helps form adverse opinion more than people behaving badly. 

Fairly or not, we need to be better than this. We all need to be positive ambassadors for our sector. We don’t need to be meek, but we do need to be fair and constructive. We don’t need to like everyone we meet, but we do need to treat them with respect if we want their respect in turn. If we don’t, we are going to bear the consequences. 

I currently have a contractor with one arm working for me. His other one got torn off in a tractor accident when he was two. He happens to be one of the most positive people I know, despite what life has thrown at him. His family motto is DBAD (Don’t Be a Dick).

Words to live by.

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