Monday, February 26, 2024

Sectoral harmony bid is music to my ears

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Alan Emerson applauds moves towards creating a united ‘Team Ag’ to represent the primary sector.
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I was really pleased to see the front page of last week’s Farmers Weekly under the heading “Sector leaders seek harmony”.

The article went on to say that Federated Farmers and Groundswell are working together to “create a single voice to speak on behalf of the sector”.

That’s hugely positive.

Both organisations punch well above their weight and it is a tribute to both that egos are secondary to progress.

Federated Farmers is committed to representing farmers’ interests over district and regional council plans. Without that, many of us would have major issues just being able to farm.

In addition it punches well above its weight on the political front. The coalition government’s support of the 12 demands Feds made going into the election is witness to that.  

I also have considerable respect for Groundswell. When the sector was being sold down the river with He Eke Waka Noa (HWEN), Groundswell stepped up fearlessly and decisively.

I don’t believe either DairyNZ or Beef + Lamb New Zealand was truly representing farmers, certainly over the HWEN debacle, and if it wasn’t for Groundswell we’d have been up a creek without the proverbial paddle.

Further, both Feds and Groundswell are totally transparent.

Prior to the last election we had several what I would describe as shady agricultural groups advising the government out of the public eye and grassroots farmer scrutiny. That won’t happen with a Feds, Groundswell team.

I also rate Federated Farmers president Wayne Langford and Groundswell co-founder Bryce McKenzie.

Talking to Bryce, his aim is, simply, to create a strong voice for agriculture. He wants to encourage all agricultural bodies to come together and work together. 

“In essence we’re wanting to get Federated Farmers to negotiate on behalf of all farmers. At the end of the day we are all farmers, we want to do the best for all agriculture. We consider Federated Farmers a more independent organisation,” he said. 

“Feds live and die on their membership”. 

From here there will be further meetings and a plan developed. 

“We’re going to have some opposition, but we are determined to build Team Ag. It will be great for the sector if people approach it with an open mind,” he said.

Knowing the way McKenzie, fellow Groundswell co-founder Laurie Paterson, and Langford and his board work, I’d suggest observers buckle their seat belts. It will be a fast ride as they won’t be wasting time. 

The original suggestion to form a pan-industry body came about 25 years ago from John Acland, who was then chair of the now defunct Meat Board. John suggested the primary industry organisations come together to form a “Green Table” so the sector could speak with one voice. 

Sadly, egos and agendas got in the way and nothing happened. It is refreshing that now things are finally moving forward. Farmers’ inability to speak with a united voice has meant that we have been able to be divided and conquered, as has happened over the years.

I spoke to John, who is now retired and living in Geraldine. He welcomed the initiative, saying that farmers have to get together if we are to prosper in the modern environment.

Of interest to me was that Dairy NZ and BLNZ told Farmers Weekly they would prefer a less formal structure.

What I’d like to see is a formal Team Ag that is representative of all major players in the primary sector.

As well as Feds, Groundswell, BLNZ and Dairy NZ, it would be good to see the Meat Industry Association, the Dairy Companies Association, Young Farmers, Rural Women, the horticultural sector and the science organisations involved.

Being part of a large group wouldn’t prevent any of those sector organisations representing just their members on an issue of importance to them.

What is infinitely more important is having a strong single voice on an issue that is important to agriculture. It is important to remember that the various anti-farming groups – and I’d include most regional councils, various ministries, including Environment, and the Environmental Protection Authority all have an army of spin doctors, inevitably on huge salaries.

Add to that what I’d describe as the lunatic fringe of SAFE and Greenpeace, and it is obvious the sector is under siege.

Langford says he envisages Team Ag as just that, a team. He points out that in a team everyone has a different job to do and they need to do it well for the team to prosper. He doesn’t envisage everyone parroting the same message. It is, he says, “crucial for everyone to play their part”. 

I totally agree.

With a united, well-funded single organisation, I believe the sector can survive and prosper. Without it we can’t.

So I’m pleased that Feds and Groundswell have come together and would encourage other groups to get involved.

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