Monday, February 26, 2024

Hoggard at work to make farmers’ lives easier

Neal Wallace
A sign of its support for agriculture or a way to accommodate coalition dynamics? Either way, the appointment of three associate ministers of agriculture is unprecedented.
Associate Agriculture Minister, Minister for Biosecurity, Minister for Food Safety and Associate Minister for the Environment Andrew Hoggard of ACT.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

In the second of three Associate Agriculture Minister profiles, Neal Wallace talks to Andrew Hoggard. You can read Nicola Grigg’s interview here.

Coffee shops in New Zealand’s self-proclaimed caffeine capital should not be banking on increased business from one new Member of Parliament.

Andrew Hoggard won’t be seeking out Wellington’s best flat white, mocha or, sacrilege for a dairy farmer, a long black. He gets his caffeine fix from a tried and proven cup of instant made in the kitchen across the hall from his Beehive office.

In early December Hoggard was still absorbing the rapid rise that took him from Federated Farmers president in May to successful ACT candidate in October and a minister outside cabinet five weeks later.

He has four ministerial portfolios: biosecurity, food safety, associate minister of agriculture with responsibility for animal welfare and skills, and associate minister for the environment.

“I was expecting to be an MP and wondering what select committees I would be involved in,” he says.

“Apparently I was destined for a bit more and it is a privilege to have this level of responsibility so early.”

He doesn’t underestimate the responsibility that comes with his ministerial roles, aware that the decisions he makes can impact people, businesses and livelihoods.

Hoggard says the fact that there are three associate ministers for agriculture, under Trade and Agriculture Minister Todd McClay, shows government respect for the sector.

“It sends a message to the rural sector that we’ve got your back.”

His CV reveals a person accustomed to leadership.

Twice he was a national finalist in the Young Farmer of the Year and for 18 years held various roles in Federated Farmers, including national dairy chair, 2014-17, vice-president 2017-20 and president 2020 to 2023.

He was elected to the board of the International Dairy Federation in 2020.

The Manawatū dairy farmer’s career had a dramatic change of direction in May when he opted to switch from farming to national politics. Selected to stand for ACT in the Rangitīkei electorate, he was ranked five on the party’s list.

His motivation and his aims for his time in Parliament are simple. He wants to be a champion for farmers, to tell their story – about how they farm and how they improve their environment.

“My overall philosophy is working to make farmers’ lives easier with regulations that are smart, practical and affordable. Stuff that makes sense.”

It doesn’t mean giving farmers freedom from rules and regulations, he says, as no one wants to be judged by the poorest performers.

“Rules still need to exist and they will impact people but they have to be managed.”

Two weeks into his new role, Hoggard was still in discovery mode – learning the issues and challenges of his portfolios, finding where there are gaps, establishing priorities and recruiting staff.

Elements of his two associate roles – environment and agriculture – are included in the coalition government’s 100-day plan, such as repealing the Water Services Entities Act and ceasing implementation of new Significant Natural Areas.

As minister of food safety he says his experience with the International Dairy Federation will be beneficial as it dealt with issues such as standards and food labelling.

“I have a basic understanding of how processes work.”

In his roles with Federated Farmers, Hoggard dealt with biosecurity issues, which provides him with a basic understanding, but he is learning about new unwanted organisms such as invasive exotic caulerpa seaweeds.

Importantly, his time at the federation means he knows most of the officials and those in related industries.

“I don’t have to learn who people are.”

Hoggard says farmer confidence will be a measure of his overall success or failure.

Other measures will be improved public understanding of biosecurity, that New Zealand’s animal welfare standards continue to be recognised internationally as among the best, and farmers not finding compliance too onerous.

“It is very easy to comply but often the hard part is proving you comply.”

He could face a test soon with the promised resumption of live animal exports, but he is confident the use of purpose-built ships and higher standards will remove some of the contention.

“Pre-election and even with my time at Feds, a number of people in the industry were saying they were happy to increase standards to ensure we are following best practice.”

Live exports are worth $500 million, and Hoggard says the economy could do with the extra income.

No time frame has been set for introducing the legislation and Hoggard is educating his urban cabinet colleagues that it will take years for trade to resume once a decision is made.

Breeding decisions are made mid-year for calves born the following spring and then available for export only the following year.

“It’s a two-year time frame for breeding decisions. Any later and we will push back the resumption of trade.”

On environmental issues Hoggard says he wants “sensible, practical” legislation.

“It has to be what communities want rather than one size fits all.”

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