Sunday, December 3, 2023

O’Connor’s advice to ag chiefs: ‘toughen up’

Neal Wallace
Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor reflects on the agricultural leaders he has dealt with in his time in cabinet.
Minister of Agriculture Damien O’Connor
Reading Time: 2 minutes

The leaders of agri levy bodies and organisations have at times struggled with the pressures of representing the views of their members and the reality of what can be achieved, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor says.

On occasion when grappling with criticism from their members, O’Connor told Farmers Weekly, he has reminded the leaders of those bodies of the pressure he and his predecessors have endured.

“People have done their best but ultimately these roles are tough and they can come under a lot of flak. I have told them a number of times that they do need to toughen up and understand the criticism I and previous ministers of agriculture have faced.”

He described the quality of sector leaders he has dealt with in the past six years as varied.

There was much unity in dealing with Mycoplasma bovis but not so with He Waka Eke Noa.

O’Connor said the proposal rejected by HWEN earlier this year created tension between Beef + Lamb NZ and DairyNZ. 

“Attempting to resolve this was not easy.”

Earlier this year O’Connor released a document setting out a pricing and emissions reporting process, which has been rejected by the sector.

“What we tabled in October as a timeline for an emissions pricing regime is as good as it gets,” he said.

Finding unity on freshwater reforms was complicated by having national guidelines but local implementation.

For the good of farming, the environment and New Zealand’s international reputation, he said, these regulations cannot be ignored.

O’Connor said leaders need to be honest with themselves and believe what they are doing is right, and the best leaders are not necessarily those who shout the loudest.

The role requires those who can represent the good of the industry and their members while also presenting the realities of the world.

When they are given information that is not widely available, that can lead to them acting contrary to the wishes of those they represent.

“The world is changing rapidly. Our competitors are catching up and there is growing pressure on livestock farming,” he said.

“We are going to have to move very, very quickly to ensure we provide a sustainable future.”

He is optimistic, given the calibre of young farmers coming through, saying many have international experience and ideas on how to achieve economic, environmental and social sustainability.

The challenge is ensuring they can get on the property ladder and stay in the industry.

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