Farm sector leaders are open to working more closely together – but there is resistance to creating a single voice to speak on behalf of the sector.
Federated Farmers and the ginger group Groundswell are talking about forming a Team Ag, enabling the sector to speak with one voice on issues and act more in unison than at present.
Beef + Lamb NZ (BLNZ) and Dairy NZ favoured a less formal structure when approached by Farmers Weekly for comment.
Federated Farmers president Wayne Langford said he has set himself the goal this year of advancing his Team Ag concept.
Regardless of the final structure, Langford said, the sector needs to talk more often with one voice and with less duplication.
That would not preclude bodies having their own views and positions, but Team Ag would use the various strengths of its members, such as science from DairyNZ, extension from BLNZ and the farmer’s voice from the federation.
“Team Ag is all about achieving the best results for agriculture and to achieve that everyone has to do the role that they were set up to do, the position they were put in the team to play,” he said.
With the government indicating it has an extensive policy agenda, Langford said, the sector could struggle to keep up.
He wants Team Ag to include other rural groups, such as Rural Women, Young Farmers and the Dairy Women’s Network.
The chairs of BLNZ and Dairy NZ said they already work closely with one another and Federated Farmers, and are in the process of formalising an agreement to work together at regional level on issues such as water policy.
BLNZ chair Kate Acland questioned what Team Ag would look like.
“There is value in alignment but also value in having an individual voice,” she said.
Acland said farmers do not always see the existing pan-sector approach as it happens out of the public eye.
She said sector groups united as one to meet Agriculture Minister Todd McClay before Christmas. The boards of DairyNZ, BLNZ and Federated Farmers meet jointly twice a year and the chairs regularly talk.
DairyNZ chair Jim van der Poel said he has not met Groundswell but said the sector groups all represent rural people so it makes sense to work together.
“We are all part of the same communities. The issue is how we formulate a solution for everybody that is fair.”
He said greater co-operation at a regional level is logical given rural communities all want the same outcome on issues such as water.
There is an opportunity for bodies to help communities achieve that, given that the government intends to decentralise control.
“I think that whole space is quite positive and quite a different environment to what we had in the last six years,” he said.
At times, Van der Poel said, it is appropriate a levy body acts alone – such as when an issue is specific to that sector.
Groundswell co-founder Bruce McKenzie said work is progressing to establish a Team Ag entity, a key reason for the group forming more than three years ago. The work is progressing slowly and is at a very early stage, he said.
“We want a strong Team Ag, a strong voice for agriculture,” he said.
There have been instances when ranks have been broken but under the Team Ag proposal, disputes would be settled behind doors first before the sector rallied behind a united front.
McKenzie sees the entity using the various strengths of each group to address an issue, with the sector speaking as one.
He fears the current structure of one subscription-based body (Federated Farmers) and two funded by levies (DairyNZ and BLNZ) can lead to disproportionate influence and financial strength.
In Focus Podcast: Full Show | Friday 26 January
Bryan talks with Anna Nelson, who in May will become the first woman to chair a major NZ meat company when she takes over from Rob Hewett at Silver Fern Farms.
Then Richard McIntyre from Federated Farmers reveals why he’s taken up the fight for Norland Kinney, a Filipino dairy farmer who is being asked to leave NZ after developing a chronic kidney issue, despite giving 10 years of his life to NZ’s dairy industry.
And Senior reporter Neal Wallace takes us through some of the top stories this week.