Bryce McKenzie remembers when frustration and anger boiled over into action.
It was August 2020 and the West Otago farmer and co-founder of the ginger group Groundswell had attended a farmers’ meeting on the government’s new freshwater regulations.
He left angry that leaders had accepted rather than rejected what were obviously unworkable provisions in the policy, and at the meeting were telling farmers how to implement them.
“They weren’t making any noise. They were telling us how we can make it work,” he said.
“It was as if we had people who wanted to do what the government said even though it could not possibly work.”
Laurie Paterson from Southland was similarly frustrated, and Groundswell was formed.
McKenzie said they touched a nerve.
Support quickly grew and now they have an email base of 100,000 and 66,000 followers on Facebook.
The common theme among those supporters is wanting someone who has their back and will listen to them.
“The constant thing we got told, is ‘Thank you for standing up for us,’” McKenzie said.
“They are doing all they can to look after the environment and to feed people, but they feel constantly criticised.”
He said adding to the frustration is the reality that aspects of new policies are unworkable, such as proposed livestock pugging limits from intensive winter grazing.
When Groundswell met Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor, McKenzie said, the minister enthusiastically told him they were making amendments.
But “it was never workable and should never have been included in the legislation in the first place”.
McKenzie said Groundswell has influenced change.
He said Federated Farmers has hardened its stance and is speaking out more on issues, and Beef + Lamb New Zealand has changed its approach, even if it “comes and goes”. DairyNZ, he said, “keeps its head down and doesn’t say anything”.
He said it is noticeable that science is now being talked about in managing greenhouse gas emissions, especially methane.
“You’ve got people saying ‘Let’s go to science’, which we didn’t have before. They said previously that it was all cut and dried.”
He said Groundswell is not harking back to “the good old days” and is not opposed to rules and regulations per se.
“That is rubbish, we are not against regulations that work,” he said.
McKenzie hopes that Groundswell will one day not be needed but said there needs to be a strong entity that speaks for the primary sector.