Tuesday, April 23, 2024

BLNZ chair reflects on leading a fractious sector

Neal Wallace
Looking for one voice in all the yelling.
Andrew Morrison says one former prime minister told him the sector was terrible at getting themselves aligned, and historically officials could drive a bus through anything they presented. Another said the sector was very good at yelling at each other.
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Andrew Morrison knows he is not participating in a popularity contest.

As chair of Beef + Lamb NZ, Morrison realises that not all farmers agree with the body’s decisions, but he says these challenges will not go away and must be addressed.

That is the challenge of leading through change.

Accepting the sector is facing challenging times, Morrison says finding consensus is difficult given farmers are, by nature, individualistic and generally unreceptive to being told what to do.

A question recently posed to Morrison by a farmer resonates: “Does NZ have trouble with leadership or followship?”

“Leadership at its very essence is not about the individual, but all about the team,” he says.

In the lead-up to the He Waka Eke Noa (HWEN) debate, Morrison says the partnership engaged with 3000 farmers, which he considers an achievement.

Decisions not only have to reflect farmer feedback but also the best information available, including information and knowledge that is not always widely known.

This is especially true with the current debate on reducing agriculture greenhouse gases.

“Consumers we meet in market, people who have been in market and market research, gives us a broad picture of the challenges we face or will face,” he says.

That feedback reveals consumers are increasingly concerned about the impact of food production on climate change.

“The reality is that more than 90% of our primary sector production is exported and we have to listen to what the concerns are of our customers.”

Information gathering also includes input from climate scientists such as Miles Allen at Oxford University, David Frame from Victoria University, the Climate Change Commission and the Parliamentary Commission for the Environment.

They regularly meet and discuss climate change issues with farmer bodies from other countries.

“We want the right metrics globally for ruminant methane,” Morrison says.

Perception is also relevant and Morrison says business leaders have told him that agriculture should be paying for its emissions, as business does, over and above fuel and coal usage.

Having a government with a Parliamentary majority changes the dynamics and the way groups interact with politicians.

“The Labour Government were given a mandate by New Zealanders through a democratic process,” Morrison says.

Knowing the challenge this posed, farming groups spoke to two former prime ministers about how to be effective with their lobbying.

Morrison said one told them the sector was “terrible at getting themselves aligned”, and historically officials “could drive a bus through anything they presented”.

Another said the sector was “very good at yelling at each other”.

The solution was to create HWEN, a collective of 11 sector groups to provide a united solution to agricultural greenhouse gases.

Part of its strength is that it is one voice speaking across the spectrum of the primary sector.

“The size of the organisation is not the point, it is a shared approach to the challenges we all face.”

While this united body has fronted the climate change issue, Morrison says it could be a vehicle for other issues as well, such as ongoing nutrient and water quality legislation.

He has faced criticism over issues he has fronted, and says he can handle this when it is about the topic.

As soon as that criticism turns personal, he knows the critic has lost the argument.

Morrison says reaching decisions is not easy but he is relaxed when they are collectively supported by the sector and backed by science.

“If we believe we have issues that need to be addressed, if a decision is supported collectively and backed by science, then I can sleep at night.”