Thursday, 01 July 2021 08:55

Rural voices failing farmers

Written by  Jamie McFadden
Jamie McFadden Jamie McFadden

OPINION: In the May 18 Rural News (page 22) there was a joint opinion piece by Andrew Morrision, chair of Beef+Lamb NZ, Jim van der Poel, chair of DairyNZ and Andrew Hoggard, president Federated Farmers.

By coincidence, an opinion piece appeared in the recent FedsNews with former NZ First MP, and recently elected president of Otago Federated Farmers, Mark Patterson wading into the debate.

The tenor of all these opinions was the same - they were critical of farmers and groups like Groundswell NZ for raising concerns about the state of our rural voice. They appear to believe that farming representatives should not be held accountable by farmers and any criticism is labelled as rock throwing and divisive.

Furthermore, some of our industry leaders have deliberately pressured farmers, including recently retired Southland Federated Farmers president Geoffrey Young and highly-respected farming advocate Jane Smith, to tone it down. Why?

Our farming leaders are claiming they have achieved better outcomes and successfully removed rules.

Yes, that has happened in some minor instances. However, our farming groups have been largely ineffective in halting the plethora of unworkable regulations that are smothering, not only farmers, but other business sectors and local government.

They highlight the recent delay to winter grazing rules as a result of their success. But we would point out the reason this issue got on the table was because a courageous Geoffrey Young broke ranks and called for farmers not to apply for consents.

Our farming leaders have failed to recognise the extent of unworkable regulations is unsustainable, both from a financial and community and people well-being perspective.

In May last year, we wrote to our national farming groups outlining a range of concerns about our rural voice, The fragmented rural voice, with groups competing to be the favoured ear of the Government, is not serving us well.

We had the bizarre situation where some farming groups supported the freshwater legislation, while others were strongly opposed.

Equally bizarre is our main farming groups supporting unprecedented state control through mandatory Resource Management Act audited Farm Environment Plans (FEPs) and Significant Natural Area (SNA) surveys, despite both being strongly opposed by farmers and some councils.

Indeed, two of the best submissions on behalf of rural communities were Taranaki Regional Council submission opposing the freshwater legislation and mandatory FEPs and Grey District Council opposing SNAs.

Our farming groups are at pains to show a united front when there is clear evidence to show otherwise.

They refer to the Food and Fibre Leaders Forum, a collective of our 15 main national rural organisations advocating, presumably on our behalf, to the Prime Minister, ministers and senior government officials.

Despite this forum being funded by industry levies, our attempts to obtain minutes have been denied on grounds of confidentiality. There is no public record of what these groups agreed to on our behalf and how the different groups voted. In the case of Beef+Lamb, there was no reporting back to directors or feedback sought frpm directors as to how the representative of Beef+Lamb should vote on issues.

Farmers are not the only ones completely in the dark about this forum. As levypayers and members of the individual farming groups we have a reasonable degree of transparency. When these groups become part of the Food and Fibre Leaders Forum there is no transparency. This is untenable.

As part of my speaking tour with Groundswell NZ, I said our farming groups had two choices. The first was an opportunity to acknowledge grassroots concerns, build on the positive momentum being generated by farmers and look at embracing change to strengthen our rural voice. The second option was to circle the wagons and defend how hard they are working and the outcomes they are achieving.

Unfortunately, it seems they have chosen the latter.

Rural Advocacy Network has joined forces with Groundswell NZ and we have put a stake in the ground on the unworkable regulations. A cornerstone of our campaign is promoting alternative solutions and leaders of both our groups are at the forefront of environmentally sustainable farming.

Jamie McFadden - is chair of the Rural Advocacy Network is a non-profit organisation focused on advocating for farmers and rural communities.

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