Reconnecting the disconnected

Southland dairy farmers and former regional Sharemilker of the Year winners Dylan and Sheree Ditchfield and Rex and Roslynne Kane invited 13 Auckland professional people to attend the recent New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards (NZDIA) dinner and anniversary ball in Auckland on May 9. Mr and Mrs Ditchfield explained the thinking behind the move.

The idea of inviting the Auckland professional people to the awards dinner arose from discussions we had about the industry.

Our talks had been centred around how great it would be if there was better unity between urban and rural people and communities within New Zealand.

The comment of ''continual urban-rural disconnect'' is a common statement. We wanted to engage New Zealanders, so they would walk along beside us - us being farmers and dairy producers, who were genuinely advocating for our dairy industry - and we felt the dinner invitations would be a way to ''reconnect the disconnect''.

We thought the NZDIA would a brilliant forum to showcase the industry.

Our objective was simply to just have conversations with those people in a positive dairy space, hoping that what they saw and experienced would provoke other conversations with their peers outside the dairy industry.

We invited 13 urban people, most of whom were professionals and from the greater Auckland area. The urban representatives interspersed with farmers at our tables were teachers, a professor, a school councillor, surgeons, a radiographer, a sports presenter and a commercial banker.

Fonterra sponsored the guests' tickets.

During the evening discussions at the dinner table were stimulating and thought-provoking and questions they asked were because they wanted to gain some depth of knowledge and understanding of the industry.

The feedback has been extremely positive.

Our urban friends had many insights and left inspired. Many parallels were drawn between their own professions and the dairy industry.

If our urban friends have had as many conversations as we have about the evening, I think we have been successful in achieving our objective.

Another of the lessons we took away is that these urban people are open, genuinely curious and willing to learn about the dairy industry but simply have not had the opportunity for exposure previously.

Comments we received from two of the participants included how much they enjoyed the evening, and how it gave them a greater insight and understanding of the dairy industry. One person said they had talked to a dozen people about dairying this week and realised how positive and supportive the industry was, that you do not have to be rich to be involved in farming and all that was required was passion, motivation and a love for the land and the cows.

If stories like this and others enter urban media, that is when conversations about positive dairying will gain traction.

Hopefully, there will be opportunities for others to do something similar in the future, as we are sure there will be many ''pay it forward'' benefits.

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