All Blacks not our only winners

The weekend produced another showcase of New Zealand rugby's international dominance. With a round to spare, the All Blacks won the 2018 Rugby Championship, following their victory over Argentina.

Since the tournament began as the Tri Nations in 1996, New Zealand has won 16 times in 23 attempts. We have won five of the eight women's Rugby World Cups, three of the eight men's Rugby World Cups, and 13 of the 22 World Rugby Player of the Year awards across both genders.

New Zealand's registered rugby-playing numbers are dwarfed by those of many other countries. So too is our revenue. It is said New Zealand rugby benefits from the sport being a religion in this country and that it gets the pick of our best athletes. Neither assertion is necessarily true. Rugby has nothing like the cult appeal to New Zealanders football has in most countries, nor does it have a monopoly on Kiwi sporting talent - our constant international success in other sports is proof of that.

Yet the country's top rugby teams continue to top the world. Why?

Rugby experts suggest New Zealand's winning formula is not as dark an art as our black jerseys suggest. Instead, they say, it is a result of hard work and good management, of understanding what the fundamental parts of rugby are, and ensuring players from a very young age learn those basics. In other words, cleverness and hard work.

So can we not dominate a global industry with our cleverness and hard work the way we dominate rugby? Imagine the benefit to New Zealand, to our economy, to our employment rate, to our tax take. The answer of course is obvious: we do. In farming.

Our farmers are the All Blacks of international agriculture. Our livestock herds roam farms of natural grass, grass fed by little more than rainwater and manure. The resulting products are the envy of the world, yet our farmers compete on price with factory farmers from other nations, despite receiving none of the tariffs and subsidies many of our competitors do.

Our world-renowned horticulture industry employs thousands, sending prime produce across the globe despite the genuine tyranny of distance implicit in an industry where fresh is considered best.

The irony is when the All Blacks win their innovation, hard work and brilliance is celebrated. When our farmers win, day after day, year after year, it seems a growing portion of New Zealanders feel nothing but resentment that farming is not just swaying grass and wildflowers. Instead they see a dark industrial evil, polluting rivers, producing emissions and ruining landscapes. Clearly there is an image problem needing fixing.

Of course, animal welfare, land-use and pollution are serious issues; that is not up for debate. But it is hard to imagine another economically equitable industry without its own unwanted by-products.

Farming requires the landscape to remain covered in photosynthesising plant life. It is spread around the country, ensuring the ongoing existence of hundreds of small communities. In New Zealand, farming is cleaner, kinder and more efficient than virtually anywhere else on earth. It provides healthy, active, well-paid outdoor employment for thousands of Kiwis, and pays for the employment of many thousands more in support roles, including this country's world-leading agricultural-science industry.

Thankfully many New Zealanders do still value what farming offers New Zealand. They know we are, as a country, world champion farmers and we are immeasurably better off because of that. It is right and natural to celebrate the exploits of our rugby players as they continue to do us proud on the international stage. But let us not forget that it is not the only international stage we excel on. Our farmers are proof of that.

 

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