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For many in the rural sector, Fieldays is the key date in the calendar — the southern hemisphere’s largest agriculture event and the opportunity to network, socialise, buy a baler or a new pair of boots, view the latest innovations in the sector and celebrate the very best of New Zealand agriculture.
Fieldays, based at Mystery Creek, 10 minutes from Hamilton, is a serious business — the last physical event in 2019 attracted 128,747 visitors and generated $549million in sales revenue. This year, more than 1000 exhibitors will be displaying their wares.
Specials on new vehicles are always a feature and, as farmers kick the tyres of a Toyota Hilux this week, they will no doubt be muttering about the nearly $3000 extra they could incur as part of the Government’s new clean car package.
There is no doubt it is a tough time to be a farmer in New Zealand; while there is much to celebrate around the remarkable primary sector export resilience, the sector is under a cloud of uncertainty.
In launching KPMG’s annual Agribusiness Agenda at Fieldays, global head of agribusiness Ian Proudfoot said the fatigue from Covid-19 impacts — including labour shortages and shipping challenges — and increased regulatory change had made it the most difficult agenda to write in the report’s 12-year history.
While change was good for the country, the point was made by those industry contributors that it was the breadth of change that was stretching many organisations.
The Climate Change Commission’s final advice on farming had also presented pressure for the sector to do its part or even to do the heavy lifting for New Zealand.
For the first time in writing the agenda, there were tangible concerns over the ability of New Zealand organisations to engage in the "great big, beautiful tomorrow" that was emerging rapidly across the global food sector, Mr Proudfoot said.
On top of that, farmers in Canterbury have been dealing with the ramifications of drought then a deluge, leaving a trail of damage and concerns around the availability of winter feed.
No doubt aware of farmers’ feelings, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern issued a press release this week to say a record number of Labour MPs and ministers would attend Fieldays this week "in a show of support for the sector".
Ms Ardern acknowledged the efforts of the primary industries in keeping New Zealand’s export revenues flowing in, saying "their hard work has helped us all hugely in hard times".
It is to be hoped that was genuine, for it has been the primary industries — not tourism, previously the darling of the country — that has played a massive part in getting New Zealand economically through the impact of Covid-19.
While the country — and the world — came to a standstill, farmers were still out there milking their cows, shifting their sheep and sowing their crops.
Ms Ardern says the Government has always said it will work in partnership with farmers — and that is what is needed. Nobody wants to see environmental degradation — farmers and politicians share the same ambition for clean rivers — but achieving successful environmental outcomes needs to be done in partnership. Not with a heavy-handed stick approach with methodology applied from people who have never stepped on a farm.
Let’s hope that Ms Ardern and her team don their woollen jackets — and leave any polar-fleece (a fancy word for plastic) garments in the Beehive — and get out at Fieldays and listen to those helping to keep this country ticking.