Positivity in the rural sector

The country came to the country last week.

The Southern Field Days is a big gig for the Eastern Southland community; the biennial event — the largest event of its type in the South Island and second only to Mystery Creek nationally — draws thousands of visitors over its three days.

Need a new car? A pair of gumboots? Perhaps a silage chopper? Or some fancy salt to go on your steak? It’s a diverse offering among the more than 750 exhibitors, offering retail therapy to both town and country folk as the usually tranquil farming settlement of Waimumu transforms into a bustling tent-filled metropolis.

The ‘‘No Vacancy’’ signs were up in Gore and the town was humming as the wider economic benefits throughout the South were very evident — accommodation, fuel, food and the like — coupled with the buzz it generated in the community.

The event has become a huge success story from its beginnings in 1982, growing in size and improving its infrastructure and facilities to now encompass a massive site and also provide a venue for other events, outside of Field Days.

It was a massive couple of weeks in the South; the smooth running of this year’s event was even more remarkable given the chaos flooding in the region caused, particularly given a state of emergency was declared for the Southland, Gore areas and Clutha district the previous week. But farmers are a stoic bunch and the organising committee came to the party.

Not surprisingly, the cheque books did not appear to be waving around and there were not the bag-laden punters of events gone by. There was much talk of uncertainty for the farming community, thanks to government policies, and a desire to keep the spending in check.

Undoubtedly, it has been a tough time to be a farmer in the South. But there was also positivity; as Ag Proud New Zealand representative Jason Herrick said, Field Days was about farmers and the rural community all coming together and standing behind one another.

There was gratitude for the strength of the rural community as volunteers had turned out en masse to help out with the Federated Farmers-organised Farmy Army, helping those farmers in worse positions.

The event was a chance for a catch-up with mates, an opportunity to kick some tyres and ruminate over the contents of rain gauges and lamb schedules.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s failure to visit the flood-stricken South had been the cause of much comment on social media — farmers disappointed she had not made an appearance — but she fronted late on the second day, hearing first-hand from affected farmers and others involved in the response.

Farming remains big business in New Zealand — the most recent Situation and Outlook for Primary Industries report released by the Ministry for Primary Industries in December forecast export revenue to reach $47.9billion in the year ended June 2020.

It has also become incredibly high-tech and nowhere was that more obvious than the innovation on display at Field Days; meet CowManager, described as a ‘‘Fitbit’’ for a cow, with ear sensors measuring three stages of activity — high, normal and no activity — along with rumination, eating and animal temperature, giving the data needed to easily pinpoint areas of concern.

Or Halter, a ‘‘smart’’ cow collar that enabled farmers to shift their cows remotely from a smart device, set up virtual fencing and receive health alerts regarding the welfare of their herd.

Farmers are embracing the technology required to ensure they can continue to farm in both an environmentally and economically sustainable way into that currently uncertain future.

Farming remains a crucial component of the South and the lifeblood of our rural communities, with the wider economic benefits flowing through to region’s towns and cities. Southern Field Days was a salient reminder of that.

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