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On Friday morning, I was worried about the Groundswell farmer protest, I was worried that it would look like farmers were trying to shirk their responsibility and avoid change, despite what they are already doing and despite their plans for doing more. I was worried farmers would look like rednecks and I was worried about the ever-increasing rural-urban chasm. Let’s not call this a divide any more.
On Friday, I apprehensively left my centrally heated office to stand in the Octagon and lend my support to the protest — who knew Otago had so many farmers?
I also went to the Octagon to support my Mum, an incredibly hard-working farmer, a thoughtful farmer, a farmer who has always cared for the welfare of her animals, a farmer who loses sleep during droughts and a farmer who lost sleep when the Otago Regional Council sent her an outrageously, bureaucratic and obnoxious letter regards her management of stock near waterways — it turned out the ORC had got the boundaries of her property wrong, it wasn’t her stock at all. This is the kind of idiocy farmers are putting up with.
As I stood and waited and as the tractors and utes started to work their way through the Octagon, I was surprised at how emotional I felt. As a rule, farmers stay beneath the radar, unseen and unheard, going about their business producing milk for our lattes and kiwifruit for our smoothies. The parade was peaceful and wonderfully managed. The awful placards that were shared on social media were not representative of the wider sentiment.
As I reflected on the protest and pondered why the protest was important, I decided it comes down to this — respect. Farmers are in the middle of change, they know that and they are adapting. Farmers listen and take on sensible policies — we have seen this over many years — but when they are spoken to like naughty schoolchildren and treated like idiots, they react in a different manner.
No matter the industry or the situation — managing change is about respect, I have been in the business-game long enough to understand that. Successful change is about identifying the problems and working together to find solutions.
Farming is complex, there are different types of farming activities, from cropping to livestock, from horticulture to forestry. There are different landscapes — New Zealand would have some of the most varied farming landscapes in the world. With differing landscapes there are differing soils, terrains, micro-climates and waterways. Blanket policies forced down people’s throats by inflexible bureaucrats who have barely stepped on a farm, won’t lead to successful change.
I know a farmer who has bought an electric bicycle for this year’s lambing beat — he is thinking about global issues and working on ways he can be part of the solution. He is one of many.
I have written about the Pomahaka catchment group before — a magnificent story.
This year, I was lucky enough to be part of a community strategy session with a new farming environmental group, Tiaki Maniototo.
We discussed a wide range of issues: pests and disease, managing waterways and how to grow more native trees locally when there is a national shortage of native tree nurseries — Maniototo is a tough climate and will require different species and planting strategies from other parts of the country. Farmers are working together to be part of the solution.
Farmers don’t want a top-down, telling-off, they want to make their communities the best places they can be and they want to make their children proud to be part of a rural community — so proud, that they want to come back and live in those communities as adults.
I was thrilled on Friday when I saw my Mum driving into the Octagon, in her farm truck, with the dogs in the back, I yelled and cheered and clapped her along. Toot, toot — “no farmers, no food” .
Farmers, keep up the amazing work that underpins our country’s economy, keep up the changes you are making, there is more support out there for you than you realise. Climate change is society’s problem and we all need to be involved in the solutions.
- Anna Campbell is the Co-Founder of Zestt Wellness, a nutraceutical company and a Partner of AbacusBio Ltd, an agri-technology company.