Plenty promulgating prejudiced assumptions about farmers

Recently, I was called out for frightening ‘‘mum and dad farmers’’ when I wrote about the threat of cellular agriculture and alternate proteins to agricultural products.

I think anyone in business should be aware of threats and New Zealand farmers have a track record of adjusting to markets as they need to, so I’m OK with being called out, but I did feel uncomfortable with the term ‘‘mum and dad farmers’’. What does that mean?

The majority of farms, including those run by families, are multimillion-dollar enterprises with complex cash-flows — romantic as farming can look, producing food for export is no cottage industry.

OK Anna, don’t get caught up on semantics, but it was not long after that I read an ODT interview with the new Otago Regional Council chairwoman, Marian Hobbs (October 29), here is an excerpt from the article: ‘‘she had problems with the growing number of huge farms owned by large landowners and corporations farmed by others ‘‘I wonder if they have the same love for the land, but that may be a prejudice I have to sort out.’’

Yes, that prejudice does need to be sorted out. Implying corporate farmers won’t care for the environment is presumptuous. I have met many ‘‘corporate farmers’’ who take their environmental responsibilities very seriously and are highly innovative in their approach to achieving commercial success alongside environmental stewardship.

I’m not finished. Let’s throw a couple more stereotypes at farmers. I was at a meeting where we were discussing how we could reach farmers to interview them for their opinions, when someone said, ‘‘just turn up at the next rugby game’’ because of course, that will be a totally representative group of New Zealand farmers.

Oh and of course, the icing on the stereotype cake came from politician of the moment, Shane Jones, the ‘‘Prince of the Provinces’’, when he called New Zealand farmers ‘‘rednecks’’. Wow, wow, wow really?

So then, who exactly is the New Zealand farmer? That’s a bit like asking who is a Dunedinite? There may be threads which pull us together but between Pine Hill and Mosgiel there is a world of variation in backgrounds, ethnicities, socio-economic status and beliefs. This is exactly the case for the farming fraternity. Let’s take a look at a small sample farmers in my extended family. Their ages range from 20s to 70s; they farm anything from dairy to goats, pigs, kiwifruit, avocados, forestry, sheep and beef (and probably more); their business or employment status ranges from full ownership to shared ownership, to farm contractors and farm workers; their geography ranges from Thames to Otago, from the steep hills of Poverty Bay to the Whakatane Plains; their incomes range from all income from farming, to outside business interests and outside employment; gender involvement is probably about equal with males and females both leading the charge.

All that diversity is in one extended family. Good luck putting a label on that.

One area where my family is not so diverse is our ethnicity, yet the New Zealand agricultural ethnic landscape is diverse, from Chinese market gardeners, Indian kiwifruit orchardists to Philippine dairy farmers. And that is not taking into account the contribution of one of our fastest growing sectors, the Maori economy. Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment figures estimate Maori enterprise is worth nearly $40billion and growing faster than the economy as a whole.

Most Maori assets lie within the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries and are complex and sophisticated enterprises.

What’s more, because of their intergenerational approach to land ownership and multiproduct portfolios, growing anything from dairy to hops, these are businesses which require integrated vision and management — immensely challenging when riding commodity prices, but also rewarding in terms of the kind of contribution they can make to local communities.

Farmers portrayed in advertising bore me. The ‘‘Southern Man’’ image has had its day. I do know some wonderful, rugby-playing, farming Southern men but I also know some literature-loving sheep farmers, some mountain-biking orchardists and holistic health-loving organic farmers.

We do farmers no favours when we treat them as unsophisticated, uncouth simpletons.

Shakespeare in the paddocks, podcasts on regenerative farming in the tractor, learning Mandarin in the woolshed — it is time urbanites reconnected with the rural community. You might be surprised at what you find out there!

Anna Campbell is managing director of AbacusBio Ltd, a Dunedin-based agri-technology company.

Comments

Quite correct. We silo people, and not in a Harrison Ford Amish wheat chute way.

Coal miners declaimed Shakespeare in the pub.

Mum and Dad are not Queen Street farmers, but Mum and Dad investor just don't care.

The idea, that you claim that corporate farmers give a hoot about the land is not borne out by the evidence. I remember the old farmers, who were old 50 - 60 years ago. I learned how to work with them, how to be a farmer. I've watched the changes, seen the educated morons come out of Lincoln and destroy the world in the pursuit of profit. And the bank managers listened to them, and the old farmers were bought out. I remember in the school bus, watching the first paddock in the district to be poisoned with Glysophate. I have seen the difference super, and urea made, and how the creeks immediately filled with slime. All grass farming, and the electric fence revolution. Trying to equate these armchair farmers with real farmers is a nonsense. Implying that corporations give a hoot is taking everyone for a fool. Simply put, you're wrong, all the real farmers were dead by the 90s. If corporate farmers cared at all, we would still be able to drink from all the creeks and rivers. You say you care, but the creeks and rivers don't lie.

 

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