I had a busy weekend with the 125th Nelson Agricultural and Pastoral Show. I have had a stand at the show for 30 years and it is a great opportunity to catch up with the diverse range of farmers and growers from all corners of the region.
I have never experienced Nelson’s rural community feeling so disheartened. They feel under attack on every front. The concerns were similar to those at the huge protest on the West Coast that I attended the previous weekend and the recent farming protest on Parliament’s steps. It has not helped that Government Minister Shane Jones dismissed farmers as “rednecks” and “whingers”. Nor was it a good look that Agriculture Minister and West Coast MP Damien O’Connor refused to even attend the Greymouth rally attended by over 4000.
It was by listening to individual farmers at the Nelson A&P show that I can see why they have become so angry. One farmer was almost in tears over all his stock being culled over Mycoplasma Bovis. He had faced months of bureaucratic delays in trying to get compensation to survive. I also heard frustration over new honey and whitebait regulations.
Water was a hot topic. One couple, who are exemplary farmers, were cross over having to spend $1000’s renewing simple domestic water consents. Others were frustrated that after recently spending $10,000’s on fencing waterways are now being told they had to be redone because a wider riparian margin was required. Another common concern was nitrogen limits that could not be practicably met.
The other major concerns of farmers is over climate change. New Zealand has less than 1% of the world’s stock and it is not fair that they are the only farmers in the world facing a new climate change tax. Farmers were also critical that the Government is blocking access to some of the new biotechnology that could help them reduce emissions. A further concern of farmers is the proposed new $3000 + taxes on 4WD vehicles and utes. We need to recognise many people need these vehicles to do their jobs particularly in New Zealand’s tough terrain.
I worry that the Government’s policies and rhetoric is making New Zealand more divided. Town needs country as much as country needs town. New Zealand earns 65% of our exports from our primary industries. We only get to pay for our smart phones, modern cars, lifesaving pharmaceuticals and overseas holidays through these export earnings.
We need to find a better way forward. New Zealand does need to tackle the difficult issues like improving our water quality and climate change but we will not get there by demonising farmers. We need to acknowledge our most polluted waterways are in urban areas. The biggest growth in our greenhouse gas emissions is in cities. We all need to do our fair share.
The Government needs to change its approach. They need to start listening to farmers. Policies need to be practical. They could learn from our A&P Shows which are all about bringing urban and rural New Zealanders together.