The Feds: Sunday roast deserves backlash

By Simon Edwards

Cameron Bennett (right) talks to Gavin Flint while visiting farms to get a first-hand experience of the challenges facing dairying. Photo/TVNZ
Cameron Bennett (right) talks to Gavin Flint while visiting farms to get a first-hand experience of the challenges facing dairying. Photo/TVNZ

It was billed as the chance to hear the farmers' side of the story. But The Price of Milk turned out to be another kick in the guts for the rural sector.

In the wake of criticism of agriculture's impact on the environment, TVNZ's Sunday programme sought "the inside story". Auckland-based reporter Cameron Bennett put a new pair of gumboots in the back of his Mercedes and headed for the Hauraki Plains.

Viewers met dairy farmer Gavin Flint, or Flinty, and his family. It was stated the footage was captured on the heels of a very wet winter last year; Flinty's farm and sheds were indeed a muddy quagmire.

Cameron Bennett may have been looking for a "typical" dairy farmer but as scores of rural folk have told him on Sunday's Facebook site in a reaction a show producer has described as like "a landmine going off", the Sunday crew clearly had no idea what typical was.

Sunday has said it did not set out to pit one farming style against another.

But that's exactly what the programme ended up doing.

Flinty is no doubt hard-working and well-meaning, and he's not untypical in struggling to make ends meet in a time of volatile commodity prices. But his stock was thin, there were none of the dry straw calving pads used on most farms, nor padding on the hip clamp used to get a struggling cow back on her feet.

We also met Jasmine Purnell, a farmer "down the road" who doesn't use fertiliser and prefers a lower stocking rate. Viewers were not told the footage on Jasmine's farm was shot months later, in the soft flow of a warm summer's day. Her land and cows were looking their very best.

Sunday has said it did not set out to pit one farming style against another. But that's exactly what the programme ended up doing.

As one post on Facebook noted, all the confronting imagery (for example, the home-kill exercise, the stillbirth, the hip clamps) was from the more conventional farmers' property and gave the impression the female farmer would never have those issues.

Not screened was other footage the Sunday crew filmed with other farmers and industry leaders, who would have been able to say that Flinty's operation was not typical of a modern New Zealand dairy farm.

Of course Sunday would not have wished to film only on farms suggested/hand-picked by Federated Farmers or DairyNZ. But for a programme previewed as farmers getting a chance to have their say on concerns raised about dairy of late, only screening the views of two of the farmers interviewed made this very hard to achieve.

The backlash is hardly surprising.

- Northern Advocate

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