Federated Farmers: Tell our good stories, don't feed the trolls

By Katie Milne, President of Federated Farmers

Katie Milne
Katie Milne

One fallout from politicians on the election campaign trail kicking agriculture around as a political football is that lots of city folk have been left with the belief that the rural environment is in a sorry state.

There are certainly challenges ahead for improving water quality and dealing with emissions to meet our Paris Agreement commitments - but that's true for urban communities as much as rural.

What was largely missing from the campaign rhetoric was mention of the large number of catchment improvement projects under way that are already showing significant progress, not to mention the efforts of thousands of individual farming families to fence waterways, plant riparian strips and covenant many hectares of native bush and forest on their own properties for permanent protection.

This lack of understanding about progress made to date is perplexing for many farmers. But what they've got to remember is that every week they are delivered a swag of farming publications filled with profiles and features describing how farmers and sector groups are spending time and money reducing their environmental footprint.

These kind of farming stories aren't sexy or controversial enough for mainstream media. TV's Country Calendar is the only standout exception.

That's why Federated Farmers regularly reminds its members to put their good news stories, photos and videos on social media so that we can build wider appreciation of what's really going on beyond the city and town fringes.

Yes, there are critics and trolls who mock. Don't feed them by engaging. Play it straight, and keep it positive.

Some of our critics are farmers who have left the sector and mistakenly assume that practices haven't moved on from when they were in the tractor seat 20 or 30 years ago. They need to update their knowledge.

For now, all New Zealanders can only sit on the sidelines while those who gained our votes try and thrash out a workable coalition. Farmers can be assured of one thing - no matter the eventual hue of government, the pressure to lift our environmental game will continue. That's as it should be. Farmers have - and will continue - to respond to the challenges.

What we'd like politicians to keep in mind is that additional burdensome regulations and taxes are unlikely to hasten the progress being made. Worse, they could backfire and rob farmer/community/council collaborations of impetus and income.

If farmers' bottom lines are hit, they can really only respond by raising productivity by cutting costs (already done during the recent downturn, so no fat left for that) or intensifying to get more production.

Letting farmers continue to develop solutions as they have been is probably going to give the best outcomes for the environment, in the quickest timeframes, while retaining farm profitability.

As a wise soul once said - it's hard to be green if you are in the red. We all want great outcomes for our home of Aotearoa - environmental, social and economic. We're all in this together after all.

- Federated Farmers - The National Farming Review

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