The farming community needs to step up to help lessen the rift between city and country, according to Hayden Dillon, managing partner and agri specialist at Crowe Horwath.
Hayden Dillon believes the debates during the course of the election campaign over-simplified some issues that are core to the agri-sector, such as water and soil quality, and have created divisions that are not helping New Zealand move forward.
“As with many complex issues, the rush to simplify the discussions and debate has seen farming and, in particular, dairying blamed for many of our environmental problems. That’s simply not correct,” says Hayden Dillon.
He says the nature of election battles means complex areas are reduced to headline-grabbing one-liners that don’t reflect the detail of what is happening behind the scenes.
Dillon says farmers are reporting to him that they feel the entire agri-sector has been tarred with the brush from some negative stories involving a minority of farmers who are involved with bad practices and then the added issues of a water tax and soil quality had come on top of that.
“They are feeling that the average person living in a city views farming, and dairying in particular, as a bad industry and they’re unaware of the work going on behind the scenes,” says Dillon.
He says he’s not sure city dwellers realise that under the Dairy Water Accord, for example, dairy farms have fenced off 97 percent of waterways, and 83% of the industry now have nitrogen budgets. The National Water Policy Statement, which has set a target of 90 percent swim-able by 2040, also sets out the rules for regional councils to comply with. The regional councils are now well underway to achieving the targets for how much nitrogen and phosphorus can go into waterways, and a number of the larger Regional Councils, such as ECAN and Horizon, already have these in place, and others are not far behind with their Nutrient Management Plans.
“The communication landscape is not going to become any easier. Rural New Zealand needs to completely re-think how they communicate their key messages. They must galvanise resources and do a better job of telling the story.”
Dillon says the business challenges for rural New Zealand are now greater than ever and farmers need public discussions to reflect the full facts. He says the communication challenge is to start having conversations about the reality of farming, across-the-board.
“The quality of water, soil and the environment are major issues and to solve them, and not destroy this country’s largest revenue earner in the process, will take co-operation, thoughtful policy, and a willingness by all parties to achieve a goal. That is already underway way right now, but it’s just not being communicated widely enough.”