A Q&A with one of the new crop of Federated Farmers Provincial Presidents – Colin Hannah, Northland
What is your background?
I was raised on a dairy farm, and as a teenager ran the farm while still at school as my father was busy building houses for others. My father had a rule: We could go farming after we got either a trade or a degree. I started as a management cadet in the airline industry and moved through many departments, majoring in management accounting and computer science.
We purchased our first farm sheep and beef farm before the share market crash in the 1970s. Things were tight and as a result we employed a farm manager and I continued to work in the Information Technology business. In those early days I assisted with some of the early decision-making technology coming out of Lincoln. We worked closely with Agresearch on a number of projects on farm. I am really a passionate farmer at heart.
I have a huge appreciation for the New Zealand health system after my face rebuild following an argument with a tree during the 2008 drought. If you need medical care in New Zealand, the system works.
What has six months as Northland Provincial President shown you?
Originally, I was a member of the Auckland province executive and had some early training provided by the Federation. I had been involved with the Waikato Arable section of Feds as a maize grower. When we sold the farm in the Waikato and moved north, I automatically teamed up with the Northland team. I was lucky that as deputy to a great provincial president John Blackwell I did have an inkling of the huge workload.
I have a very competent senior team around me at provincial level, four of whom have been provincial presidents in the past which enables fantastic support and sounding boards. Because of my involvement with Rural Support Trust, and also having been involved as the feed co-ordinator for three droughts with the civil defence emergency management team, I have a good source of contacts across the agricultural spectrum in the North. I also sit on the Northland Inc working group which is the economic arm of the Northland Regional Council.
The major insight has been the capability of our policy team throughout the country compared to other NGO’s, and even to government capability.
What are the top three issues on your mind?
For me the top issues are climate change, the proposed three waters reform and the impact of the RMA change on agriculture and the likely impact on democracy.
Climate change is a hot topic, and I went to Europe in 2019 to a conference associated with agriculture about the impact of climate change on food production. At the conference I had a lot of questions on why New Zealand signed the Paris accord when we provide so much food for the world. The conference provided the opportunity to meet with French and European environmental government agencies and understand the resources the European Union were throwing at the agriculture space for climate change mitigation. I saw opportunities that exist for collaboration and sharing of information.
Every European Environmental agency that I spoke with reiterated how hard it is going to be to achieve the Paris Accord goals. Countries with large nuclear power stations focusing on renewable sustainable energy generation that could be achieved by farmers for example that was financed commercially with a government-backed lender of last resort to the bank providing the finance. Great thinking.
The three waters plan is simply the undermining of the basic concept of democracy. The thinking by the Scots is not fit for New Zealand. We do not need a Rolls Royce plan. What we need is a plan and utilise the new thinking out of Europe for treating wastewater and turning the emissions into electricity. The three waters for our region would mean Northland would have very little say in a plan that encompasses New Zealand’s biggest city. Water Care have not done a great job; just look at Auckland still with restrictions. Do we want this in Northland, I think not? I agree with our three mayors on the position they have taken.
The existing RMA is not working and has not been for a long period of time. One policy nationally does not fit the Northland issues. The RMA needs to be rewritten in simple language that our regional council can understand, implement and manage so that it addresses the issues related to our region. Northland does not have a nutrient issue it is a sediment issue, and the solution is completely different. The three parts envisioned for the replacement of the RMA is a problem. How the three parts of the RMA are going to link and interact is still a major mystery. The ‘trust us’ approach is not a solution in Northland, where no one trusts government.
What is your key message to rural communities?
We have been working hard behind the scenes to ensure that our communities are represented and not locked out with the current move to elections at large. I would say to rural New Zealanders: Federated Farmers has your back. We need to stay engaged so that we can provide strong representation at a local level as well as government level. If politicians and local body officials will not listen, Federated Farmers will.
Does the government or general Public understand farming and the effort being made and achievements on the environment and on other fronts? The answer is NO.
I was surprised, for example, in France how urban dwellers knew where their food came from and how much support they had for their farmers. In New Zealand 99 % of dairy farmers have fenced their water ways at an enormous cost to themselves and yet there is still the stink from the dirty dairy campaign. Covid 19 was the revelation of the impact rural New Zealand had on our economy and this lasted for all of six weeks and then lapsed back into the same old same old from the knockers. It also opened our eyes to the impact urban New Zealand had on local waters.
Most farmers want to leave their farm and the environment in a better position than when they took it over. Look at how many have fenced off QE2 covenanted areas. What a testament to rural New Zealand.
If you were in charge of central government, what would you do?
Provide some leadership in the value of the greater impact that the agriculture sector has on the economy and to ensure that legislative change does not impact on the productivity of the sector. Sheep farming is a good example of what has been achieved in 30 years in productivity and arable has a similar story. These productivity gains flow through to all sectors within the economy. This is also an indicator of what could be achieved with focused research on emission mitigation.
I would have the Primary Industries minister third in the ministerial rankings after the Prime Minister and the deputy, because of the role’s importance. New Zealand provides the world with the best safe food and yet we are only paid a commodity price for our produce.
The drain on the economy from bureaucratic incompetence needs to be addressed. It is called accountability.
Finally, the ETS needs an overhaul to level the playing field with our major trading partners, for example currently New Zealand is at a disadvantage to countries that can claim the Co2 taken up by their pastures. (This would change our emission profile by 10 or 11%) The ongoing carbon absorbed by native trees for hundreds of years versus the limited life span of Pinus Radiata. (Europeans can claim their hedge rows). The capture of methane emissions by processing effluent into electricity at the farm level into the grid. Again, this would reduce our emission profile