The world is “heaving” with transition and disruption, and New Zealand is not immune, agricultural trade envoy Mel Poulton said in the Primary Industries NZ Summit opening address.
“But I just want to tell you – you’re awesome.
“When you’re grinding it out, day by day, you kind of forget about all the improvements that you’ve made…the track record you can look back on.”
The avalanche of regulation, supply chain meltdowns, trade battles and price rises can sap resolve. Mel asked farmers and other primary producers to remember Kevin Biggar and Jamie Fitzgerald and their 2003 win in the epic 4,700km Atlantic rowing race in 2003.
A serious storm blew in and many of the rowers “holed up, shut the trap doors” and waited for conditions to improve. The two Kiwis ploughed on, even though their GPS showed them they were making little or no forward progress.
But just by holding their position, when other competitors drifted back, the pair gained 25 nautical miles on the field.
Mel’s message was that a positive attitude, working as a team – “that means food and fibre producers, processors, government people” – and striving for gains in the face of odds will pay off.
MPI’s CEO Ray Smith would agree. He told the Summit the fact New Zealand’s primary exports topped $52 billion in the year to June 2022 – 9% growth in the face of COVID and everything else – was “absolutely phenomenal.
“The world wants our products,” Ray said.
While the forecast is that our food and fibre export revenue will be flat for the next year or so “because of the pressures around the world”, it’s projected to grow again by mid-decade and drive out to $67 billion by 2030.
MPI will be taking that good news in the latest Situation Outlook Primary Industries (SOPI) report to financial institutions to make sure they understand investing in agriculture is sound, he said.
The Federated Farmers AGM immediately followed the Summit in Auckland and chief executive Terry Copeland described the steps being taken to ensure the Federation remained the respected voice of farming. “Our value as an organisation is in our influence.”
Like other speakers over the three days of events, he called for more effort telling “the good stories” of farming. “I’ve been pointing our recently that we have more conservationists in our organisation than Greenpeace. How do we let the urban audiences know that farmers are increasingly donating chunks of their land to the QEII Trust in perpetuity?
“As a city person, I haven’t given away part of my section. It we add up all the QEII [covenanted] land given by farmers it would be the fifth largest national park in New Zealand.”
Three people who know all about working as a team for the good of fellow farmers are retiring Feds board members Chris Lewis, Chris Allen and energetic advocate for safety and inclusion, Vice-President Karen Williams. They were thanked for a collective 17 years of service on the board.
Chris Lewis was named Primary Industry Champion at the PINZ Awards for more than 15 years as a Feds elected leader at regional and national level and in recent years for highlighting workforce shortages. He successfully advocated to government for agricultural worker border exceptions during COVID, encouraged more New Zealanders into the industry and championed the ‘Good Boss’ campaign.
In the Feds’ own awards, Chris Allen was named ‘Long-Standing Champion’. Part of the citation read: “Chris has taken on a role that many wouldn’t touch with a barge pole (water policy) and worked tirelessly to be the farmer in the room in so many different settings. Without his work on indigenous biodiversity, and in the freshwater space, going back years and years, policy in this place would be much, much worse.”