President Andrew Hoggard’s report to the AGM in Auckland concentrated on the Feds governance review. Here’s the guts of what he said:
Where to start with summing up the past year? Probably with the good news, which pretty much consists of the fact we are finally seeing the end of COVID restrictions. The disease itself still seems to be circulating, but with less dire consequences than when it first emerged, although the fact that people are still down and out for a week or so is causing workforce issues.
The other positive is the record prices for our products. However, the reasons behind that – global inflation, shipping disruptions, and war in Ukraine – aren’t nearly so positive, and create challenges for us as well.
I could go on with a great long list of concerns, but you those just as well as I do. From a stalling/falling economy to RM reform, climate change policies, immigration settings, Fair Pay Agreements, democracy under threat at the local government level…. Instead, I’ll concentrate on the issues facing us as an organisation.
Since the start of the year we have had the governance review looking at our structure. Their report covers three options that over the next couple of months we all need to consider. The plan is to have a series of dedicated virtual meetings to discuss this between now and our November council meeting, with a clear proposal to bring to you then. We’ll decide upon those changes and alter the constitution in time for the changes to be put in place for the next AGM.
The three proposals are very different. There’s the status quo, what I would describe as a National Council-led approach, and finally, a board-led approach. I urge everyone to give serious thought to these options and ask yourselves what differentiates ourselves from the rest of the Ag organisations, because if we lose that in these changes, then we risk losing the organisation.
On that theme, I am concerned with the creep that I see of Government trying to move into the space once occupied by levy bodies, and as a result the levy bodies effectively moving their way into our space more and more often. Towards the end of last year, we put out a bit of a road map focusing predominately on the water space with a view to all of the regional plans that must be done by 2024. We filled in the areas where we are currently engaged and where we saw ourselves being involved; DairyNZ has done the same, and Beef and Lamb will fill in their bit. The intention is to map out who is doing what, how we work together and deliver outcomes for farmers. We can’t do it on our own. The levy bodies bring several key strengths to advocacy, from science knowledge to economic modelling, and we have our strength in our policy knowledge and being the independent voice of farmers.
The work on He Waka Eke Noa has probably got in the way of this wider collaboration and quite frankly, given the different positions taken, has probably set it back a bit.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have Groundswell. Its two founders have good intentions, and certainly the protest last July was extremely useful in waking the Beehive up. However, farmers see them as doing something and us not, which has had some impact with membership. We know the work our staff are doing is having real impacts in policy, and Facebook posts not so much, but some people just want to see the fight. I think it’s important for our credibility that we continue to play the ball, not the person. That we maintain positions based on good science and policy, but not to shy away from calling out poor policy and poor decisions – not just where it concerns government but also other industry organisations.
Financially the organisation has stayed strong, with another good surplus projected for this year. However, under that headline there are some concerns going forward. Firstly, we know with inflation and the government gobbling every warm body it can find to work in Ministries, we are not paying our people what they could be getting elsewhere. To remedy that could well put strain on future budgets and we also continue to have membership numbers slip. This will bring up financial challenges going forward, and also in terms of voice. Our voice has power in its collective nature, the smaller we are the smaller that voice and impact.
I think our staff are massively important, and quite frankly the average farmer does not appreciate all the work they do on their behalf. A survey of the membership shows that most are still members because of that policy work. I guess the challenge is ‘why do those who are not members also not value it?’. We need to be telling our farmers what we have done much louder and smarter, otherwise they assume we have done nothing. However, if we only talk about things, but don’t do anything (the Greenpeace approach), that might look good for a while but I don’t see it as a long term solution. So, in my view it’s about team work and balance.
This challenge of building capability within a tight budget will be one we most need to consider with our discussions around our governance structure.
I guess I see things with a bit of a “Field of Dreams” view – “If you build it, they will come”. For those too young to get the reference, it was from a Kevin Costner movie a long time ago. Though it would be good if we could take a few people to the “train station” as well, sticking with the Kevin Costner analogies.