by Leigh Catley, Federated Farmers Communications Manager
A new book written by a retired British scientist takes a close look at the way Federated Farmers has shaped New Zealand’s agricultural and economic policy for more than 75 years.
In 2019 David Hall walked into the Wellington office of Federated Farmers to ask if it was okay to write a book about Federated Farmers and New Zealand’s economic direction.
After hearing his academic credentials, and his book writing accomplishments, he was told, “yes, please do.”
David has a significant background in science, education and academia. He and his wife moved to New Zealand in their retirement in 2011. David was formerly the Director of Science at the British National Space Centre.
When he spoke to Feds back in 2019, he’d just completed his PhD for a Humanities degree with Victoria University which pondered the question of how New Zealand “Emerged from an Entrenched Colonial Economy: 1945 –1975″.
His plan for the book he wished to write was to expand on the influence Federated Farmers had in those years.
“On every third page of my dissertation the name ‘Federated Farmers’ appeared. But I noticed there didn’t seem to have ever been a comprehensive study of Federated Farmers’ input and collaboration with government,” David says.
His new book titled “Agricultural Economics and Food Policy in New Zealand – An Uneasy but Successful Collaboration Between Government and Farmers” has been written primarily as a textbook for students of international agricultural politics and economics.
But it also serves as an in-depth guide to the position Federated Farmers has taken on many issues for many years, as the peak industry advocate for agricultural business in New Zealand.
The book is part of the Palgrave Studies in Agricultural Economics and Food Policy series, published by Palgrave Macmillian.
As David says in the first chapter;
“Development and implementation of New Zealand’s agricultural economics and food policy has been based on significant influence by farmers themselves through Federated Farmers.
“The book’s intention is to demonstrate how agricultural economics and food policy are dependent not only on government but on farmers themselves.”
The book travels from the early 1900s and the various entities and agencies set up to represent farmer and grower interests, through to contemplating the enormous challenge confronting Federated Farmers in the future, to continue to find ways to align and present a united farmer voice.
David says it is become harder for the organisation to remain relevant, as other groups in the rural community address specific issues which are easier for people to align themselves with.
“The rural community still needs strong representation, but it is getting fragmented. Holding it all together somehow is still needed.”
David cites the impact of increased concern from the wider community in New Zealand about the environmental impacts of farming as being a turning point for farmer representation.
“Change is a constant, and there will be new governments and they will bring new issues, like the environmental pressures we see now.”
In the future he sees Federated Farmers working harder to maintain its influence with the government, in the face of other competing rural voices, but even more of a challenge for the organisation is the need to continually demonstrate value to members.
“There is still a need for Federated Farmers to be recognised as farmers speaking for farmers. The same pressure is still there as it was back in the 1940s, ‘who does the Minister speak to’?
“The ‘uneasy collaboration’ is still there and it still works for farmers and the government.”
Not one to sit around, David has already moved on to writing another book, which is due out in July. It too has a rural theme, being an investigation into the impact of women on New Zealand farming.
The book is called ‘Invisible Women’. David says it came about after he’d scanned 30 years of ‘Straight Furrow’ publications (the Federated Farmers newspaper) and noted how much the content of the ‘family pages’ had changed in that time.
“Women became farmers, not just farm wives.”