The next instalment of our series introducing the new Federated Farmers Provincial Presidents – Chris Dillon, Southland
What’s your farming background?
I finished Lincoln University in the late ‘90s, travelled and worked in a few different places and ended up back on the home farm near Gore around 2000. We started an agricultural contracting business then and progressively built that up, and sort of went through fam succession in the late 2000s, building the farm up from 300 hectares to 600ha in arable crops and 300 in grazing. Yeah nah it’s busy enough. I’ve spent quite a bit of time traveling overseas and looking at different farming systems. We still have the contracting business which provides feed and baling services to a few loyal local clients.
What are the top issues on your mind coming into the presidential space?
The freshwater policy is up there as No 1 and is probably what got me involved in Feds back at the start with the Southland Water and Land Plan. The regional council wasn’t in that good a space when we started and came out with some terrible policy. We’ve worked through it with them and influenced a few councillor changes. I feel that the tail doesn’t wag the dog down there like it was and they’re getting somewhere. Unfortunately, last year the Essential Freshwater stuff came over the top and blew out all our good work. The second major issue facing farmers is staff shortages. It’s been ongoing for a long time but has really come to a head this year. We’ve got to work on options going forward because as farmers we just put our heads down and get the work done. To just continue doing massive hours is not sustainable. Some of the machinery out there is being operated by people who are not competent. You’ve also got dairy farmers going into the calving season stressed already because they can’t get staff.
What are the impacts of poor consultation from government?
If you’re working right, you take people with you. If you just keep throwing things in their face, you lose them. People are about to start digging their toes in on some of the stuff that’s coming at them.
What would you like to say to A) your rural communities and B) the government?
To the rural communities, just stick together and stick together with one voice. That voice is Federated Farmers. Don’t get off on too much of a tangent with some of these other organisations that say you have to do this and that. Let’s get informed on what’s going on and all stick together, talk to the other farmers. My message to government: it might be time they open their eyes to what’s really going on and talk to the people who are on the ground.
So, what sort of feedback have you received in your first couple of weeks as president?
Positive feedback for what Feds is doing. I’ve received a little bit of feedback saying we should be doing more, to which I’m explaining that we still have to engage with the government. We’re also getting feedback saying right, enough is enough, it’s time to dig our toes in on some of the stuff.
And what do you think doing more looks like?
Doing more for us is explaining to our members how much is actually getting done behind the scenes of Feds. A massive amount of work goes on but you can’t come out jumping every time you have a win. You just put your head down and get on to the next one.
If you were in charge of government tomorrow, how would things be different?
I would run the government and regional councils like a business, culling out anything that is inefficient and not producing. Then I’d promote New Zealand as a great country as is; we are already ahead of the game on a lot of stuff. We’ve got the answers to all these environment problems. Don’t throw agriculture under the tractor.