Farming needs more promotion

It is time for New Zealand's agribusiness to stand out from the flock and make a united stand

It is time for New Zealand’s agribusiness to stand out from the flock and make a united stand

The agriculture sector needs to do more to inform the public about what’s involved and happening in our industry.

Farming’s critics have the industry constantly ‘under the pump’, often using misleading information and ill-informed assertions. Many claims are made about farmers deliberately damaging the environmental, over-charging locals for produce, making huge tax-free profits and inflicting undue pain on animals, to name but a few.

Where such events are happening the sector needs to move quickly to publicly punish those besmirching and risking its reputation; and such actions must be rectified.

Already in 2014 we’ve heard assertions that dairy farmers are profiting while destroying the nation’s waterways at taxpayers’ expense, and that most New Zealand meat exports are shipped in carcase form. Both claims are demonstrably false, but they attracted wide, uncritical news coverage.

As Churchill said, a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has even got its pants on.

The rural urban divide is a growing problem in New Zealand. More accounts of the benefits of farming to our economy and society are essential.

Only 15% of New Zealanders are farming or have any contact with farming – and that number is falling, though it’s much lower (1%) in other countries. This carries huge implications: less influence with legislators and poorer global understanding of the agricultural experience.

Less and less is the farming voice influencing policy and that’s not good. Globally there is a challenge in public perception. Activists speak with one voice globally, so should farming.

The best solution for New Zealand is for the industry to connect more with media and the general public by self-promotion and actions. Rural media, though effective in this sphere, are preaching to the converted – our audience is mostly rural and/or industry people. It is time for the general media to pick up more stories about farming and less meaningless drivel about Justin Bieber’s latest tweet!

Industry and lobby groups such as Fed Farmers, DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb NZ and Fonterra all do good work, eg farm open days and Milk in Schools, but more is needed. Government also has a role in ensuring the wider public better understand and appreciate the importance of our agriculture sector.

The time for action is now!

Storm in a cream cup

THE LATEST media beat-up on Fonterra’s fresh cream recall cannot go unchallenged.
Everyone, from opposition politicians to a handful of Fonterra’s 10,500 shareholders, has jumped on the bandwagon to bag the dairy co-op. One unsuccessful Fonterra board candidate went as far as calling for board chairman John Wilson to resign.
And all because the co-op voluntarily recalled 8,700 bottles of fresh cream from North Island retail and foodservice outlets. The recall was triggered by quality tests showing there may be the presence of E.coli in some Anchor and Pam’s bottles of cream.
To put this in context, Fonterra produces around 17 million bottles of fresh cream annually in New Zealand. It is recalling fewer than 9000 bottles or about 0.05% of its annual production. In New Zealand there are 100 voluntary food recalls and withdrawals every month. But no other food producer faces this scrutiny from the media and politicians.
We don’t condone the presence of E.coli or any other bacteria in our food products. The bottom line is that all our food products must be safe and of top quality. But let’s give credit where its due – Fonterra has acted decisively in recalling the products.
One would expect the co-op to have learned its lessons from the botulism fiasco. It should have processes in place to manage consumer fallout and should in time shake off any perception issues about its food safety record.
The investigation into the alleged contamination is continuing and everyone will be eagerly waiting to see how this happened. For overseas consumers, still recovering from the false botulism scare and its impact on infant formula trade, publicity around the cream recall will cause some concern.
However, the fresh cream recall is a domestic issue for Fonterra’s brands business. Food recalls come with being a major player in the FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) sector.
Using every minor food safety issue at Fonterra to humiliate the co-op is plain wrong. And using the minor food recall to push political agendas is worse.
The cream recall is a minor issue, but as a global food exporter, Fonterra knows the stakes are high in the international market. The co-op is now operating under scrutiny both at home and abroad.

2013 in review: the good, bad and ugly!

dogAnother year has passed, yet another busy one for the agribusiness sector. Rural News’ editorial team reviews the 2013 year and its highs and lows…
‘KICK EM in the guts Trev’ award: AgResearch for the way it handled its relocation strategy. Another crop of good scientists gets dumped on and New Zealand loses again. While the CRI may have a point with its relocation strategy, it seems to many that the company is more interested in paying dividends to the Government than serving farmers’ needs.
‘Missing in action’ award: John Wilson, Fonterra chairman. Happy to front new milk in schools programmes, but he went into hiding when the proverbial hit the fan at Fonterra during the botulism botch-up.
Biggest loser of the year: Gary Romano, after he walked (voluntarily or not) the plank following Fonterra’s botulism saga. Second biggest: New Zealand – or was it the biggest?
Biggest botch-up of the year and the people’s choice: Fonterra for botulism botch-up or was it notulism? Inept in every way, from the first sign of trouble to the appalling communication of the crisis at all levels of the organisation.
Second biggest botch-up: MPI for not changing the old MAF paperwork for meat exports to China. Meat sat on wharves for weeks and exporters lost money while authorities haggled over an acronym. A ‘high performing department’? Yeah right! Not high and not performing. Oh, and what’s in our PKE? A sheep’s foot, a deer’s hoof or a fish?
Worst PR effort in the rural sector: MPI by a country mile. They never failed to underperform. The struggling government department even spent $250,000 on buying-in spin doctors from outside, to no avail! Can anything be ‘Dunne’ about this?
Fonterra is at least trying to change its ways, but still has a fair way to go.
Biggest turnaround: the kiwifruit industry, from survival to revival in the face of Psa destruction.
Best score: Dairy Women’s Network again for attracting DeLaval NZ’s managing director Zelda de Villiers as its new chief executive.
Grace under fire: Nutricia ANZ managing director Corine Tap, facing hysterical mums and massive product recall; but none of it was her fault.
Leading the way: Miraka for notching up a deal with the Chinese this year, while Fonterra was busy apologising to them for its numerous cock-ups.
Top lobbiest: HortNZ who got more dogs, more X ray machines, better biosecurity. Also ran a great conference and vastly improved its relationships with central government.
Runner-up: MIE for trying hard to get reforms in the meat industry. Harder than herding cats.
Politician of the year: Amy Adams for driving the RMA and water reforms and putting regional government on notice for some sub-optimal performance. A very smart politician.
Trying hard award: Nathan Guy for doing his best – despite taking advice from a department (MPI) that has been restructured so many times that too many good people have gone.
Runner-up: Damien O’Connor who did his best despite belonging to a party more interested in the rights of gays than the primary export sector. Right guy, wrong party.
Farming leader: hard to go past Bruce Wills who has turned Feds from a feral, grumpy lobby group to one respected nationwide especially on environmental issues.
Agribusiness person of the year: Kingi Smiler continues to impress by his leadership in Maori agribusiness. Others to watch are Gerard Hickey of Firstlight Foods and Dion Tuuta of PKW.
Ag event of the year: hard to beat the Ahuwhenua Awards for the top Maori farmer. Attracting 850 people to an amazing gala dinner is pretty impressive.
Young person: Lincoln University undergraduate Brigitte Ravera for her brilliant endorsement of the opportunities agriculture offers young people, spoken during a bus tour organised for teachers and careers advisors. The other young people on the bus were equally impressive.
Best PR in rural sector: Feds, if you base it on the number of media releases and their willingness to front people. DairyNZ, Rural Women NZ and Massey University are also very much up there.
Best communication of science: Massey and Lincoln universities and DairyNZ. Always willing to help the media and farmers and innovative in the way they communicate. MPI take note!
Knockers of the year: Fish and Game and Massey University’s Mike Joy who seem to forget that moaning in the media doesn’t earn export dollars, nor does it help our export sector.
Greatest hysteria: anti-PKE groups using some media to foulmouth the key supplement feed in the dairy sector. MPI reacts by agreeing on greater screening of PKE.
Idiots of the year: the small minority of dairy farmers who continued to pollute waterways and failed to respect the environment, so tainting New Zealand’s image. It’s time Fonterra and other dairy companies made them walk the plank (a la Gary Romano).
Greatest challenges for 2014: getting unity in the meat industry, making MPI a high performing government department, stopping Mike Joy and his green mob from badmouthing farming, encouraging young people to make a career in agribusiness, and getting Fonterra’s John Wilson to front the bad as well as the good news .
A bouquet: to the big majority of farmers who have met their environmental obligations.
If only
Dr Mike Joy would say one good thing about dairying farming.
Nathan Guy would stop referring to MPI as being a “high performing government department” until it is.
Fish and Game would accept they are not environmentalists; they’re there only to kill and catch fish.
Fonterra would fire some ‘feral’ dairy farmers.
The CRI’s would do some serious ‘technology transfer’ and have regular interactive sessions with farmers.
The meat industry would unite and farmers would fully support that.
Someone would take a real leadership role in the primary sector.
MPI would stop referring to Maori as “having potential”. Maori are already performing well and, yes, they have potential, but so do many non-Maori farmers.