IT APPEARS the only people surprised by the plummeting levels of rural confidence across the country are the Government and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor.
For months we have seen an endless stream of reports – from Rabobank, BNZ, ANZ, NZIER – all depicting a growing lack of confidence and concern in rural New Zealand.
Only last month, an open letter was written to the Government by an agricultural consultancy head, Chris Garland, outlining why farmer morale is at an all-time low. Garland, of Baker Ag, called for more consideration for the rural sector’s lot in the face of ever more onerous regulation.
“This Government’s approach to environmental policy is undermining the mental health and wellbeing of the pastoral sector,” he explained. “Government has contributed strongly toward turning the NZ public against farming, which has had a severe impact on farmers’ self esteem and on their ability to cope with a rapidly changing policy environment.”
Showing just how out of touch O’Connor is with the current feeling in the rural heartland, his response to the letter was a ridiculous tweet blaming the rural media and farm advisors for the current rural malaise.
“If farm advisors and rural media weren’t so keen to repeat negative political rhetoric farmers might feel appreciated,” he claimed.
Really, minister? Your answer is to blame the rural media but you need to take a closer look in the mirror.
O’Connor and his Government should be basking in the glory of strong commodity prices and a positive outlook for the primary sector. Instead the Government is confronted with a rural sector that is as worried and despondent as during the reforms of the Rogernomics era in the mid-1980s.
Why is this?
In the latest Rabobank survey, farmers overwhelmingly cited Government policy and intervention as the key reason they expect the agri economy to deteriorate during the next 12 months. The bank described this as: “a level never seen before in the history of this survey”.
The two main Government policies causing the most worry in rural NZ are the impending Zero Carbon Bill and how agricultural emissions will be treated, and the proposed amendments to NZ’s freshwater regulations.
Both have been greeted with dismay by many in the rural sector. The turnout and mood at the farmer meetings held NZ-wide for freshwater ‘consultation’ – despite the unhelpful timing of these meetings – attest to this.
Instead of lashing out at the rural media and others in the sector for relaying exactly how farmers are now feeling, Damien O’Connor should take ownership of his Government’s actions and polices as the real reason for the waning levels of confidence down on the farm.