New party for 'all rural people'
The Government must make policy changes for farms to become profitable and for rural New Zealand to prosper, a fledgling political party with roots in the Far North says.
NZ Rural Party co-founder Ken Rintoul says the Government's approach to issues surrounding farming are hurting the country.
“It's not a party as such, it's a representation of all rural people and that includes towns, everyone in a rural community,” Mr Rintoul says.
“The support industries, the value-added industries, that's all part of it.”
But he says the party is being formed because a strong rural New Zealand is necessary for a strong nation as a whole.
He says it's easy to underestimate the number of people with rural ties.
“New Zealand was built on rural communities and, I suppose, what they stand for,” he says. “Rural communities - they look after themselves, they're very family orientated, they know all their neighbours, they'll step in and help their neighbours.”
Mr Rintoul says he would like candidates to be in place for the next election.
And he says despite its roots in Okaihau the party is seeing registration spread evenly across the country.
The party he founded with Joe Carr needs to send 500 signatures off to Wellington before they can form as a political party but Mr Rintoul says he's looking for 600 to be sure.
“We've got to get a certain number of things done before we register, as we register and then within a month of registering,” he says.
Membership and a candidate selection programme might be essentials as the party takes shape but Mr Rintoul says it's policy that is driving the work and the enthusiasm for the party in its infancy.
Keeping hospitals open in rural areas, making sure police are based in rural communities are priorities for the party, he says. Because people are leaving rural areas because the services are going to the cities and towns. He's had long conversations with many that end up in the same place.
“The single biggest issue is profitability,” he says. What was once a multi-generational practice is losing its youth to different industries and quite often to cities.
The average age of farmers, Mr Rintoul says, is 58. He says the average age should be around 40 or 45.
“We're actually going to lose a generation of farmers soon and we're going to lose a generation of knowledge passed on,” he says.
“There's not a lot of farmers out there between 20 and 35 now and that's the scary part, we've got to attract them back before it's too late.” The value of the New Zealand dollar and compliance costs, are the two main obstacles to farms becoming profitable.
And he says that while some of the larger farms are making good money, a farm of 200 hectares would only allow a farmer to break even.
“Most farms are lucky to make their interest rates at the moment,” Mr Rintoul says.
“Everyone seems to think farmers are making a fortune. They have a lot of income, but that income is all going back out again.”
Changes are being forced on farmers too quickly, he says. The escalating costs of running a farm is just one form of uncertainty.
“No-one owns water,” Mr Rintoul says. The party's website (nzrural.org.nz) devotes the most space to this issue. It reads: “The governance of water management must remain controlled by democratically elected public authorities that are accountable."
The Government should provide certainty, Mr Rintoul says. That would be NZ Rural's aim.