Farm leader criticised for cancelling Bay feed

MARTY SHARPE
Last updated 05:00 26/03/2013
Bruce Wills
FAIRFAX NZ
Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills

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The president of Federated Farmers has been labelled "gutless and arrogant" after cancelling a shipment of feed to drought-stricken Hawke's Bay farmers and claiming they should have been better organised.

Emails obtained by The Dominion Post show East Coast Rural Support Trust co-ordinator Mike Barham told farmers on Friday that Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills had decided not to facilitate a shipment of feed from the South Island because of a lack of commitment from farmers.

Hawke's Bay has its worst drought in more than 40 years.

Mr Barham told farmers he had advised Mr Wills on several occasions that the feed was needed and that he had firm commitment from about 40 farmers for 1200 bales of ryegrass straw.

Mr Barham forwarded the farmers an email Mr Wills had sent to Federated Farmers Canterbury grain chairman David Clarke earlier on Friday, in which Mr Wills said getting farmers' commitment to buy feed had been "almost impossible" and "a difficult and frustrating exercise".

Mr Wills said: "I am of the opinion that most good and organised farmers are sorted and those that have been a little indecisive to date are the ones now caught and the ones we have been trying to deal with!"

He also said: "My local RST man is telling me that the guys now in trouble are the same guys he had to help in the last drought," and "Those in trouble will now just have to sort things themselves."

Mr Barham told farmers the decision to cancel the shipment "shows absolute gutless and arrogant behaviour by Bruce, which I am not prepared to allow happen". He said he and Mr Clarke would arrange supply themselves.

Mr Barham said he had never told Mr Wills he dealt with the same farmers each drought and that was "absolute bullshit - what planet is he on"?

"He says he is not prepared to risk Fed Farmers' balance sheet - I am only a small farmer/businessman but told Bruce prior to him canning the boat that I would personally underwrite $100k [for] the Hawke's Bay farmers' feed," Mr Barham wrote to farmers.

On Sunday, however, he wrote again that he had had "two long conversations" with Mr Wills, who had now agreed to help get the feed to the region, and would get the Federated Farmers board to reverse its decision not to assist with a free shipping arrangement through Ravensdown.

"We shall put what has been a very stressful week for many behind us and get on with delivering this required feed to where it is so needed," Mr Barham wrote.

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Mr Wills replied: "A bit of emotion and miscommunication got in the way but all sorted! We really appreciate the work the RST is doing and Mike please give me a yell if there is anything else I can do for you."

Mr Barham said yesterday that he expected the feed to arrive in the region in the next fortnight.

Mr Wills said he was disappointed about the "very serious personal attack" on him, but he wanted both men to move on for the good of the farmers. "I won't say a bad thing about Mike. It was a misunderstanding."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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