Farmers ponder politicians' election promises
The warmth of the applause said a lot about how the Federated Farmers audience felt about the political leaders on show at the organisation's annual conference.
A "vote for me" political session featuring Prime Minister John Key, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, Labour leader David Cunliffe and Greens co-leader Russel Norman was held at the Palmerston North Convention Centre yesterday.
Applause was the loudest for Key with Peters also receiving a warm reception. Cunliffe got some applause but the clapping was lukewarm when it came time for Norman to speak.
The leaders all talked about the importance of agriculture in New Zealand, with half of all exports coming from the land.
"The overwhelming number of farmers are good guardians of the land," Key said.
"Collectively, farmers and the Government should hold hands on the environment."
He encouraged farmers, their families and workers to get out and vote.
"This election is not like the others. We're just right of centre, but Labour and Greens are far left."
Peters said relying on one market, China, for 40 per cent of exports was not smart for farmers or the country.
"This makes New Zealand a hostage to fortune in the event of a major external shock or disruption."
He said farmers were suffering from the high kiwi and NZ First wanted to broaden the Reserve Bank's mandate to support the agricultural and manufacturing base.
Peters said 150,000 New Zealanders were on unemployment benefits and at the same time 138,000 temporary immigrant work visas were granted, with many people working on farms.
New Zealanders should be employed first, he said.
And there was far more foreign ownership of land than people realised.
"China doesn't allow it to happen, neither does Japan. Even a little country like the Cook Islands is against it. But in New Zealand - it's a free-for-all."
Cunliffe said Labour had a lot in common with Federated Farmers.
"You are a strong democracy and you have a great link with rural people and communities. We agree on opening foreign markets, more research and development, greater biosecurity and adding more value to New Zealand products. And I am pretty sure we agree that farming is critical to New Zealand."
But he said the Rabobank confidence survey showed farmers were concerned about falling milk prices and rising interest rates, and the dollar's value was inflated.
Norman said his vision for New Zealand agriculture was one where farmers and the Greens were on the same page.
"There are two ways - a commodity trade defined by the cheapest price or one of high-quality food, safe products, so consumers will pay more."
He said it was dependent on New Zealand looking after its environment and making the most of the clean green brand.
The conference ends today.