Federated Farmers hear full spectrum of political views

The Federated Farmers audience was polite enough as they listened to political leaders David Cunliffe, Russel Norman and Winston Peters.

But during a cocktail session later, when the opposition leaders had moved on, a banking executive described some of the views they had heard as "bonkers", and laughter echoed around the room.

It was always going to be a hard sell to the Feds' annual meeting in Palmerston North this week, especially with the Greens promising a carbon tax and a brake on dairy intensification, NZ First threatening to stop migrant labour and Labour proposing a capital gains tax.

Meanwhile, in contrast to Cunliffe, Peters and Norman, Prime Minister John Key spoke off the cuff, impressing outgoing president Bruce Wills with his knowledge of agriculture.

"There will be a dramatic change in the sector if there is a Labour-Green government; half the ministers will be Green," Key warned.

The common theme of the opposition was the need to add value to primary sector output.

Labour leader Cunliffe dubbed it moving from "volume to value", Greens co-leader Norman called for a shift from producing "industrial ingredients to creating real food with proud provenance".

NZ First leader Peters said it wasn't smart for two sectors - dairy and forestry, which produce 40 per cent of export receipts - to rely on China. Peters' message on the use of migrant labour was challenged by one delegate, who said he grew a squash crop for export.

"The locals are just not up to it." They would take four weeks to do a seven-day job, he complained.

Peters was "all for changing the attitude" but against "mindless economic policies", when nearly 150,000 New Zealanders were on unemployment benefits.

Key pushed a "steady as she goes" approach: the Reserve Bank had been reviewed three times and its direction judged generally correct; the economy needed to grow at 3 per cent a year for 10 years to be in a strong position.

Cunliffe said a capital gains tax would be designed to stop property speculation, and to help young farmers buy their first farm.

"It would only be applied to realised capital gains, would exclude rural family homes as well as urban ones, and would not be applied retrospectively," he said.

Peters thundered against bank economists - "hired guns for foreign banks" lecturing New Zealanders on monetary policy.

"Put simply, ‘stop piddling down our backs and telling us it's raining'," he said.

Norman criticised new Federated Farmers president William Rolleston for his recent comments as climate change spokesman.

"It doesn't help when he goes on national radio saying Fed Farmers doesn't even have a position on whether climate change is real and dismisses the link between agriculture and climate change as nothing more than a ‘political construct'," said Norman.