A new champion for the dairy cause

PERCEPTION: "Ninety-nine per cent of dairy farmers are good people. You want society to see that," says Andrew Hoggard.
PERCEPTION: "Ninety-nine per cent of dairy farmers are good people. You want society to see that," says Andrew Hoggard.

Andrew Hoggard, the new top man for Federated Farmers' dairy industry group, wants society to see the good that farmers do.

Hoggard, who farms 560 cows at Kiwitea near Feilding, replaces the retiring dairy chairman Willy Leferink, who held the position for three years.

Nobody stood against the former vice-chairman of Federated Farmers dairy. In fact all executive positions were filled without a vote.

Now Hoggard leads dairy farmers and it means Federated Farmers members and the chairs from each province think he's the man to take dairying issues to politicians and the public.

Leferink said he left the section in good stead as he said his goodbyes at the annual conference in Palmerston North last week.

"Andrew Hoggard will be a formidable leader," he said in his final chairman's address.

He says farmers are always in the top 20 most trusted people in the annual Reader's Digest survey.

"They are 14th equal with dentists."

Is that a good thing? Dentists give pain and take your money.

Former dairy group leader Leferink says Hoggard is ready to go, so he felt he could move on.

He has sold and bought a dairy farm recently and he has several other farms.

"Public perception is important for dairy farmers. We want to be the teacher's pet," Leferink says.

"I was in Auckland the other day and asked a few people about dairy farming. They're not worried about that, more concerned about roading and housing. So I think sometimes we take criticism too much to heart."

He says farmers are not so savvy on the hard political debate.

"Having said that, to be portrayed as a villain time and time again, one day it does affect you."
He says there are people on the Left of politics that are articulate but don't have any economic realism.

"They think if they get rid of dairying, there will be no social impact. I think they have softened their tune. So instead of getting rid of dairying, they want to stop it expanding further."

Around 21 per cent of the nation's farmers are in dairying and there are 6.6 million dairy cows.

Leferink's final words of wisdom: "The Dutch will win the World Cup, the activists will blame the world's woes on dairy farmers, and there was no moon landing - moon is made of cheese, but if it were known it would crash dairy prices."

Hoggard says he will carry on Leferink's and former dairy group chairs' mantle.

The federation's dairy council also elected Waikato's Chris Lewis to be one of two vice-chairmen, joining Kevin Robinson who was reconfirmed in that role.

Hoggard says he will carry on representing dairy farmers' interests politically and to the public.

"I am stoked dairy farmers have placed their faith in me," Hoggard says.

"Willy has been a great leader and it is comforting to know he's just at the end of the telephone."

And his plans for the role?

"I guess the big issues are still the environment. And the upcoming one of which there is more and more noise, farm labour and health and safety."

Hoggard says he wants to get ahead of the curve, and doesn't want a repeat of what happened with the environment debate, in which dairying was forced to respond to environment concerns, rather than front-foot it, he says.  

"If we're lacking in areas, what are the solutions and let's get on with them."

He thinks the carrot, encouraging farmers, will work, rather than the stick, which might be necessary for the last few farmers to meet environmental requirements.

"Encouragement will get 95 per cent of people on board. The last 5 per cent that choose not to come, well they've chosen their fate."

He says in the Horizons Regional Council area, inspectors visited every dairy farm and found compliance to consents was at 97 per cent, so most people are meeting their obligations.

"It's awesome when you consider everything that could go wrong. Even with the best of systems sometimes things do go wrong.

"When I first became a dairy chairperson in Manawatu-Rangitikei, non-compliance was running at 16 per cent but today it's 3 per cent.

"Behind the headlines, Federated Farmers has worked closely with Horizons Regional Council and despite what may have blown up in the media from time to time, we have a good relationship now.

"To me, building that relationship is a template for how we should roll in other regions. My philosophy as a farmer and a leader is to be proactive and not reactive."

Hoggard says government policy needs to be based on sound science and sound thought and rational decision-making, not on spur-of-the-moment reactions to public perceptions.

"But public perceptions are important for dairy farmers. My kids are going to a little country primary school soon. When they go to high school I don't want them to be ashamed of their dad, but proud of him.

"Ninety-nine per cent of dairy farmers are good people. You want society to see that."

Manawatu Standard