Farmers besieged by anti-farming brigade look on bright side of life
Sheep and beef farmers are going on social media to show the environmental progress they are making as anti-farming slurs become more barbed.
Environmental groups are focussing on farming's influence on the land and water as well as animal welfare, but farmers are resisting the urge to barricade themselves and want to adopt a more open approach.
Federated Farmers meat and fibre chairman Rick Powdrell said sheep and beef farmers were facing testing times, and many of the challenges were outside of their control.
He said farmers needed to support each other and communicate positive stories to enlighten the public about farming.
"There is nothing better than to show best practice. Whether that's a video or social media or taking someone on a farm. Social media is always a good way and the power of the camera can be wonderful for you and likewise detrimental."
He said the troll factor was inevitable in media comment sections, but it soon became obvious if someone commenting was entering with an open mind.
"You read the first line and have a fairly good idea whether there is someone with some knowledge and making informed comment or whether there is someone on some bandwagon. Quite frankly I don't read a lot of it."
More open forums were the best way to talk through farming's position in the environment, he said.
"It's important we tend to stick to the more open forums. We have to accept that we can't deny some people will let us down ... but there are lots of good things going on."
There was little point wasting time and emotion worrying about issues they could not influence such as bad weather and "adverse" events, regulations, currency volatility, global trade and market access. Rather, they should tell the positive stories of rural life to whoever would listen, he said.
Farmers would have farm environmental plans set back for 20 years in the first big rain after the Kaikoura quakes and there had to be some acceptance of the unusual circumstances.
Powdrell said farming practices were constantly being portrayed in a negative manner, often by uninformed people.
"The frustrating thing is when invited to view the realities of the practice they are passing judgement on, most decline," he told federation members at a council meeting in Wellington on Tuesday. "We must continue to engage with them, share our experiences and invite them on farm."
Among the pressures being faced by farmers was how they used the land.
"As one Canterbury farmer said to me recently, 'I own my farm but it has got to the point where I am losing all say in what I do on it'," said Powdrell. "The problem is that so much money is being used for the processes of remedying the problem and lengthy legal challenges rather than being used on the ground for future mitigation measures."
The red meat and wool sector was worth $8.2 billion to New Zealand last season and was not the "poor cousin" of dairy, he said.
Farmers were facing other challenges such as synthetic alternative proteins, ever-increasing compliance nd growing their position in marketplaces.