Farming sector in good heart

00:00, Jul 01 2014

My three years as the 31st national president of Federated Farmers comes to an end this Friday, so this will be my last column in the Manawatu Standard.

It has been an absolute privilege these past three years and I note that editor Michael Cummings is moving on to bigger and brighter things as I step back. It seems only yesterday that I got his call to say, "are you keen?".

I wish to publicly thank him for the opportunity to be continued by my successor. I also wish him the best for his future in growing our fourth estate.

Like this column, I will miss the cut and thrust of farmer politics as I will miss working with our staff, our many farmer representatives and all the various industry, environmental and government groups I have worked so closely with.

When my phone goes quiet and the emails dive on July 5, I will no doubt wonder what has hit me, but I am looking forward to getting back to farming.

Federated Farmers is in great heart and I know even better people will step in when I retire to the hills.


Our upcoming national conference in Palmerston North will not only be my final one as president but also Conor English's last as chief executive.

Six years ago I was a newly elected board member and he was the new CEO. Six years on we leave almost together and Federated Farmers and the agriculture sector owe him a huge debt of gratitude for his vision and verve.

Our conference is one for renewal. We will not only elect a new president, vice-president and board but see new heads of our meat and fibre, and dairy industry groups.

Our conference will also provide an opportunity to meet Graham Smith, our new chief executive. Graham is an experienced chief executive, with his latest role leading an innovation incubator and before that, the Institute of Environmental Science and Research - a Crown research institute.

Graham may be an Australian by birth but is a Kiwi by choice. With a sound background academically and in commerce, he will be a very worthy replacement for Conor.

I look forward to seeing him and the new board continue the highly valuable work that Federated Farmers does for New Zealand farmers and the wider economy.

What I have learnt in the past three years is that all of us are utterly dependent on agriculture's continued success to keep us as a First World economy.

I have learnt that farming needs a strong and respected voice in Wellington ensuring that policy outcomes are sensible and workable.

I have learnt that politics matters, that getting the balance between the economy and the environment isn't easy and that to be green, you need to be in the black.

I have also enjoyed a small international component with the World Farmers Organisation too. Going overseas gives you a hugely valuable insight into our country through the eyes of others.

If I wish to leave a message, it is that we do have some of the best farmers on the planet. Others marvel at our productivity, our natural beauty and our plentiful clean water. Of late, they marvel at our exponential growth in trade with China.

There are, however, a few areas where we lag; we need to store more water and we need to push much harder on science and innovation.

We also need to ensure we both continue to grow agriculture and take very good care of our environment.

As a judge and as president of Federated Farmers, I am extremely proud of Canterbury's Mark and Devon Slee. They became New Zealand's top environmental farmers late last week in the 2014 Ballance Farm Environment Awards.

The Slees' lifting of the Gordon Stephenson Trophy, our "Nobel prize" for environmental farming, is a significant breakthrough for dairy farming and especially dairy farming on the Canterbury plans.

Featured in The Listener, the Slees' story is one, I hope, that will get many people to reconsider everything they think they know about dairy farming.

Being clean and green is important, but as a country, we also need to pay our way in an ever more competitive world. Can we get this balance right? We will and we are.

As I close out this column I wish to end it by paraphrasing the emotive farewell delivered by the American Douglas MacArthur. It sums up the pride and faith I have in the farming profession I hold dear: "Old soldiers never die; they just fade away". And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my time with Feds and move away, "an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty".

Thank you for reading.

Manawatu Standard