Is Jon Morgan right in claiming it is time to applaud, not boo, New Zealand's dairy industry?
OPINION: We all like a good villain, a pantomime baddie with black cape, twirling moustache and evil leer.
But there comes a time when we have to stop booing, when Salty Sam gets tired of tying Sweet Sue to the railway tracks, hangs up his cape and retires to a home for old villains to swap lies with Black Pete, the Joker and Voldemort.
So, I think it's time to stop booing Quade Cooper. He may not be outwardly penitent but time has moved on. He's learnt his lesson and now suppresses his villainous tendencies. The black cape is back in the closet.
Likewise, dairy farmers.
They now know how much environmental damage their cows have caused. And they know how badly urban New Zealand thinks of that.
In many people's minds - to judge from recent comments on NZFarmer's web page - they sit at the top of the villainy charts alongside Quarrelsome Quade.
But now it's time to lay off the booing.
I believe we should now be applauding dairy farmers for the good work they are doing, and have promised to do, to lift their game. They deserve it, and, anyway, encouragement works better than constant criticism.
Under the new dairy accord, they will keep cows from streams wider than a stride, as well as lakes, drains, springs and significant wetlands. As these waterways are fenced off, a strip of plants will go in designed to reduce phosphorous and nitrogen leaching.
At the same time, regional councils are setting leaching limits and keeping a close eye on their farmers.
Take away the environmental concerns and dairy farming is a highly admirable career. I doubt there is a similar job where a worker can start at 16 with no savings and expect to be owning assets of more than $1 million by 30.
This is not just a pipe dream attained by only a few high-flyers. This is a realistic aim for all.
And the reason for this lies in the dairy industry's long history of co-operation. It started when farmers clubbed together to build a factory to process their milk and then shared the profits.
This co-operative spirit spread to other aspects, such as identifying which cows performed the best and sharing their genetics and in creating one organisation to sell their products overseas.
Eventually, Fonterra was formed - a giant company to collect milk throughout the country, transform it into a variety of products and find the best overseas markets for them.
Alongside, a body was created to be the industry's HR and R and D department.
DairyNZ sees that workers are constantly upskilled. Courses impart the latest knowledge on anything from cow and calf welfare, pasture and irrigation management, staff training, the smooth running of a milking shed to monitoring every aspect of cow performance and keeping accurate financial records.
Behind all this is constantly updated computer technology and a world-best scientific research regime.
Competitions are held each year in every region to recognise those who are the best. A culture of encouragement and reward permeates the industry. The young worker is surrounded by successful role models, each with a foot on the rungs of the ladder of success.
And, perhaps most surprising to an outsider, farmers are delighted when good workers say they want to leave for a bigger and better job on a farm elsewhere.
It means the industry is thriving. That's the essence of co- operation - all for one and one for all.
With each change, the worker takes on more responsibility and grows their assets - farmbikes, a tractor, ownership of cows - and eventually they have enough equity to afford a farm. By this time, they have a close relationship with a bank, have proved their worth and are considered good lending risks.
Into this friendly, supportive industry the revelation of environmental damage was a bombshell.
It came from outside, not from their scientists, and the first reaction was disbelief. The PR battle was lost early on and as they dithered and bickered the public turned against them.
When realism sank in they were slow to make changes and then struggled to keep up as water monitoring improved and the extent of the problem became clear.
But now that is behind them. They have accepted their culpability.
We know there is no quick fix. The waterways have deteriorated over decades and will take decades to recover.
I think the industry is doing what it could reasonably be expected to do. In some regions of enhanced environmental sensitivity the coercion is stronger than others, but tempering this is the realisation that dairying is essential to the economy. Let's not bite the hand that feeds us - well, not too hard.
The onus is now on the industry to show results. I applaud the actions, now let's see that they work.
And let's taihoa with the booing - at least till we see some some results. There must be other villains out there worthy of our displeasure. Don't forget, the Springboks will soon be here.
- © Fairfax NZ News