Farmers chief bows out

BRUCE WILLS
Last updated 08:24 14/07/2014

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OPINION: My three years as the 31st National President of Federated Farmers ended on July 4 and it has been an absolute privilege leading the Federation these past three years. I wish to publicly thank the news media for the opportunity to communicate with you.

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

As my phone goes quiet and the emails dive, 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 our conference marked not only my final one as president but also Conor English's last one as Chief Executive. Six years ago I was a newly elected board member and he was our new CEO. Federated Farmers and the agriculture sector owe Conor a huge debt of gratitude for his vision and verve.

Our 2014 conference was one for renewal. We elected a new president in Dr William Rolleston and a new Vice-President, Anders Crofoot. You could say 'the doctor will see you now' while Anders is, I believe, the first native New Yorker to become our vice- president. We also elected Rick Powdrell to head our Meat & Fibre Industry Group and Andrew Hoggard to head the Dairy Industry Group. Mid- Canterbury's Chris Allen was also elected to the board joining Katie Milne and Ian Mackenzie, who were both reconfirmed.

Our conference also provided a great opportunity for members to meet our new CEO, Graham Smith . Graham is an experienced CEO leading an innovation incubator and before that, the Institute of Environmental Science & Research - a Crown Research Institute. 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 Federated Farmers does for New Zealand farmers and the wider economy.

What I have learnt in my tenure as president is that all of us are utterly dependent on agriculture's continued success to keep us as a first-world economy. I have learnt farming needs a strong and respected voice in Wellington ensuring 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. Going overseas gives you a hugely valuable insight into our country through the eyes of others.

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If I wish to leave a message it is that we do have some of the best farmers on the planet. Other countries genuinely 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 continue to grow agriculture and take good care of our environment.

As a judge and as the immediate past President of Federated Farmers, I am extremely proud of Canterbury's Mark and Devon Slee. They recently became New Zealand's top environmental farmers in the 2014 Ballance Farm Environment Awards. The Slees' lifting of the Gordon Stephenson Trophy is a significant breakthrough for dairy farming, especially on the Canterbury plans. Featured in The Listener, the Slees' story is one, I hope, that'll 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 increasingly we are.

I wish to paraphrase one of the most emotional farewells ever delivered and that was 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."

- Taranaki Daily News

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