Fed Farmer exits after fighting the good fight
James Houghton is stepping down today after three years as Waikato Federated Farmers provincial president.
The Pukeatua dairy farmer is retiring by rotation.
He is also vacating the role so he can fully commit to his new elected position on the Waikato Waipa Collaborative Stakeholder Group.
This group of community representatives was established to address water-quality issues in the Waikato and Waipa catchments. It is part of the Healthy Rivers/Wai Ora project, involving the Waikato Regional Council, river iwi partners and Waikato River Authority.
Being elected on to the group was a two-year commitment and there were huge ramifications for the region if the group got issues around water quality right, he said. "And even worse if we get it wrong."
Houghton is being replaced by Pukeatua dairy farmer Chris Lewis, who is stepping up from vice-president and chairman of the branch's dairy section.
Lewis was the sole nomination for the position and is to be formally elected at today's annual meeting.
Houghton's advice for Lewis? Remember there are three sides to every story. "There's both parties that are involved and then there's the truth somewhere."
The role meant advocating for farmers on issues while, at the same time, being compassionate to the views of other sections of society and not become isolated.
It also meant picking your battles, he said.
Being president meant walking the talk, and Houghton had just spent thousands of dollars upgrading the effluent system on his dairy farm.
"I need to make sure that I lead by example, and that's good for my business too."
His fondest memory over the past three years was being part of an organisation that achieved positive outcomes for farmers. "The really good thing about feds is that it's farmers fighting for farmers."
That included being part of a process that elected a new national president, board and direction for Federated Farmers to wins for farmers around local government.
"It's been part of a team and knowing that you can effect change." Houghton said he would miss the enormous amount of information he was privy to.
"Being in the loop you get access to so much information, it's the information and opportunity you get to listen to people."
His time as president included back-to-back droughts, high levels of volatility in the dairy payout and the higher public expectations around water quality.
The effects of the droughts are still ongoing and has most recently manifested itself in an explosion of pasture pests such as grass grub around the region.
Houghton said he had been forced to undersow from 35 to 40 per cent of his farm because of grass grub damage.
While droughts dominated the headlines, the perceptions and realities around water quality were the biggest issues he tackled.
It was something farmers could influence.
"With a drought, you're just passengers. With water quality, we have been working for two years to participate in the process and facilitate in the process."
He hoped his regular columns in Fairfax publications had also gone some way bridge the gap between urban people and the farming community.
"Generally, the purpose of the articles was to encourage thought and get people to think about different perspectives."
He believed the federation's Waikato branch was in good heart.
"We have got young people coming through the ranks and we are really moving into a good space where we can have open communication with all people."
That was not always the case. Five years ago those doors were closed.
That changed after more farmers were elected to positions in local government.
"We can walk into regional council and know that we will be listened and respected and those doors are all open at the moment."