Agriculture was one of my rounds when I started my journalism career in 1981 so I covered the monthly meetings of Federated Farmers. They were regularly attended by more than 30 people and the annual conference attracted nearly 200.
These days small provinces like North Otago no longer have monthly meetings and last week’s AGM had a disappointing attendance in spite of the promise of an entertaining night with the chance to debate MPs from National (Otago MP & Waitaki candidate Jacqui Dean & Agriculture spokesman David Carter); NZ First (Doug Woollerton) and Labour candidate for Rangitata (Julian Blanchard who was contravening the EFA by wearing a party rosette which wasn’t authorised).
I’d better confess I’ve got this information second hand. I wasn’t there; but that was because I was flying back from a conference in Auckland, not because I wasn’t interested. No doubt many others had equally valid reasons for not going, but the organisers would have also been battling the problem facing so many others – it’s hard to get people to meetings even if it doesn’t conflict with other engagements.
Service groups, sports or cultural clubs, churches … almost every organisation is struggling to attract and retain members; and to get those it has to participate regularly. It particularly concerns me that Federated Farmers is among them because it is one of few voices left which speaks rural New Zealand in general and farmers in particular. And as the urban-rural divide widens it is even more important that we ensure that voice is strong.
Federated Farmers has often been called the National Party in gumboots. Some members may also be members of National, some of its beliefs, for example in the importance of property rights, may coincide with those of National; but Feds is politically independent which is one of its strengths. Unlike unions which are affiliated to Labour, Fed Farmers acts in its members’ best interests and takes positions on issues uncontaminated by political ideology.
Feds led the campaign against the fart tax; it won the battle to exempt farm dogs free from electronic tags; it led the fight about unfettered access to farm land; and it is continually monitoring legislation from local and Central Government to ensure the rights and needs of farmers and rural New Zealand are protected.
We need Federated Farmers and the organisation deserves our support because of that.