Social licence to operate

Sarah Crofoot Federated Farmers’ Meat & Fibre & Environmental policy advisor on the social licence to operate:

With each generation the urban population becomes further removed from rural New Zealand. Gone are the days when holidays were spent visiting friends and family out on the farm, learning of what we do.

Consumers are hungry for information about where their food comes from. The door is open for us to tell our story, but if we don’t, someone else will.

The ‘conflict industry’ groups like SAFE and Greenpeace are happy to fill the void with half-truths, misinformation, sound bites and powerful imagery of the extreme options.

They profit from people’s fear, their product is cash not stewardship as they would lead you to believe. They are dependent on crisis so are always searching for the next issue – with their websites firmly set on water and animal welfare.

These extreme opinions are being presented to a public with no natural resource linkage and no lens to look through for validity. So, that whole middle ground between the extremes is lost in the discussion.

Whatever the issue – be it animal welfare, health and safety, environment or employment, we need to tell our story.

We can’t afford to have the experts on the important issues facing agriculture be it celebrities with no practical understanding, or have policy made based on a vague idea of what they would like and no understanding of how it would work and the implications.

Our solutions need to be backed by science and we need to stand united with a common cry for common sense.

Sadly the ‘conflict industry’ groups, those with no practical understanding, with vague ideas and/or political agendas get traction without science but farming can’t nor should it.

We need to understand people’s concerns and address them, not just tell them what we want them to hear. We have a great story to tell but we need to learn to be comfortable leading the discussion and telling our story, not being part of a story the conflict industry creates for us. 

We need to help consumers understand what we do and that we strive to be great stewards. That if we take care of our land, plants and animals, they will take care of us and future generations.

As an industry we may not be perfect and we have all made mistakes, but providing for humans is an imperfect science and as imperfect as we maybe, we are the best, safest, most productive, efficient and environmentally sound food producers there has ever been in the history of man. We are the green choice but we need to help consumers understand why. We need to tell the whole truth, warts and all, and do it without tearing other industries down.

When having these discussions it is often forgotten how closely the environment and our economy are tied together. In fact they come from the same Greek root word ‘eco’ meaning house.

Inside is our economy; outside is our ecology, making up our environment. If you hit one the other pays the price. If we don’t have a healthy environment we can’t grow our economy. If we don’t have a healthy economy we don’t have the luxury of protecting the environment.

Why is it so difficult for people to understand that not only are a growing economy and environmental progress not mutually exclusive but interdependent?

We need to be proud of our heritage and share it with others. The calluses on your hands and dirt under your nails should be a source of pride as they helped to lay the foundations for the family business, community, and country, rather than a source of shame or guilt because others don’t understand what you do.

There were two truths learnt in the logging industry which are important for Federated Farmers and agriculture.

Democracy works, but it’s not a spectator sport – we need to stand together as a united front and support those who support us.
When leaders lead, people follow – we need to take a lead on the issues important to us and ensure the leaders understand the challenges;
Bruce Vincent led a call to arms, for every one of us to spend one hour a week advocating for our industry, showing up, being heard, telling our story, whether it is in the local media, social media, a letter to the editor, at a school, in local politics, chamber of commerce, or engaging with Federated Farmers helping to give power to a united voice.

The Federation is committed to this but we can’t do it without you. Your support is valued but we also need you to engage, whatever the issue your voice is crucial. We need a movement lead by rural people built of hope instead of fear; science instead of emotion; education instead of litigation; resolution instead of conflict; employing rather than destroying human resources.

If each of us takes an action we create a ripple. All of our ripples combine to create a current and together we can form a wave and create change and a vision for our future.

These wise words a young, rural woman give strong grounds for optimism for farming and the future.

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