Three seek Feds’ vice-presidency


Four men announced last week they are competing to replace retiring Federated Farmers’ president Don Nicolson and now three are vying for the vice-presidency:

“It is somewhat unprecedented to have four presidential nominations and now three for Vice-President,” says Conor English, Federated Farmers Chief Executive and Returning Officer.

“There is a considerable amount of interest in all elected positions. Given the Federation is a membership based organisation, this is a tangible demonstration of vitality and our strong democratic basis.

“It is believed to be the largest number of candidates seeking the two most senior elected offices in over 66 years of Federated Farmers modern history.

I hope that it is a demonstration of vitality because as I wrote last week this many people competing for the top jobs could also be a sign of division.

That wouldn’t be good for the Federation, its members and the wider rural sector who all need a united voice.

Presidential nominees are: Donald Aubrey of Ben McLeod Station, who is vice-president; Frank Brenmuhl of Christchurch, a former Federated Farmers dairy section chair; Lachlan McKenzie of Rotorua who is dairy spokesman; and Bruce Wills of Napier, current meat and fibre spokesman.

The three seeking the vice-presidency are Dr William Rolleston of Timaru, David Rose from Invercargill and Matamata’s Stewart Wadey.

Four candidates – sign of strength or division?


Four men are vying to become Federated Farmers’ president when Don Nicolson retires at the end of the month.

“This will be the first contested election for the position of President since the early 1990’s,” says Conor English, Federated Farmers Chief Executive and Returning Officer.

“It is believed to be the largest number of candidates seeking the office of President in Federated Farmers history.

When so many voluntary organisations are struggling for members and finding people willing to become office holders is increasingly difficult, this could be seen as a sign of the organisation’s strength.

But it could also be a sign of division in the Federation.

I hope it’s not the latter. Farmers and the wider rural community need a strong and united voice and that requires an organisation focussed on issues of concern to members not one side-tracked by internal manoeuvring.

The nominees are: Donald Aubrey of Ben McLeod Station, who is vice-president;  Frank Brenmuhl of Christchurch, a former Federated Farmers dairy section chair; Lachlan McKenzie of Rotorua who is dairy spokesman;  and Bruce Wills of Napier, current meat and fibre spokesman.

Farmers fight protectionism


Federated Farmers found some allies in their fight for free trade at a meeting of the Carins Group Farm Leaders in Indonesia this week.

Federated Farmers President, Don Nicolson and vice president, Frank Brenmuhl, said farm leaders round the world supported Feds’ in condemning protectionism and trade barriers. 

“Farm leaders were highly critical of trade restrictions that have spread across the globe like a plague. Since the world economy went into recession last year, 17 of the G20 countries have implemented some form of protectionism.

“There is no doubt export subsidies hurt farmers and consumers alike. That is why we denounce the US and EU’s move to subsidise their inefficient dairy farmers.

“When countries adopted bad economic policies in decades past, only their own citizens paid the price. What these Governments don’t seem to understand is that, in today’s global economy, the burden falls far more broadly.

The only people who benefit in the long run from trade barriers are the bureaucrats whose jobs depend on them.

Taxpayers, consumers and producers all pay dearly for protectionist policies which increase costs and inefficiencies.

NZ one of most urbanised countries in world


Fewer than 20% of New Zealanders live in the country, making us one of the most urbanised countries in the world.

That’s one of the points made by Associate Professor Hugh Campbell from Otago University’s Centre for the Study of Agriculture, writing for Paddock Talk  in today’s ODT.

A particular history of town and country planning tended to protect fertile lands for commercial farming thus constricting population growth into towns and cities with relatively little lifestyle subdivision, village regeneration or holiday cottages, as has become the norm in many other First World countries.

The result is that, by some measures, New Zealand has more than 80% of its population living in non-rural areas – one of the highest levels in the Western world.

In contrast to this, rural-based industries, from farming and forestry to tourism, account for the vast majority of our export earnings.

Democracy being what it is, this widening cultural and economic gap is going to be a significant challenge for politicians both in farming and in Wellington.

Lifestyle subdivision brings problems of its own when people from town move to the country then object to the sights, sounds and smells of rural life and want to impose rules which interfere with normal farming practices.

The challenge isn’t quite as bad as it was before the election because National, Act and the Maori Party all have a high regard for property rights and an understanding of the importance of primary production.

But numbers count in politics and rural New Zealand no longer has the numbers.

We also have a perception problem, highlighted by Federated Farmers vice president Frank Brenmuhl in an address to a horticultural teachers’ conference:

He quoted a report which showed that in 2008 farm workers earned an average income of $41,914, more than $2,000 above the average non-farm income of $39,517.

Therefore, I do not believe we struggle for good staff because we pay poor wages or the opportunities for advancement are not good. After all, I have personally seen many examples of young people aged between 20 and 24, who are receiving salary packages in excess of $70,000 per year. Good farm managers are paid well for good results because it is good business.

Also, I don’t believe we lack agricultural trainees and graduates because we lack agricultural training institutions. But, I do believe that many career advisors and teachers, who play a big part in influencing student choices, do not value the work that those in the agricultural industry do.  We are treated much the same as cleaners and waste disposal operators. Necessary, but grubby and you can do better with your life, especially if you have a modicum of intelligence, in which case a tertiary education in arts, culture political science or information technology is your proper option.

I think he’s got a point. Because farmers work outside and get their hands dirty there’s a perception that they don’t use their brains as well.

But it’s not just a lack of people interested in working in agriculture that’s a problem, we need more scientists, engineers and others in the fields which support agriculture and drive innovation in primary production and processing.

As the recession bites people will give up luxuries but they will still have to eat. We’ll all suffer if the export-led recovery we need to get New Zealand back on track is hampered by a lack of skilled people in agriculture and the sciences and industries which support and improve it.

It’s Not What You Say …


Comments by Federated Farmers Dairy Chair Frank Brenmuhl on the right of  farmers to continue to produce food as an election issue might win support from other farmers but the way he says won’t win friends anywhere else.

Dairy farmers were being held responsible for greenhouse gas emissions that the could do little about without reducing food production, he said.

“This election is about … the right of farmers to continue to produce food for the world and revenue for this nation”.

It may be for the minority who are farmers, but I suspect it’s not for most other people.

He said dairy farmers were being attacked because they are:

* paid the world price for much-needed food;

* seen as privileged for owning dairy farms;

* using water and resources they own to produce food;

* not subsidising the cost of dairy products in NZ supermarkets.

But he questioned how New Zealanders expected to be able to afford to import nearly 60 percent of their food, electronic appliances, vehicles and other consumer goods, if there was no farm produce to sell.

“As a trading nation we have to sell stuff in order to buy stuff,” he said. “What part of this do they not understand?”

Townies should not expect dairy farmers to donate $15 million so that the price of dairy foods sold in NZ can be reduced.

“They want … and they want … but they do not want to pay.” he said.

“Why should farmers have to be better than, more considerate than, more accountable than the rest of New Zealanders?” Mr Brenmuhl said.

“Am I ashamed of success? Not one bit. It is what is desperately needed for New Zealanders to be better off”.

The physical resources that farmers used to produce food did not belong to the Crown, non-government organisations, or to the politicians.

“The land we own is ours for as long as we choose to own it, unless it is stolen by the state,” he said.

 This has already got a negative reaction in a comment on No Minister:

Psycho Milt said…

So for Federated Farmers, this election is about the absolute right of farmers to wreck the environment if there’s increased profit in it for them? And the rest of us don’t get a say in whether our countryside gets turned to shit or not? OK, got that. I’ll be voting Green after all, then.

Of course that isn’t what Feds or Brenmuhl is saying – but the way that he said it provides fuel for those who don’t understand farmers and farmers; and those who believe the green-wash about dirty dairying.

A recent Lincoln University survey  found farming is percieved as contributing more to water pollution than sewage or storm water run-off.

Nearly half the respondents cited farming as one of the main causes of water degradation, followed by sewage and stormwater runoff – the first time those factors had been relegated to second place.

In the previous survey, done in 2004, only about one-quarter of respondents had blamed farming for poor water quality.

Federated Farmers environment spokesman Bruce McNab said many farmers used their streams for household water supplies, so they would not knowingly pollute them.

He said cows were viewed as the enemy of the environment, but noted the increased pressure for food production. The notion that farmers did not care for the environment was not true, he said.

But unfortunately Brenmuhl’s comments only add to the perception that most farmers don’t care for the environment. That perception not only makes it difficult for farmers in New Zealand, it could seriously undermine our reputation in international markets.

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