11th September 2019
OPEN LETTER TO:
The Prime Minister: Jacinda Ardern
Minister for the Environment: David Parker
Minister of Primary Industries: Damien O’Connor
Minister of Health: David Clark
BakerAg NZ Ltd has been providing business consultancy to the rural sector for over 35 years. Morale among our farming clients is now as low now as it was in the Rogernomics years of the late 80’s and during the GFC. The difference in those earlier years, is that farmers still felt valued by the NZ public.
This government’s approach to environmental policy is undermining the mental health and well-being of the pastoral sector. Government has contributed strongly toward turning the NZ public against farming, which has had a severe impact on farmers’ self-esteem and on their ability to cope with a rapidly changing policy environment.
As examples, the Zero Carbon Bill and the National Freshwater Policy Statement are having a profound impact on the pastoral industry, which has compounded over a short period of time.
The terms of trade in the sheep and beef sector are some of the most buoyant seen for the last 20 years, yet there is a malaise among these farmers that emanates from a sense of worthlessness. The dairy industry is struggling to recover from a three-year downturn, it’s had the M. Bovis outbreak to deal with and is now seeing a withdrawal of support from the finance sector.
How does the government expect to achieve behaviour change from constituents who are dejected and feel alienated from society? Ministry of Health statistics confirm that mental health in the rural sector has deteriorated significantly over the last five years. The government must understand that its own actions are exacerbating this decline.
It’s a sad situation that some of the governments $1.9 B investment into NZ’s mental health will be needed to counter the impact that this government has had on farmers’ mental state. One of the leading initiatives of the Wellbeing Budget is to “Take Mental Health Seriously.” This Government’s actions are having a negative effect on the mental health of a large section of the community.
Farmers are not environmental vandals. They are a business sector that has found itself at the centre of a maelstrom of environmental concern. Most of these concerns around water quality and greenhouse gas emissions are legitimate. But farmers didn’t set out to deliberately degrade water quality or to produce GHGs. These are unintended consequences of their business activity, which until recent years, had been wholly endorsed by the nation. It took 150 years to get to this position. It will take more than five years to achieve environmental sustainability.
One of farmers’ greatest attributes is that they are problem solvers. Give them a problem and some tools, and they will find a way to fix that problem. It’s this ingenuity that has made NZ farming some of the most efficient in the world. The food they produce is regarded as being of the highest quality throughout the world.
Farmers now recognise that there is a problem with the environmental impact of their activities. They want to fix this. But they are not being given an opportunity to find their own solutions. Instead they have been subject to a relentless dialogue of rhetoric, regulation and rejection.
The farming community has not been recognised for the positive efforts that a great many land owners have gone to mitigate their environmental impact. The negative public view of the sector has been influenced by government dialogue. This is not the way to change behaviour or effect policy.
If this government is genuine about improving mental health and genuine about motivating farmers to address environmental issues in their industry, it should:
- Give landowners credit for the progress that has already been achieved in environmental management (exemplified by Ballance Environmental Awards competition, the Ahuwhenua Trophy, QE II and Nga Whenua Rahui covenants, and Country Calendar subjects).
- Acknowledge that there is an environmental conscience in the farming sector.
- Provide balance in the accountability message: urban, industrial, domestic, pastoral.
- Acknowledge that the pastoral sector makes a valuable contribution to the NZ economy.
- Ask the sector how it believes environmental expectations should be met?
- Give the sector an opportunity to develop and implement its own solutions.
- Assist in developing tools and methodology.
- Work with them.
On behalf of BakerAg NZ Ltd