Nelson Marlborough Farming - The Future of the Heartland

Columns
Thursday, April 30, 2015

Over 400 farmers and people interested in rural sector issues, gathered at Te Mania on the Conway Flat recently for a full day of presentations from a wide variety of expert farmers, agricultural leaders and politicians, including Prime Minister John Key.

The event was an unqualified success. I was particularly pleased because the day provided the opportunity for farmers to share their experiences and concerns on a range issues as diverse as bio-security, urban misconceptions about rural issues, rules reduction, the RMA as well as local and national government relationships.
Four key issues emerged from the presentations across the day.

Firstly, the need for robust procedures and mechanisms to deal with bio-security issues and threats. Minister Nathan Guy spoke about the efforts being made to keep at the top of our game, given our dependence as a nation on trade and our relatively open borders.

The second issue of concern to many attendees was the general lack of comprehension or understanding of the quiet revolution that has taken place on many farms over recent years. In spite of the adverse publicity which farming, and in particular dairy farming, has received from mainstream media, the rural sector has in fact been quietly proactive- fencing waterways (about 90% of main watercourses are now fenced), replanting natives (the equivalent of the area of Stewart Island) and managing dairy effluent. Good science, coupled with environmental awareness, is part of the move towards long term sustainability and productivity in the sector.

Water and irrigation was another high interest topic for forum members. Speakers dealt with issues of regulatory environments, sustainability, and long term development. This in turn led neatly on to the overall theme of the day – the Future of the Heartland – the rural sector.

Whilst there are areas of real concern, including such things as low numbers of graduates entering the sector and difficulties of ‘passing torch’ to the next generation, overall I felt an underlying sense of optimism, coupled with stoicism and resilience. As people who know and love the land, we understand that in order to stand on mountaintops we must traverse valleys, ridges and gullies. Nothing is ever easy, but the rewards are many.

Te Mania was extremely worthwhile. It was an awesome day and it was great to see so many sectors coming together to map the future of heartland New Zealand.