Thousands throng Mystery Creek as sector proves its resilience.

"I bought a tractor," the guy in the green Swanndri and shorts shouts down his phone from the back of the lunchtime queue for burgers at Fieldays.

He's feeling upbeat and he's not alone. The message coming out of Mystery Creek, near Hamilton, this year has been loud and clear. If you're looking for the agri-pocolypse you've come to the wrong place.

The crowds are strong, the weather is clear, spending is solid and farmers are in much better heart than many expected.

Attendance numbers look set to go close to, if not past, all time records.


The emphasis from the top - be it the Fieldays CEO, Minister of Primary Industries, the banks, Fonterra or Federated Farmers - is one of innovation, flexibility and resilience.

Dairy farmers, we are told, are hanging tough and adjusting fast to the new price paradigm. ANZ numbers show dairy farmers cutting as much as 30 per cent of their expenditure as they focus on costs. But the rest of the agriculture sector has been picking up the slack.

New figures from the Ministry of Primary Industries this week forecast total agricultural export revenue will be up by $1 billion in the year to June 30 to $36.7 billion, from the same period last year. The dollar isn't coming to the rescue and no one expects dairy prices to return to recent peaks. So the break-even point for dairy farmers must come down - and it will.

There might not be as much spending on big ticket items, like new milking sheds, but anything that provides efficiency gains and reduces long-term costs is going to be on the radar.

There's also plenty of talk about a growing level of entrepreneurship amongst some farmers. Like other sectors of the economy they are responding to the disruption of their market with new ideas. For some it is alternate uses for all or part of their land such as manuka honey production, goat milk, organics.

For others it is tech efficiencies.

Exhibits for Spark, Vodafone and Xero are packed and many farmers are looking to employ new tools to minimise costs and maximise revenue.

The big question is whether Fieldays still provides an accurate barometer for NZ's agriculture sector and by proxy the wider economy.

The event is well run and marketed. It is the Big Day Out for farmers. Nobody has come here for a bad time, even those who may have dark clouds of debt building in the background.

There's also plenty of talk about a growing level of entrepreneurship amongst some farmers.


The major banks have a big presence and go out of their way to create a welcoming, family-friendly environment. They are all adamant that they won't be pulling the plug on heavily-mortgaged farms anytime soon. The big unknown is how long prices stay down and how long the banks can hold the line.

Fieldays is also a big deal for thousands of non-farmers from Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga and around the region.

As the wealth effect of rising house prices spreads down the country it is providing a timely economic buoyancy which will translate to good returns for lifestyle exhibitors selling everything from cars, boats and garden sheds to outdoor wear and artisan foods.

It is also worth noting that dairy farmers in this part of the country are amongst the most established, often with lower debts and land that can be worked harder than the more marginal conversions in places like Canterbury and Northland.

Latest GDP figures show annual growth of 2.4 per cent for the year to March 31.

With that growth being led by migration gains, tourism, construction and the housing wealth effect, parts of the economy have to be in, or near, recession.

Even accounting for the risk of being caught by the hype, the atmosphere at Fieldays 2016 doesn't reflect the kind of recessionary feel that you might have in a drought year.

Still, Prime Minister John Key's biggest PR function at Mystery Creek yesterday provided a sobering reminder that there are other stories out there in the rural community right now.

In between a walkabout of exhibits the Prime Minister announced that $600,000 will be spent on rural mental health services, including suicide prevention workshops.