National is not going to shy away from a fight over polarising issues such as immigration and the environment; particularly if it involves New Zealand's primary sector.

That was obvious at the annual KPMG Business Leaders breakfast at Mystery Creek yesterday.

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy was out to paint the Government as the sector's only true friend.

It was National that was openly defending farmers in an environment where there were rising tensions between the primary sector and its critics. Not its opponents.


The critics were cynics "speaking with forked tongues".

But said Guy, they were "better at communicating than we are."

"We need to be loud and proud - not humble."

This is a major admission by a Cabinet minister. But it was also refreshing to hear the national virtue of humility has its limits.

While Guy was accompanied by a bevy of Cabinet ministers intent on being seen at a time when the election is just 100 days away, he was also self-identifying with the business leaders. He was there not simply as a politician but also as a farmer.

This is smart politics.

Guy had worked up several analogies to underline the sector's contribution to the economy. It was worth about $38 billion in revenue last year and that was predicted to swell by 10 per cent to around $41b in the next year (equivalent to about $9000 for every man, woman and child in NZ according to Guy's back-of-the-envelope numbers).

And it was this revenue which gave the Government the money to spend on primary schools, hospitals, broadband and more. Expect this refrain to occur again and again as the election nears.


Guy had some useful suggestions.

Instead of thinking of themselves as farmers, farmers should consider themselves food producers, champion NZ's precision agriculture developments and take the NZ farm gate story to international supermarkets. This dovetailed with the KPMG Agribusiness Agenda which was also released at the breakfast.

In truth, much of the criticism has really been aimed at the dairy sector.

Guy suggested some politicians had deliberately conflated an aspiration to double the value produced by the sector with doubling the number of cows in New Zealand. He claimed there was more myth-making over plans to clean up NZ's waterways and develop irrigation.

He was not entirely convincing on these latter points. Later speakers suggested the Government's timetable to ensure 90 per cent of NZ's waterways were swimmable by 2040 was not sufficiently aggressive.

Opposition politicians present included Labour's primary industries spokesman, Damien O'Connor, and Greens co-leader James Shaw and Green MP Eugenie Sage.

The KPMG Agribusiness Leaders breakfast is now a must on the Fieldays calendar.

It is an invitation-only affair where KPMG's Ian Proudfoot unveils his annual Agribusiness Agenda. This year's theme was The Recipe for Action.

The mood at the 49th annual Fieldays is a marked contrast to that in recent years.
The cloud of negativity that descended in 2015 as the international dairy commodities slump hit farmers' incomes has now lifted.

There are many terrific examples of NZ ingenuity and clear signs the sector has embraced the future.