A couple of years ago, almost to the day, I wrote a column calling for there to be a Cockietober - a month to celebrate farmers and their invaluable contribution to the economy.
I felt, back in 2017, that farmers had got a rough ride during the election campaign, and that farmers were getting it in the neck unfairly. They were being blamed for the poor water quality in New Zealand despite the fact that city dwellers are letting literal and metaphorical crap flow into their harbours and rivers. They were being told how to manage their stock by people who'd never set foot on a farm. They were told they didn't pay their workers enough, they were being told they were destroying the planet by providing milk and meat for consumers, they were told they mistreated their animals.
I thought things were bad two years ago. But it appears things have got much, much worse.
In an open letter to the nation, BakerAg, a rural business consultancy firm, has called for people to get in behind our rural community. Director Chris Garland says morale among the company's farming clients is as low now as it was in the Rogernomics years of the late 80s and during the GFC. The difference, says Garland, is that in those earlier years, farmers still felt valued by the NZ public.
Garland puts the blame fairly and squarely on the government's approach to environmental policy for undermining the mental health and wellbeing of the pastoral sector. And he says they have contributed strongly toward turning the public against farming. This in turn has had a severe impact on farmers' self-esteem and on their ability to cope with a rapidly changing policy environment.
The farmers who rang and emailed my show this week confirmed everything Chris Garland says. A number of them said they didn't tell people what they did anymore as they felt ashamed to be farmers and fearful of what strangers might say to them when they disclosed what they did for a living.
The anguish and despair in their voices was real and I really feel for them. They're not in business to destroy the environment. It's in their best interests to work with the land and not against it. Most of them have already undertaken fencing and planting at considerable expense but they feel the Zero Carbon Bill and the National Freshwater Policy Statement are forcing them up against the wall.
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Submissions have been called for the Freshwater Policy but the time frame for those submissions is over the busiest time in the farming calendar - coincidence? As a cynical journalist, I think not.
A lot of the farmers who wrote to me said they wanted to get out of the business but no one wanted to buy their farms. Former Federated Farmers president Owen Jennings rang in and said this government was going too far, too fast and farmers simply couldn't keep up.
And that sentiment was echoed by a number of other farmers - yes, in principle, they agreed with the freshwater policy but the time frame for compliance was far too short.
For me, it was South Island farmer Sean Portegys who articulated best what so many farmers are feeling - he told me that in a drought, you don't despair because it's always going to rain. In a snowstorm, the sun will come out eventually. When prices are bad, and he said they'd just gone through a rough patch a few years ago, it's always going to come right eventually. The problem is now, he said, the situation that farmers are facing is a lack of hope. He says he just doesn't see a future in what he's doing. And if farmers don't see a future, then the future of New Zealand Inc looks bleak.