OPINION: A 'perfect storm', but no rain.
As a former farmer myself, it is my view that the current conditions faced by Hawke's Bay farmers are the worst in 50 years. The drought is unrelenting, hay supplies have been exhausted in the North Island, 50 per cent of the region is under TB movement control, Covid-19 has dramatically slowed killing capacity and sale yards are closed. Some farms also have M. bovis.
Farmers who are used to operating with some isolation are now feeling doubly isolated. They are on their farms working long hours, stressing like their animals to find and supply food while being good husbands, wives, partners, parents, employers and friends. I have been through my share of droughts but none compares to this. It has gone on for too long and we are quickly moving into winter.
I was stunned this week when the government announced a package to help farmers with feed budgeting so they could learn for the future. What an insult to their collective and individual intelligence. So we are going to pay consultants, when what people need is feed and financial support. A novel idea would be to give the Hawke's Bay share of the money to the Hawke's Bay Rural Advisory Group which is doing a great job at this challenging time. Alternatively, give it to Poppy Renton to continue her amazing online work. As we can see she gets things done and does not mind calling people out, with over 2000 followers on her page.
Similarly, it is beyond comprehension that bureaucrats plough full speed ahead in the comfort of their own home and bubble on freshwater reforms, biodiversity strategies and ETS changes, all of which simply add a further handbrake on the productive agriculture economy. They should try walking in a dusty paddock followed by ewes looking for feed.
As if that isn't enough, the Hawke's Bay Regional Council and Federated Farmers sent a polite and very reasoned request to Hon David Parker asking for an extension to the requirements to lodge Resource Consents under Plan Change 6. It was requested that this was done under the State of Emergency Powers currently in force so seemed an ideal solution. Minister Parker declined but the very next week signalled the introduction of new temporary RMA legislation to allow housing and roads to be built more quickly. How completely disingenuous.
So I want to stand up for farmers. They are getting a raw deal and they have been for three years. Blamed for almost all urban ills, without those same people looking in their own backyards. I want to be very clear that farmers will lead us out of the Post Covid-19 recession because the world wants what we grow. We are the best in the world at it.
What we should be doing is:
1. Delaying for two years, any work on freshwater reform, biodiversity strategies and ETS changes.
2. Funding a comprehensive nationwide solution to water storage for irrigation, electricity and urban supplies.
3. Funding a major expansion of our export strategy.
4. Funding feed not consultants.
In these times it has never been clearer that we need to back our farmers. We need to make them champions for how good they are. We need to trust that they love and respect their land, animals and environment. They are self-reliant, willing to embrace new technology and hard working. They love their farms like their family.
So when you have the freedom from lockdown under level 2 respect the fact that they are grazing the roadside, carrying feed on the road or shifting animals. These things are not by choice, but by necessity. If you get held up for a few minutes, be patient, smile and ask how they are. Many are feeling very stressed and isolated.
How you relate to them will make a difference.
Lawrence Yule is the National Party MP for Tukituki