The urban/rural divide. Is it as wide and deep as the Grand Canyon? Or just a small hop across a watercress-filled ditch? Let's explore.

Ten days to go and what does National do when they're anxious about losing power? Why, play to their rural base of course.

There's a theme, and a meme, emerging. It goes exactly like this: "This election there is a clear divide between those that want to work with farmers and those that want to punish them."

National, along with their Siamese twins Federated Farmers, are pushing the notion that the so-called "rural/urban divide" is dire, while also ensuring it couldn't be wider. Why? Because it ensures the chip on farmers' collective shoulders is as weighty as possible. The current government wants them to feel as hard done by and as misunderstood as can be.


Rarking up the rural base is their comfort zone. By structuring their messaging directly to farmers, they are attempting to cream every last vote from a sector that, deep down, knows that it too is on the ropes. Maybe they'll even score a sympathy vote or two from those who still hold on to some misty-eyed idea that farming is still all family-run, and the fields are green due to rain.

This crude attempt to highlight the "rural/urban divide" is, in reality, a one-sided affair. Farmers seriously think that know-nothing townies are lining up to strip them of their livelihood; their rugged essence. They see their place in the world as exalted and beyond question.

So, what happens if you do question farmers on any environmental issue? Take water quality. Simple. It's a rapid result - and a predictable one. You are labelled "anti-farming". That's it. Black and white. A slam dunk. End of discussion.

And that's the point, of course. Nothing shuts down dialogue faster than a label. Except it doesn't work on me - given my farming background, and it no longer really flies with your average non-farming New Zealander either.

For nine years we've all watched the waterways go rapidly downhill, and the rhetoric from industry push the proverbial uphill, and our patience has run out. The public have reached peak bulls*** detection and are well and truly over farmers' "beyond criticism" status. Now, they're also about to decide farmers' future through this quaint mechanism called democracy.

That future looks like a bit of a correction. They will be forced, under a new government, to pay for a fraction of their pollution via a water royalty, and pay for a contribution to their massive carbon footprint via the Emissions Trading Scheme. Oh, lord. Give them strength.

Instead of hearing what the public wants - that is, clean water, fewer cows, no more dairy conversions, and an end to irrigation schemes - they choose to put their energy into flailing and fighting the inevitable. Stuffed full of false promises from their industry leaders, and their National buddies, they thrash about like dying fish at the bottom of a polluted, dried-out riverbed. It's ugly to watch.

The interminable Fonterra adverts, DairyNZ taking Greenpeace to the Advertising Standards Authority (and losing) over their TV ad, cockies drinking from streams as if that proves anything other than low IQ, Federated Farmers blaming trout and Canada geese for water pollution. The list is long and has only served to harden the heart of even the kindest, most patient voter.


Watch closely for the next phase of the campaign. You will see National delivering a full-on offensive designed to fire up the farming base, and get the electorate to feel deep sympathy for the farmers' plight. They will pull out all the stops. It'll be pitiable, tone-deaf and wretched. It will sure as hell backfire.

But back to the rural/urban divide. It suits the ag industry to ham it up, play on it, use it. And because of that, they've effectively made it worse.

I doubt it even existed prior to the establishment of Fonterra in 2001. But, since then, the divide has widened incrementally with each cow, each polluted river, each denial of farming's role in any of it.

I was invited to speak to a Federated Farmers provincial AGM last year, and suggested that they might like to think about their messaging; about maybe front-footing the changes that were clearly coming. I talked synthetic milk and plant-based meat products, and how sheer human numbers on the planet means it's a certainty.

For my time, I received unreserved disrespect via turned backs and spurned handshakes. A year on, I wonder if those in the room that day have ever stopped to reflect on even one word I said.

Brace yourself for more of this as we head into the final days of the election. The message is this: Farmers are suffering, but the environment is not.