For a small country New Zealand has certainly seen its share of protests. In fact, we have quite a legacy in this regard; the 1912 Waihi miners' strike, the waterfront disputes of 1913 and 1951, Vietnam protests, the Rainbow Warrior, Bastion Point and the Springbok Tour, to name but a few of the nation's most violent and notorious episodes.

Even the farming sector has featured over the years, most notably in 1978 when Southland farmers protested against the industrial chaos in the meat industry by painting Invercargill's town centre red with the blood of slaughtered sheep.

National MP Shane Ardern also got great coverage back in 2003 after driving an elderly tractor called Myrtle up the steps of Parliament as part of a protest against the proposed 'fart tax'.

So it was with a tinge of expectation and then ultimately disappointment that I watched the farmer protest at Morrinsville on Monday. The impetus for the rally was, to quote organiser Lloyd Downing, "farmers are sick of getting a bad rap".


It seems some in the rural sector are tired of being blamed for all the environmental issues we face as a nation. Mr Downing also said it was to highlight the positive things about farming and how urban New Zealand relied on agriculture.

I kept an eye out for some fireworks via a live stream of the event, but alas, there was no spark to ignite the powder keg. The most interesting part was when Winston Peters, the only political leader to bother turning up, was booed by a section of the audience when he took the microphone to address the crowd.

All in all it was a rather damp squib and reeked of the political rather than the social - it certainly didn't seem to highlight the positive things about farming, the kind of things you might see at a field days event, for example.

Whether the protest achieved its aim or not, there are genuine grievances in rural New Zealand and there is a chasm between them and their urban counterparts. As Steve Maharey explained on The Country this week, there has been a city/country divide since the 1980s with deregulation and the subsequent depopulation of rural New Zealand.

The former Labour Cabinet Minister and former Massey University vice-chancellor is of the belief it was at its sharpest in the 80s and certainly left a legacy, but it's not as bad as some people are making it out to be now.

It may sound slightly absurd, but some city kids are still of the belief that food originates in supermarkets; for a country that generates over half of its export value from the land and sea this is an appalling lack of awareness and national identity. Without our export earnings we're toast as a nation.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters speaks to farmers during a rally held in Morrinsville on Monday. Photo/Alan Gibson
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters speaks to farmers during a rally held in Morrinsville on Monday. Photo/Alan Gibson

By way of bridging the gap, Maharey proposes New Zealand become more of a 'food nation' rather than just a farming or agricultural nation.

If farmers are considered to be simply a part of a food industry that includes urban processors and marketers, for example, then the profession will be a lot more palatable for those outside it.


However it happens, education is the key to getting there. A political rally under the guise of a social protest with a whole lot of preaching to the converted should probably be consigned to the history books.