COMMENT:

There's a really interesting political play going on for the hearts and minds of New Zealand farmers. And it would appear Labour, with David Parker and Damien O'Connor leading the charge, is not winning too many of those hearts and minds.

You can forget about the Greens. With the exception of James Shaw they have no "paddock cred". The likes of your Chloe Swarbricks would happily ban farming as we know it, and retrain cockies to be zombie extras on the latest James Cameron movie. After all, according to Chloe, who needs the sunset industry of farming when you have a flourishing movie and tourism sector?

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And we all know tourism has bugger all of a carbon footprint compared to the evil belching ruminants that pervade our pastoral landscape. Yeah right!

And we all know that well-known Wairarapa farmer Jimmy Cameron has an equally small carbon footprint as he jets between Hollywood and Wellywood, pausing only briefly to piously preach to us about evils of farming animals. Yeah right!

Whether or not they deserve it, the Nats have long had the core farming constituency in their pocket, probably since the days since Kiwi Keith Holyoake wore short pants. Farmers appear to like agriculture spokesman Todd Muller's rhetoric on climate change and water, even though some are none too chuffed with Simon signing up for Zero Carbon. There is even talk out in the back blocks of a tactical vote for David Seymour and Act. However, that's probably just an act of cannibalising the right-of-centre vote.

The elephants in the room are Winston and his mate Shane (no size-ist pun intended). The latter did himself no favours with the "rednecks" comment but cunning old Winnie has yet to show his hand on the likes of the Government's controversial Essential Fresh Water Plan. If he escapes the NZ First Foundation fiasco, I'd expect him to awaken from his slumber around about March, when the deal is likely to be done over water, and just in time for the run into a spring 2020 election.

No one plays the saviour better than Winston. To his credit he's smart enough, and has certainly been around long enough, to know the paramount importance of the primary sector to the Kiwi economy. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of some of the other drones in the Beehive.

Total export prices rose 1.9 per cent in the September 2019 quarter to their highest level in over 10 years, while import prices remained flat, which is great for our balance of trade. Both lamb and beef prices are at their highest-ever levels.

Admittedly, this higher demand for meat is largely due to the African swine fever (ASF) outbreak in China, which is decimating the pig population, resulting in reduced pork supplies being substituted with meat protein alternatives. But hey, every ASF cloud has its silver lining with the notable exception of your Xmas ham or bacon buttie.

Putting aside falling forestry prices (albeit coming off a real high) and the dog with fleas that is strong wool, things have never been better price-wise. Dairy product prices rose 8.9 per cent in the September 2019 quarter, with a $7.50 milk price on the cards this season. Horticulture continues to blossom. Throw in record low interest rates and an export-friendly exchange rate and it should be happy hour down on the farm.

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So why are farmers so down in the dumps, feeling like whipping boys, like they're constantly being kicked in the guts? Is it because farmers are moaners? After all they never stop moaning about the weather, prices and the government of the day.

I've met very few farmers who don't love their land. Photo / NZME
I've met very few farmers who don't love their land. Photo / NZME

No. I'll tell you why farmer confidence levels are at near record lows. It's because they're not feeling the love from the Government.

No one would argue Jacinda's not a genuinely empathetic and caring person. But does she really care? When push comes to shove and there's an election on the line, is her natural constituency the urban, liberal, RNZ-listening, beltway of Wellington? Or is it the provincial heartland of the likes of Morrinsville where she grew up, "worked in the fish and chip shop and bunked off school to go to Fieldays"?

There's an old adage that farmers make more money under a Labour government (but don't say that to Winston because he'll bite your head off and tell you this is a Labour/NZ First Government). A quick flick through the history books might suggest this has some credence, with the obvious exception of the Lange government and Rogernomics.

It was a brutal time to be a farmer. I know, because I was a 25 year old with debt up to his eyeballs who suddenly discovered his mortgage was greater than the worth of his ever-decreasing-in-value farm. But I survived. And farming was eventually the better for the bitter pill Roger Douglas forced down our throats.

Three-and-a-half decades later and the issues of the day are no longer the removal of farm subsidies, crashing commodity prices, hyper-inflation and interest rates in excess of 20 per cent. Today's challenges are climate change, reaching zero carbon, water reforms and farming sustainably into the future under much tougher environmental constraints.

I've met very few farmers who don't love their land. Like any subset of the population there are those who let the team down. Let's come down hard on them. I reckon that's about 5 per cent in any walk of life. So, using that theory, in a Parliament of 120 that's only six who are a waste of space? [Maybe, in hindsight, I need to revisit that figure?].

I reckon what is not genuinely understood by urban New Zealand is that farmers are on board with these challenges and the need for change. Their livelihoods depend on it. We survived and eventually thrived after Rogernomics. With a carrot, not a stick, farmers can do likewise with the current reforms. We all agree on the end goal. The only debate is how we get there and how long it will take.

The primary sector is still the key economic driver of our economy, so let's not throw out the baby with the bath [fresh] water. Hug a farmer. Remember, that's where your next feed is coming from!

Jamie Mackay hosts "The Country" weekdays noon-1pm on Radio Sport, Newstalk ZB, Hokonui & online via iHeartRadio.