COMMENT:

There are many things that farmers are good at, one of which appears to be voting in local authority elections.

Voting is the most fundamental way of participating in politics, and for us in New Zealand probably the easiest. It is a good indicator of the extent to which citizens are engaged with the institutions and people that govern.

A sad indictment on local government is the low voting rates, nationally at 47 per cent for the 2016 local elections, compared with 77 per cent for the 2017 parliamentary vote.

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But beneath those averages there is a good story about how smaller rural councils have much higher turnouts than the metropolitan ones.

Analysis published by Local Government New Zealand on the previous local elections showed councils such as in Central Hawke's Bay, Central Otago and South Wairarapa enjoyed among the highest percentage voter turnouts, suggesting rural communities are much more engaged with local affairs and what's happening at council.

It's vital that the farming community maintains this effort in 2019; the stakes have never been higher.

We know that farmers are propping up a lot of what provincial local government does with big rates, making the community particularly vulnerable to things like expanding council debt and sudden myth visions of the future funded at the ratepayers' expense.

A lot of rural candidates have good policy recipes that focus on what's realistic and what's actually helpful to people, like maintaining essential services but keeping rate increases near the CPI.

Not at all sensational but those voices of reason in the council chamber can do a lot to contain rates and keep a council focused on what is most needed.

For farm owners, a wise vote is also good for business and should be treated as such.

But above all, vote in these challenging times. Farming needs a voice even at the smallest of tables.

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Nigel Billings is a Federated Farmers senior policy adviser