The Taranaki region has not had a Covid-19 case reported since April, some five months ago. So it was music to my ears when the Prime Minister confirmed we would be dropping down to alert level 1 and the restrictions on gatherings and on our movements were effectively returning to normal. This is a critical component of economic recovery for New Zealand and the preservation of thousands of Kiwi jobs across all sectors.
At a local level we have been shielded somewhat from the negative financial impact of Covid-19 because our regional economy is largely comprised of the agricultural sector, which soldiered on without hassle throughout the crisis. Not that they haven't had some difficulties of their own, but farmers are a resilient bunch and have faced adversity before.
I wonder then, why they have become the favourite whipping boys for what seems like everything that is wrong in this country, especially around environmental issues. Activists, politicians and political parties continue to take cheap shots at the very industry that in reality, has kept the country afloat over the last six months. Trying to kill the goose that is laying the golden egg is just plain madness in my mind.
The image of farmers acting irresponsibly is often presented by lobby groups and politicians who connive to use selected images or incidents to promote their cause. The changes to the freshwater regulations is a current example. Every few days, especially in the coming summer months, we will see video footage of hand-picked examples of slow-flowing drains and ponds with dirty water and algae growth, not the image we enjoy. Damn farmers, they will say! But I can guarantee we won't see the equivalent images of raw human sewage mixed with stormwater flowing into the harbours or on to the beaches of Auckland, although it certainly happens. Damn urban dwellers, they won't say!
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There is a massive disconnect between the reality of what goes into good farming practices, especially dairying, and what city dwellers think might happen. The compliance rules and associated costs are enormous, the science being applied across the sector is incredible and the desire to have a sustainable industry is overwhelming. If New Zealand is to truly have a future as a leading food producer to the world, we should be looking to support and encourage farmers to lead the way to success. Continuously knocking them is not the answer.
Diversifying the food-producing sector in Taranaki is one of the key actions in our regional economic development plan and was included long before we were struck by the Covid-19 pandemic. The development of new foods has huge potential in this region as we transition away from some of the traditional industries like oil and gas - farmers will remain the mainstay of our regional economy.
So on behalf of all of us in the district, I would like to say a genuine thank you to all involved in our vital agriculture sector, you do a damn good job.