Federated Farmers national president Katie Milne believes there is real momentum building for farming — "and in the right way".

The straight-talking West Coast dairy farmer — who last year broke a 118-year history of male leadership of the rural lobby organisation — has been at the Southern Field Days in Waimumu this week.

Joking that she had left her partner unsupervised around the many machinery sites, she helped a Federated Farmers team to victory over FMG in a tug-o-war competition.

Ms Milne, who is known for her down-to-earth and no-nonsense approach, said the leadership role was "really exciting" and it was a privilege to be a voice for farmers. While she knew it was a big job, it had surprised her the places that she ended up and the people she had met.

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It had been somewhat of a baptism by fire, with the general election being held straight after she came into the role.

Agriculture was the "political football of the day" and it was disappointing to see some of the misleading statements that had been made.

However, now the election was over, she believed momentum was building and people were becoming more aware, through the work of Federated Farmers and others, that farmers were "part of New Zealand and we want to get things right".

A lot more was understood now than 20 or 30 years ago about what farming did to the environment, including aspects such as water quality.

There had been a lot of change and there was more to learn, but people were starting to see that farmers were genuine with those things. Knowledge was power and science was the key to helping with that, she said.

Despite some media coverage, there had been a "hell of a lot of improvements" made with water quality in many areas.

At the moment, the cattle bacterial disease Mycoplasma bovis was a real frustration that had "everyone clinging to the edge of their seats" as to where it was going to go.

Understanding how widely it had spread had been a lot slower than wanted but bulk milk testing now under way would give a bigger picture, she said.

Ms Milne had some urban visitors with her at Southern Field Days and they were "just awestruck", as they had not realised the amount of technology and the sophistication of the equipment involved in farming.

"It raised their respect for farmers no end, just having a slight insight . . . how complex it is and how amazing farmers are. They just thought we poke some cows out in the paddock and they do their thing."