Farmers have come under fire this week from MP Shane Jones, who says they need to stop "bitching and moaning". Jones launched into farmers while talking to host Jamie Mackay on The Country yesterday. But what do farmers say in response? Mackay catches up with one of Jones' targets, Federated Farmers president Katie Milne, who says the urban/rural divide has damaged people's opinions of farmers.

"I don't like the term 'whingeing'," says Katie Milne. "But we do like to highlight and try to talk to the issues that do affect us that people do have control over."

The Federated Farmers president is responding to claims from the Minister of Forestry and Regional Economic Development Shane Jones that farmers are moaners.

Interviewing Milne, The Country host Jamie Mackay points out that farmers have to deal with those things they can't control - weather, exchange rates, international commodity prices ... "all those things can go against you at the drop of the hat".


"Yet if you're a townie and you're in a salaried position, you wander in to work at 8:30, you wander out at 5 o'clock – you get paid the same, not matter what happens in the course of your day," he says.

Minister of Forestry and Regional Economic Development Shane Jones. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Minister of Forestry and Regional Economic Development Shane Jones. Photo / Mark Mitchell

"Yeah exactly," says Milne. "We can't do anything about the weather and other things like that. But policies ... from government and the Reserve Bank and things like that we want to try to have some say on.

"And, of course, if it's going our way, no one wants to come and ask us how good it's going, but they always come and ask us for a media comment when things are bad. If it bleeds it leads.

"So probably from a New Zealand public point of view, they hear more from us when things are not going our way, than when they're going good."

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She agrees with Mackay's assertion that the only time farming's in the mainstream media is for bad news stories.

"That's right. That's the problem. I mean you get Country Calendar and everyone likes to watch that but it's just bloody near impossible for us to get into mainstream media.

"I got in a few magazines and had a fair few interviews when I got elected because I was a novelty.

"Media did know that I was a woman," she says in a jibe at Jones. "So they were interested as president of Feds, but that died off pretty quick when we got the political football we became around the election time, which was really sad."

Jones yesterday referred to the head of Federated Farmers as a "he".

Milne says the mainstream media and the general population are not really interested in their food producers any more. "Unless there's some disaster that happens or someone's really nasty to an animal or something like that."

She says a lot of people say there isn't but there is an urban/rural divide "and it's a natural occurrence because people are now removed from producing their own food".

Listen to the full interview below:

"Food is so easily got hold of these days in supermarkets or whatever, and it's cheap. [It] doesn't have the value to it that it actually needs to get people to understand that it's hard to produce and all the rest of it, you know. We work hard to do that for people."

Milne says she's been encouraging farmers to get people out on their farms.

"And a lot of them who are doing that, the kids love it. And the parents - if they come too - they're loving it as well. And we mustn't forget that's what we had the privilege of when we were kids and going to different types of farm. Even if you were from a farm – you went to cuzzies and saw someone else's type – that's one of the keys to it.

"And it also goes for our officials. We're trying to get more officials out onto farms to have a look – and MPs. And when they get out there it's surprising what they discover – they love it.

"And they go 'Actually I can see now how hard you are trying. I can see probably some things that I think you should do differently' with lack of understanding and that's fine, but it's great to get that perspective on the ground both ways and have a conversation."