Comment: Katie Milne reflects on her time as president of Federated Farmers.

Three years after I was given the privilege of representing Federated Farmers as national President, what can I say but – what a ride!!

The role comes with highs and lows not to mention a shed-load of calls from journalists, but overall it has been immensely satisfying.

One of the goals I set myself when I started out was to grab whatever opportunities I could to help bridge the perceived lack of understanding – even loss of trust – between urban and rural New Zealanders compared to just a decade or two ago.


I wanted to highlight for all Kiwis the challenges and triumphs of our farmers and growers.

I think we've made excellent progress bringing town and country to a better understanding of each other.

Over the last three years Federated Farmers has used the phrase "we're all in this together" so well, and so often, as we've debated everything from global warming and water quality to biodiversity and job security, that people have recognised the truth of it.

Even town folk who no longer have any direct family connection to a farm have a better appreciation of what farmers are up against to make a living when they're hammered by weather events, pest and disease incursions, and roller-coaster returns from an increasingly protectionist international marketplace.

Hopefully the message that we are producing some of the world's best and safest food, to the best of our ability while looking after the environment, given the current tools, knowledge and resources we have available, is finally getting through.

We will be able to do even better when we get properly digitally connected in all parts of rural New Zealand.

Our farming colleagues in the most impoverished countries in many cases have better access to tech through smart phones than our rolling country does, or even parts of the flat Canterbury plains.

It is ridiculous that many of my on-farm audits still require me to print out or hand write on paper forms the data that my dairy company, vet or fertiliser rep stores in the cloud.


There are other new technologies that need to be explored as we strive to feed rising populations.

The nation still has not had the debate around GM technology in such a way that people understand what it is and what it isn't.

Discussing the opportunities around gene editing vs transgenics, with explanations of what they actually mean, would be a good start.

If we can get grasses out the door of the lab and into the ground that grow well with less fertiliser inputs then we won't be faced with the sort of regulation now being proposed that will potentially destroy the ability to farm efficiently and productively in many parts of the country.

Halfway through my term it looked like Mycoplasma bovis was going to be the issue that would provide the biggest headache and heartache for our farmers.

We're still on that bold and world-leading eradication effort, and there's no doubt M. bovis is continuing to take a toll on many farming families.


But who knew that this year we'd all face an even more destructive disease – one that has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the world.

Farmers – like all New Zealanders – now have the unnerving prospect of waiting out how much destruction the pandemic will ultimately wreak on global financial and trade systems, never mind paying back the billions of dollars we've had to borrow.

But Covid-19 perversely delivered a silver lining for agriculture in helping raise the awareness as to just how valuable our farming families are to the NZ economy.

We were deemed an essential service during the lockdown, able to offer security in a world turned upside as we continued producing top quality food to put on the tables of Kiwi families self-isolating in their household bubbles, and continued to earn export revenue.

For farmers feeling misunderstood and under-appreciated, it's been a real confidence booster.

From day one, I was never really that comfortable with the focus that the media took that I was the first female President in the organisation's 120 history.


I went with it, because it was an angle that won us air time and newspaper column centimetres but I have always believed that in Federated Farmers leadership, the right question is "what can you offer the organisation?", not "what's your gender?".

Nevertheless, I think having women among our leadership team, at national and provincial level, is a good reminder to the rest of New Zealand that our agriculture has long been underpinned by couples working together, each bringing their own perspectives and strengths and neither being more important than the other.

It's useful to remind the rest of the country by having men and women – all working farmers - speaking for the organisation that those old newsreels of men out on the land on machinery and women confined to baking scones for the shearers is pre-war history - and even then it was a stereotype rather than the truth.

I know the new president, Manawatu dairy farmer Andrew Hoggard, and the new board have the drive, talent and experience to ensure Federated Farmers remains a vital and valuable "voice for New Zealand farmers".