Friday, 06 October 2017 12:55

Better communication will help bridge rural/urban divide

Written by  Hayden Dillon
Hayden Dillon. Hayden Dillon.

The farming community needs to step up to help lessen the rift between city and country. 

I believe the debates during the course of the recent election campaign oversimplified some issues that are core to the agri sector, such as water and soil quality. These have created divisions that are not helping New Zealand move forward.

As with many complex issues, the rush to simplify the discussions and debate has seen farming, in particular dairying, blamed for many of our environmental problems.

That’s simply not correct.

The nature of election battles means complex areas are reduced to headline-grabbing one-liners that don’t reflect the detail of what is happening behind the scenes.

Many farmers feel the entire agri sector has been tarred with a brush of negative stories about a minority of farmers perpetrating bad practices. And there were the proposed water tax and soil quality claims raised during the election.

Farmers are feeling that the average city person views farming, dairying in particular, as a bad industry and is unaware of the work going on behind the scenes.

I am not sure city dwellers realise that under the Dairy Water Accord, for example, dairy farms have fenced off 97% of waterways and 83% of the industry now have nitrogen budgets. The National Water Policy Statement, which has set a target of 90% swimmable rivers by 2040, also sets out the rules for regional councils to comply with.

Around the country, regional councils are now well underway to achieving the targets on how much nitrogen and phosphorus can go into waterways.

A number of the larger councils, such as ECAN and Horizons, already have these in place. Others are not far behind with their nutrient management plans.

The communication landscape is not going to become any easier. Rural NZ needs to completely rethink how to communicate the key messages.

They must galvanise resources and do a better job of telling the story.

The business challenges for rural NZ are now greater than ever and farmers need public discussions to reflect the full facts. The communication challenge is to start having conversations about the reality of farming, across-the-board.

The quality of water, soil and the environment are major issues and to solve them, without destroying NZ’s largest revenue earner in the process, will take co-operation, thoughtful policy and a willingness by all parties to achieve a goal.

That is already underway, but it’s not being communicated widely enough.

•  Hayden Dillon is managing partner and agri specialist at Crowe Horwath.


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