Wednesday, 02 October 2019 07:55

Don’t whinge, embrace opportunities

Written by  Staff Reporters
Ngatea farmer Mark Townshend. Ngatea farmer Mark Townshend.

Successful dairy farmer Mark Townshend has a message for young New Zealand farmers: don’t feel sorry for yourself, just embrace the changes.

He says the opportunities are very good for those resilient enough to take them. 

“Product prices are good, land and livestock assets are at lower values and interest rates very low. The cash yields for good dairy farmers today are very attractive,” he said. 

Townshend points out food producers worldwide are coming under societal pressures. 

“In every decade in which widespread starvation [is seen as having occurred] further back in history, the general population takes food for granted. 

“While dairy is the big whipping boy in NZ, in other countries it is corn, soy, palm oil, goats, pigs or chicken. 

“The biggest agri player in any country tends to be the biggest target in that country. Pressures on NZ dairy today are significant, but not rare, in our materialistic world.”

He gives examples of challenges faced by previous generations: the great depression of the 1930s was far worse than the pressures of today.Those who managed to keep their farms through the depression, it was so severe, they were damaged for life with regard to taking calculated risks and taking on bank debt.   

After WW2, he says, farmers struggled on in a glorified subsistence way of life where milk income had to be supported by gardens and chickens. 

“With moderate milk revenues and far less sophisticated farming technologies available, this was a challenging period.  Many of the farmers of that period were irreparably damaged by war experiences.” 

He says through the late 1960s and 70s, NZ dairy farmers were questioning whether they had a future as our traditional market, Britain, was working through joining the EU.  NZ dairy was then trading in only half a dozen dairy products with half a dozen countries. 

And in the late 1980s, NZ farmers were faced with interest rates of up to 20% and the restructuring of farming as we knew it as subsidised funding and growth disappeared. 

“We had a prime minister who, on peak time television, said NZ sheep and dairy farmers were getting what they deserved because they had not diversified into angora goats, deer or kiwifruit. 

“The young and resilient farmers of that time have been financially very well rewarded for their perseverance and efforts over the last 20-30 years.

“Looking back at historic challenges, this does not seem a very good time for NZ dairy farmers to sit back and feel sorry for themselves. Every 20-30 years the dairy industry has hit a stumble, adapted and then thrived”.

“The opportunities are very good for those resilient enough to take them.  Product prices are good, land and livestock assets are at lower values and interest rates very low.   The cash yields for good dairy farmers today are very attractive.”

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