The concept of appealing to every whim of the consumer has driven our farming mentality to that of the oil business: reap now and pay later. Now we are starting to pay as we scramble towards trying to prove in our dairy business that we are different from the rest, and we are -- but for how long?
As a small family farm in the top of the south, Golden Bay, we have been challenged by cyclone Gita winds and rain, by a water conservation order for Te Waikoropupu Springs, by the demise of the Takaka Hill and the need for our local community to evolve and future-proof ourselves.
To become the first sustainable region in New Zealand, we must look at all aspects of our behaviour; this means defining what is best farming practice here in the Bay, for us all.
Our farming practices must therefore be reflected by our cooperative business operations. We need to be brave as farmers to ensure our cooperative business (as a ‘consumer’) reflects that our milk is socially and environmentally sound and label it so in all forms right to the end of the production chain.
We don’t want to be ‘local and imported product’ branded; we deserve to be ‘NZ Milk’ branded, from whatever co-op. This may mean taking a lesser price and sucking up the margins, but at least we could then say we were truly authentic.
Our world has become shrouded in half-truths and media-spun messages, but individuals who make up communities, who populate regions and countries and continents are starting to push back, to rebel and demand change from the few.
As NZ farmers we also must demand a reining-in to protect our authenticity.
We cannot combat the notion of fake food, fake milk and fake proteins unless we stand out as a compatible model of authentic food production as befits our honest Kiwi personality. We have supplied ourselves for generations with home grown fruit, vegetables, meat and milk and have come to share that with parts of the world. We have supplied them with what we offer and as they have demanded more we have deluded ourselves that we can produce more.
We can only produce from the resources of soil, land and people, that allow us to do so renewably, that makes us sustainable and responsible, and so be the parents of a demanding consumer child.
It’s time to listen to our ancestors, our whakapapa and act honourably towards the ‘fruits’ of our personal labour and demand that all along the supply chain our products are labelled ‘NZ Made’.
• Deborah Rhodes and her husband Tim are dairy farmers in Collingwood, Golden Bay.