Friday, 29 May 2020 09:26

Still not understood — Editorial

Written by  Peter Burke
Outgoing Feds President Katie Milne. Outgoing Feds President Katie Milne.

OPINION: It's a sad state of affairs when the President of Federated Farmers is forced to take a swipe at policy wonks in Wellington for their failure to understand one of the pillars of the NZ economy - agriculture.

Why when a nation is essentially a primary producing economy do we have people in high places who probably don’t know the difference between an orchid and a cryptorchid? They might find this out if they decided to order a cryptorchid to decorate the foyer of their minister’s office.

While the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI), whose whole focus is agriculture, generally understands the implications of policy and gets it right, it’s departments on the fringes that don’t. Departments whose policy decisions have often serious and probably unintended consequences for the rural sector. There is, I recall, a system of departments consulting each other on policy, but this doesn’t always work, because in most cases there aren’t ag specialists in every department.

Katie Milne’s comments reinforce the long-held belief that the closest some policy people get to agriculture is to have trim milk in their latte or go to the supermarket, where the meat looks nothing like the animal that provided this food.

Surely the heads of the public service should have some sort of programme to educate policy wonks on the basics of agriculture. It would make sense, save embarrassment and be a win-win situation for everyone.  The public service rightly insists that staff should be culturally aware – why not agriculturally aware?

As a mere journalist I have seen some policy proposals that would better fit in a science fiction novel than in a statute book of law. I have watched friends who do policy for agricultural industry-good organisations blink in disbelief about a policy proposal that is being planned for their sector. 

Some of the proposals at times have a certain political flavour which again defies logic.

This state of affairs has gone on for too long. I have close connections with Ireland, and by and large their government policy people are still connected in some way to the land. And even if farmers disagree with them, at least the policy is based on fact and not fantasy.

Some people in the ag sector are hoping that Covid-19 will sheet home to people the importance of agriculture to NZ and build an interest in people getting to know more about it. It would be great but don’t bet your life savings on this.

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