“Don’t feel sorry for farmers”

On Rachel Stewart at NZH:  Don’t feel sorry for farmers

The urban/rural divide. Is it as wide and deep as the Grand Canyon? Or just a small hop across a watercress-filled ditch? Let’s explore.

Ten days to go and what does National do when they’re anxious about losing power? Why, play to their rural base of course.

There’s a theme, and a meme, emerging. It goes exactly like this: “This election there is a clear divide between those that want to work with farmers and those that want to punish them.”

National, along with their Siamese twins Federated Farmers, are pushing the notion that the so-called “rural/urban divide” is dire, while also ensuring it couldn’t be wider. Why? Because it ensures the chip on farmers’ collective shoulders is as weighty as possible. The current government wants them to feel as hard done by and as misunderstood as can be.

Rarking up the rural base is their comfort zone. By structuring their messaging directly to farmers, they are attempting to cream every last vote from a sector that, deep down, knows that it too is on the ropes. Maybe they’ll even score a sympathy vote or two from those who still hold on to some misty-eyed idea that farming is still all family-run, and the fields are green due to rain.

This crude attempt to highlight the “rural/urban divide” is, in reality, a one-sided affair. Farmers seriously think that know-nothing townies are lining up to strip them of their livelihood; their rugged essence. They see their place in the world as exalted and beyond question.

…I was invited to speak to a Federated Farmers provincial AGM last year, and suggested that they might like to think about their messaging; about maybe front-footing the changes that were clearly coming. I talked synthetic milk and plant-based meat products, and how sheer human numbers on the planet means it’s a certainty.

For my time, I received unreserved disrespect via turned backs and spurned handshakes. A year on, I wonder if those in the room that day have ever stopped to reflect on even one word I said.

Brace yourself for more of this as we head into the final days of the election. The message is this: Farmers are suffering, but the environment is not.

Chrism56 commented:

Another one of the media bubble latte set puts up a Labour defence about how bad farmers are. She complains about using labels to shut down debate, then does it herself. Just helps drive the last few wavering rural/ provincial votes to National and lower Herald sales.

In her article Stewart referred top ‘National, along with their Siamese twins Federated Farmers’. She had gone further in a tweet in Monday (for some reason she blocks me on Twitter):

 

I think that is quite offensive. If anything like that on Twitter targeted Jacinda Ardern all hell would break loose. The Twitterati didn’t seem to think it was a big deal, although someone reacted:

Stewart describes herself: Columnist, New Zealand Herald. Yet, somehow, so much more.

Other recent NZH columns:

WTO agreement to eliminate agricultural export subsidies

A World Trade Organisation conference in Kenya has agreed to eliminate the ability of WTO members to subsidise their agricultural exports.

This will benefit New Zealand as we are one of the few major agriculture traders who don’t use subsidies.

NZ Herald reports in Export deal will boost dairy prices, Fonterra says.

Fonterra chairman John Wilson said the historic breakthrough would be good news for dairy farmers.

“For years the use – or even the threat – of export subsidies have resulted in world dairy prices below their true level, reducing returns to dairy farmers,” Wilson said.

It should also help with our meat, wool and other agricultural exports.

A World Trade Organisation ministerial conference held in Kenya and attended by New Zealand Trade Minister Todd McClay has agreed on the WTO Nairobi package, which will eliminate the ability of WTO members to subsidise their agricultural exports.

That is an outcome successive New Zealand governments have sought for decades, with trade envoys identifying agricultural subsidies, along with tariffs, as one of the biggest obstacles to free trade.

McClay said it had been illegal to subsidise the exports of industrial goods for more than half a century, and it was a major achievement to have that extended to agriculture.

“This outcome directly benefits New Zealand agricultural exporters who have to compete in some markets with subsidised goods.”

New Zealand has led the way in free trade and has become competitive in an uneven playing field. As the rest of the world moves in the same direction our trade will benefit more.

A survey by the Worldwatch Institute last year showed New Zealand’s largely subsidy-free status was not the norm – and that the top 21 food-producing countries paid out an estimated US$486 billion ($722 billion) in farming subsidies in 2012.

China paid US$165 billion in 2012, mostly to support rice and wheat farmers, with Japan paying US$65 billion, the European Union more than US$100 billion and the United States $30 billion.

That’s huge subsidies that will have distorted pricing.

Federated Farmers National President William Rolleston said it was a positive and potentially significant deal. “Given the scale and significance of New Zealand’s agricultural export earnings, the removal of any instrument that can distort market forces and disadvantage our exporters is an important step forward,” he said.

“Achievements at a WTO level also remove the need to develop bilateral solutions with individual trading partners, so we hope there are more deals of this nature to come from the WTO.”

The deal completed a year of important international wins in what have been difficult market conditions for much of New Zealand’s farming sector, he said.

Agricultural production and markets will always have ups and downs, but this should reduce the impact of the downs and boost the returns from the ups.

English and English

Dene Mackenzie (ODT) has suggested a possible coincidence of Bill English resigning from the Clutha-Southland electorate…

English to transfer to list next year

5 November 2013

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English will seek nomination for the National Party list and step down as member of Parliament for Clutha-Southland, which includes the Wakatipu, at the election next year.

…and his brother Connor English resigning as CEO at Federated Farmers.

Conor English resigns as Federated Farmers Chief Executive

“I grew up in a household that talked a lot about the three “P’s” – the Prime Minister, the Pope and the President of Federated Farmers. It has been a great privilege for me to lead this organisation in the capacity of CEO and to serve our fantastic farmers and rural community.

“2014 will be a year of change and excitement for me,” Mr English said.

We can be fairly sure it won’t be trying to go for Pope that is exciting him anyway.

Farmers – morale and money

As detailed in my last post there  has been some discussion about providing state assistance to farmers suffering from drought – Droughts and farmers versus beneficiaries.

Despite what some people seem to think it doesn’t sound like farmers are flocking to WINZ offices. In a drought in 2009 20 Hawke’s Bay farmers received payments.

Stuff reports:

Drought declaration ‘a show of support’

Declaring drought is more about morale than the money, according to a Hawke’s Bay farmer.

“It makes us feel better really, that people are recognising that we’ve a problem,” Takapau farmer David Hunt said.

The declaration was more a show of support for farmers, said Mr Hunt, who chairs the dairy branch of Federated Farmers Hawke’s Bay.

“Most farmers are pretty good at helping themselves but if you can’t buy feed because your cashflow won’t allow or you can’t find it, it’s good to know you can source outside expertise to find it.”

What assistance can farmers get?

Government assistance includes the unemployment benefit, emergency benefit, and special needs grants to meet immediate needs and Rural Assistance Payments (at same rate as the unemployment benefit, after an asset and income test).

Help from Work and Income includes childcare assistance, family tax credits and accommodation supplements and from Working for Families, and tax relief, such as filing extensions and options to pay tax in instalments.

Inland Revenue assistance includes advice and support, such as workshops, meetings, technical and financial advice.

Some of that is available to everyone in similar income circumstances.

Banks are also offering assistance:

…would also be putting people in touch with ANZ, ASB and BNZ banks, which had all announced drought assistance packages to those affected.

BNZ was offering immediate overdraft approval of up to $100,000 at a special 6 per cent interest rate to affected farmers, alongside immediate access to emergency family funding of up to $10,000.

Loans to banks have to be paid back.

How much state assistance will there be?

The tight criteria meant few farmers were eligible for the payment. In 2009, 20 Hawke’s Bay farmers received the payment.

Mr Barham expected a similar number would receive the payment this year as the region came off the back of the driest six-month spell since 1950.

It doesn’t sound like there will be a flood of state handouts.