Our History

A snapshot of achievements and support for farmers throughout the years 

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In the Beginning 

Federated Farmers began out of the passion, drive and commitment New Zealand's farming families have for their industry, their families and their rural communities.

The Federation's roots go back to 18 September 1899, with the first meeting of the New Zealand Farmers' Union. Thomas Portland Smith was the first president of the NZ Farmers Union and was a pioneer of the NZ dairy industry. He settled on raw Kaitaia land in the Far North, where he established one of the first dairy farms.  Although there is still some debate over who was the REAL first president of Federated Farmers, Sir Jas Wilson was noted for his contribution to the union. He held office from 1902-1920 and was knighted in 1915 for his services.

The New Zealand Farmers' Union (NZFU) joined with the Sheep Owners' Federation to form Federated Farmers of New Zealand Inc in 1945.


Throughout the federation and union’s history there has been a significant involvement in politics. Four national Federated Farmers presidents have served or contributed in some way to politics and government. Federated Farmers has always had staff based throughout New Zealand working and advocating on behalf of farmers, but it's feet are firmly planted in Wellington to advocate and influence for farming to central government. 

Fair pay for fair work - From the 1930s to the 1950s numerous Federated Farmers presidents and members struggled with a Labour government backed by a united trade union. Work was paid for at low rates with high costs and during this time labourers and wharf workers were going on strike. Federated Farmers worked to ensure farmers were getting paid fairly.

In 2005 Federated Farmers started the national orange ribbon campaign against the government’s proposal to introduce land legislation. The government changed its decision and set up the Walking Access Commission.

Getting tough on crime
- Stock, petrol and vehicle theft, and personal household safety are all big issues for farmers.  A Federated Farmers member survey in 2016 showed one in four members had experienced stock theft in the last five years. Years of hard advocacy work paid off in December 2018 when Justice Minister, Andrew Little, agreed to fast-track much needed changes to the Crimes Act to introduce tougher penalties for the theft of livestock and unlawful entry to farm land.

In 2019 Federated Farmers helped stop the government brining in a capital gains tax, saving an estimated $3-6K per farm.

International trade and market access - In 1922 the Meat Export Control Act was initiated by NZFU president Sir William Polson to support local farmers’ profits.  Many Federated Farmers presidents and other representatives have travelled overseas with government agencies to represent New Zealand farmers' interests.  

Federated Farmers stands against inflation - 1950s - Dominion president John Andrew took every opportunity to voice his organisation’s opposition to the government’s inflationary economic policies. At a time when farmers were caught in a cost-price squeeze, the pressure that Andrew and Feds put on the government was essential.  He led the New Zealand delegation to the 1954 conference of the International Federation of Agricultural Producers (IFAP) in Kenya.


Bringing Fieldays to New Zealand - Former president John Kneebone was the man who first envisioned having a fieldays in New Zealand.  The first event in 1969 held at the Te Rapa Racecourse was a success and it has become a multi-billion dollar event. Kneebone initiated the idea, and then became president of Federated Farmers. After his tenure he returned to the event as a volunteer. 

While National president from 2002-2005 Tom Lambie attended World Trade Organisation talks in Cancun, Mexico. As well as this, Lambie has also represented New Zealand at agricultural summits such as the International Federation of Agricultural Producers meeting in Pretoria, South Africa.  While there, Lambie took the opportunity to push for an end to trade barriers.


In 1925 the Women’s Division of the New Zealand Farmers Union was founded by Florence Polson the wife of NZFU president Sir William Polson. Florence was president from 1925-1929.


Katie Milne became the first female National President of Federated Farmers in 2017. Some of her achievements at Federated Farmers:
  1. Significant efforts and contributions in supporting farmers in the wake of the Kaikoura earthquakes in 2016
  2. She fought the biosecurity threat, Mycoplasma bovis, which was the most significant incursion in New Zealand’s primary sector history.
  3. Spearheaded the Federated Farmers call for the primary sector businesses to be recognised as ‘essential services’ due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

Land Girls Memorial - 2020 - Federated Farmers covered and supported a memorial celebrating the effort of the Land Girls’ who worked the land while men were away at war. 

Several of New Zealand's largest Māori owned farming entities are members of Federated Farmers.

To reflect and encourage communication between diverse priamry sector groups in New Zealand, Federated Farmers worked with Conferenz to create the Primary Industries New Zealand Summit, which was held for the first time in 2019 and attracted representatives from aquaculture, fishing, forestry, horticulture, pastoral and arable farming.


Representing farmers in the fight against climate change - Federated Farmers of New Zealand is supportive of the need to take action to contribute to the global effort to address climate change.  In 2018, national president, Katie Milne, was invited by the New Zealand government to attend the United Nations Climate Change conference (COP24 – KATOWICE) in Poland as a Farmer Representative. 

The Zero Carbon Bill became law in 2019 and the government agreed to partner with agriculture to address its contribution to New Zealand's climate change emissions. Karen Williams, vice president of Federated Farmers, became a member of the ‘Heke Waka Eke Noa’ Steering Group to represent farmers in 2019.  HWEN is charged with developing a plan of action to help farmers measure and manage greenhouse gas emissions.

Keeping New Zealand green - 1970s to present - Federated Farmers supports the development of the QE11 National Trust – to keep native stands of forest protected.

For many years Federated Farmers has been campaigning to bring more attention to the extensive problem of controlling wildings pines, especially in High Country regions.  Our call for an accelerated budget for wilding pine control, combined with government efforts to create work programmes during the COVID-19 response in 2020, has seen millions of dollars invested in controlling these pest trees.  Feds continues to call for wilding trees to be included in regional pest management strategies. 

Water - Fighting 'One Size Fits All' - 2020-present - Federated Farmers continues to champion the power of a ‘catchment by catchment’ approach to maintaining and improving New Zealand’s waterways.
Federated Farmers strives to achieve a sensible, practical and affordable regulatory regime that has a fighting chance of achieving healthy waterways.


A win for Wairarapa arable farmers

The pea weevil incursion of 2016 looks like it’s finally coming to an end. This is great news for Wairarapa growers as they took a big hit financially having to pause on growing peas and focus on eradicating the pest from New Zealand. However, Federated Farmers ensured affected Wairarapa farmers received financial assistance from MPI as part of the Pea Weevil eradication programme.
Feds Arable Chairperson and Wairarapa farmer Karen Williams has worked hard with Federated Farmers and on our behalf in fighting this biosecurity threat.  
We are finally at the level where during the 2020/2021 summer harvest, only select commercial pea harvests will be monitored. 

In 2017-2018 Federated Farmers was, and continues to, be deeply involved in helping farmers tackle the following incursions:
  • Mycoplasma bovis
  • Velvetleaf
  • Blackgrass


In 2017 Federated Farmers teamed up with the Primary ITO on a new dairy apprenticeship programme to attract and upskill motivated people to work on dairy farms.

In 2018 Federated Farmers, in collaboration with a few industry players, was successful in getting tertiary qualifications in wool technology reintroduced for the first time in over 20 years.

Federated Farmers had a leadership and development programme in 2019 which offered a course for rural business owners looking to develop skills as a leader. 
As well as this Federated Farmers proceeded with these courses online in 2020 to adjust to a Covid-19 world. 


Federated Farmers persuaded Immigration NZ to simplify and clarify the temporary work visa process by implementing a number of changes over 2020/2021. Rural businesses rely on temporary visas in order to employ enough staff for picking seasons and shearing seasons. 

Farmers Union Conference 1920s

National Board 2021

From left: Terry Copeland (CEO), Karen Williams (vice president), Andrew Hoggard (president), Chris Lewis, Wayne Langford, William Beetham, Chris Allen and Colin Hurst)