Federated Farmers keen to work with new Extension Service

A new extension service intended to bring knowledge and resources to farmers struggling to keep up on production efficiency and environmental protection fronts is a "positive", Federated Farmers board member and Arable chairperson Karen Williams says.

“Offering support so farmers can get up to speed is certainly preferable, and more likely to achieve progress, than wielding the big stick of fines and more regulations.

“The new extension service could prove helpful but we would urge MPI to continue to work with farming groups on the mechanics of it and how it is rolled out,” Karen said.

Karen and the Federation’s Wairarapa President William Beetham were at Otahuao Farm near Masterton this morning to hear Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor announce details of the Extension Service Model to be rolled out over four years with $3 million funding from the new Sustainable Food and Fibre Fund.

Feds members Nathan and Kate Williams’ award-winning Otahuao Farm is the “kind of aspiration property we’d love to see rolled out across the country”, Damien said.

But there were some farmers “down the back of the valley…heads down and bums up” hard at work, who for whatever reason don’t make it to discussion meetings run by the likes of Dairy NZ and the Red Meat Profit Partnership.

“We need to help those farmers understand there is new compliance, new expectations and get them up to speed.”

MPI has been tasked with rolling out the extension service to at least 300 farms in the next year, and 1200 over four years.  Other farmers might nominate someone “who needs a bit of help”, or if necessary “MPI will go out and knock on doors,” Damien said.

The Minister told the audience of farmers, agriculture organisation and government agency representatives who filled the Otahuao woolshed for the launch that thanks to digital technology “we’re all governed by the lowest common denominator.

“The bad practice of any one farmer on the welfare of animals or the environment can be around the world in the blink of an eye.

“The traditional approach in farming is that there’s a bottom 20 per cent ‘and don’t worry about them, they’ll fall over and we’ll buy their farms.  We can no longer sustain that approach because the 20 per cent yet to lift their game determines your image in the international marketplace.

“If we’re going to get more for our products, we cannot afford to have people who don’t understand why they need to do certain things,” Damien said.

Karen Williams said with debt, new regulations, biosecurity incursions, climate change “and all sort of things right out of their control, like the weather and the US dollar”, it’s hardly a wonder that a minority of farmers just “shut down” and soldier on.

“In many cases poor environmental performance and animal welfare issues are directly related to a farmer's state of mental health.  If we want to see real improvement, I'd like to see this fund be meaningful in the mental health space too."

William Beetham noted that one of the reasons that ‘farmers down the back of the valley’, as the Minister put it, were not up to speed on knowledge and resources was because they still only had ‘dial-up’ speed connectivity and patchy mobile coverage.  “That’s worth doing something about as well.”

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor with Nathan and Kate Williams, who run the award-winning Otahuao Farm.  It’s the “kind of aspiration property we’d love to see rolled out across the country”, Damien said.

At the launch of the new Farmer Extension Service, from left, Federated Farmers Arable Chairperson Karen Williams, Greens MP Marama Davidson, Federated Farmers Wairarapa President William Beetham, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor.