Late last year, our Dairy Environment Leaders traded their overalls and gumboots for suits and dress shoes, taking their positive dairying message to Wellington for the seventh farmer-led forum.
The forum’s theme, ‘Supporting communities and embracing change’, recognised the degree of change our sector is facing. Issues such as reducing emissions and improving water quality are front of mind for both farmers and the general public.
The forum was an opportunity for our farmers to demonstrate to urban New Zealanders, politicians, policy-makers, media and our harshest critics that dairy farmers have a genuine willingness to embrace change. We also emphasised that farmers want to do what is right and fair, and there is plenty of good work being done on-farm already.
Unpicking the challenges
Day one of the forum identified the challenges we all face as a sector; day two broke down those challenges to manageable pieces; and day three was about individual farmers picking up the challenges and figuring out how to work through them. This clarified that the way forward for our sector will be through enabling farmers to co develop regional solutions for regional issues.
Throughout the forum, farmers had the opportunity to network with like-minded people, learn from each other’s successes and failures, and engage with politicians and decision-makers. They also had the chance to develop new skills, such as engaging confidently with media, making effective written submissions to Government and exploring how we can all get better at sharing each other’s personal stories.
Grasping the opportunities
As a sector, we must continue to look for opportunities to create transformational partnerships with people and organisations – including the Government – who want to work with us to improve environmental outcomes.
Last year we saw the agricultural sector and Government come together in a world-first partnership to build an enduring farm-level emission reduction framework – He waka eke noa. We’re hopeful that something similar might also be possible when it comes to other environmental challenges.
As one of our delegates, Edwin Mabonga, told the Prime Minister at the forum: “If you want to go fast, you go alone. If you want to go far, you take people with you.”
Yes, there will be an economic impact, but this isn’t just a cost – it’s an investment in the future of our sector and our rural communities. This investment will enable our children and grandchildren to farm sustainably with pride and responsibility.
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy March 2020