Protests planned for Friday are a result of a “winter of discontent” for rural communities as frustration boils over, says Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard.
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SUPPLIED Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard says: “Overall, my message to Government is we need to organise the work plan better.”

On Friday, farmers around the country will round up dogs, fire up utes and tractors and head to town to protest multiple policies now affecting rural people, he said.

In his speech to the Federated Farmers National Council in Christchurch last week, Hoggard referred to a “winter of discontent” in rural communities, with the so-called ute tax a straw that broke the camel’s back for many farming families.

Uncertainty about the impact of freshwater regulations and more recently the Resource Management Act reform, policy on Significant Natural Areas and climate change pricing mechanisms for livestock emissions, along with increasing centralisation were all playing on the minds of rural New Zealanders, he said.

“What on earth is going to be left of local government to actually review? It feels like everything is being done in the wrong order.”

Hoggard said the haphazard approach that the Government had taken so far needed to be organised better, as it was causing stress and anxiety for farmers, growers and people in other sectors, including “probably the Government’s own officials”.

The labour shortage in the primary sector was another burden on farmers and while the Government could only do so much in the face of the global pandemic, it could review the use of managed isolation and quarantine facilities and give unused capacity to skilled migrant staff.

“It could also grant residency for the several thousand highly skilled migrant dairy staff already here, and plan a pathway to allow their spouses and children in, so the workers no longer felt forced to take jobs in Australia, Canada and other countries just so they can be reunited as a family.”

Friday’s “Howl of a protest” has been organised by Groundswell, which was founded to “stand up to unworkable regulations”. It’s facebook page asked farmers, growers and ute owners to come along if they were “fed up with increasing Government interference in your life and business”.

Organiser of the Cheviot protest Jeff Wilkinson said farmers historically had not stuck together and he wanted to mobilise farmers to stand as one. The event would be an opportunity for farmers to stand up as a group and say they have had enough, he said.

“If we can do that we might start to get a bit of traction on what we need to happen.”

Wilkinson said he had been to lots of meetings and made many submissions on consultation documents over the years but felt it never amounted to anything.

“A lot of [policy] is pre-planned before we have these meetings, as far as I’m concerned. But it’s their way of saying ‘we did consult with the community’. I’m probably getting a bit grumpier as I get older.”

There were many good things going on in the rural community that should be acknowledged, he said.

The protest has attracted the support of both the National Party and ACT.

All of ACT’s 10 MPs would be supporting the protest, the party’s primary industries spokesman and Ruawai dairy farmer, Mark Cameron said.

National‘s agriculture spokesman David Bennett said 31 of its MPs would also attend.

Bennett said rural communities were being attacked by the Government “on many levels”. Government didn’t understand how farms operate or what farmers were doing to achieve better environmental outcomes.

“Farmers recognise the need for environmental change and are actively working to achieve these goals. The heavy-handed and one-sided approach from this Labour Government has infuriated farmers and this has sparked Friday’s protests.”

Nominations are open for Fonterra’s board election but a repeat of the drama that rocked the vote three years ago can be ruled out.

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