It was a silly sentiment when it originated there in the 1800s, and it hasn’t improved in the intervening 300-odd years.
I recently objected to the concept in reply to a social media post where a local young dairy farmer was berating his audience for not being more appreciative for the milk in their Sunday morning coffee while he was at work on the farm.
I was confused. My milk goes to the Clandeboye factory, where it is processed into either milk powder or mozzarella. Do I deserve thanks from the Sunday morning coffee sippers or is that reserved for the farmers who produce the 5 per cent of dairy product that isn’t exported?
Are the latte lovers supposed to call me personally, take an advertisement out in the local paper or just message me directly on Twitter?
I will thank a barista, I will thank a bus driver and I will thank any person in hospitality, but the idea a dairy farmer should be publicly praised for choosing to do a challenging job in the hope of making profit is so ludicrous and cringe-inducing it makes me wince.
It wasn’t long before somebody leapt to the young fellow’s defence and suggested that farmers weren’t meant to be thanked specifically for their produce, but thanked for keeping the economy afloat, especially for the past two years.
Now, I’m the first person to talk up the primary sector’s impact on the New Zealand economy, and especially that of dairy. The primary industry’s contribution to GDP climbed to 10 per cent in 2020 off the back of a decimated tourism industry.
There is no argument the $48 billion brought in by the primary sector in 2020 provided a vital cushion against the economic havoc being wreaked by a global pandemic.
There is no question that farming is crucial to this country’s economy, but during lockdown last year I got up every morning and I went to work. A Fonterra tanker arrived every day and collected the milk. I got paid, the staff got paid and the farm made a profit.
Restaurateurs and others in the hospitality and tourism industries weren’t so lucky. While it was business as usual for most farmers, other industries were laying off staff, closing the doors to their shops and cafés and facing a very uncertain future.
The expectation that people who have lost so much and are still trying to recover from the impacts of the pandemic would pause to appreciate the fact farmers are doing OK is galling.
If it had been an incursion of foot and mouth instead of Covid-19 and I had lost everything, I’m certain I wouldn’t be thanking my lucky stars the tourist operators were OK while I was queueing for the Jobseeker benefit.
We already have a method in New Zealand for thanking people for doing their jobs, it’s called the honours system.
Failing a knighthood, as a farmer there’s only one way I want the public to thank me: by happily paying a fair price for what I produce and not begrudging how I make a living.