Anne-Maree Thomas has got 500 “Farmer Friendly” stickers printed initially, which she wants city businesses to display on their shop windows, to show support for the farming sector.
She believed the farming sector had been “picked on” by the Government and had received inadequate support from Southland’s councils.
Government policies were “totally unfriendly” to farmers who had helped prop up the country during lockdown and were big players in the country’s economy, she said.
Farmers feeling under the pump have protested against new freshwater rules announced by the Government and have rallied against a Government plan to impose fees on high emission vehicles.
“They [the Government] are going after these guys and people are suffering, we have got suicides happening, people depressed and it’s bloody wrong, totally wrong,” Thomas said.
“It seems to be fair game to go after a farmer, you get a pat on the back,” Thomas said.
History showed that when a group of people were picked on, “people turn on them like feral dogs”, which had happened with the social media attacks on farmers, she believed.
Thomas said the wives of dairy farmers had been in her shop “in tears” and too scared to say what they did for a living.
“I had to give them a hug in the shop.”
The stickers would be displayed in the shop windows of businesses that wanted them in Invercargill, and she eventually wanted them in every rural town in the country.
“We want these guys to know … the urban guys do care about the guys in the country. We have made mega bucks off the farmers, you have the lawyers, the accountants, banks, grocery stores, sparkies, builders, they have made mega bucks for years off the farmers.”
Southland Federated Farmers president Chris Dillon welcomed the support of Thomas.
Farmers tried to do the right thing and had no problem lifting their game if it needed to be lifted, but they needed achievable goals and the goalposts couldn’t be shifted, he said.
Everyone in the community now had a platform to air their views on social media, whether they knew the facts or not, he added.
Meka Whaitiri, acting Minister of Agriculture, acknowledged it was a challenging time for farmers.
She and senior Government ministers, including Jacinda Ardern, heard lot about the pressures facing the sector in the wake of Covid-19 at last week’s Fieldays, including the labour shortage and pressures associated with change around some of New Zealand’s long-standing issues, such as clean water and climate.
“Our position has always been to work in partnership with farmers on these things, which has led to initiatives like border exceptions for dairy workers, and significant investment to attract workers to the sector and train Kiwis to take on farm roles.”
He Waka Eke Noa supported farmers and growers to manage on-farm emissions, and Government had worked with farmers in Southland get a workable way to best mitigate potential risks associated with intensive winter grazing.
”We will continue working with farmers to tackle issues of workforce, climate and the environment,” Whaitiri said.
Farmers were “absolutely critical” to the economy.
”That’s why we’re committed to building a more resilient, more sustainable sector, so it can continue to be New Zealand’s backbone for decades to come,” Whaitiri said.
Southland District Mayor Gary Tong and Gore District Mayor Tracy Hicks supported Thomas for her actions, but both disagreed their respective council’s had not supported the farming sector.
Tong did not see an urban-rural divide in Southland, though there was “certainly the odd couch warrior jumping up and down if something is in the media”.
Hicks said Southland and New Zealand revolved around the farming sector which was undergoing significant change, as were other sectors.
Invercargill Mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt said Invercargill was attached to the farming sector which was the “backbone” of the country’s finances.
“We are very grateful they are here.”