NZ Farmer - Farmers' guilt 'a crying shame'

Written by Jill Galloway

Wairarapa farmer Matt Wyeth reckons if New Zealanders knew how many people were employed upstream from farms they would be more appreciative of farming.

Wyeth, from Spring Valley Enterprises near Masterton, said 30 people had jobs as a direct result of a farm.

"Each farm is responsible for the income for 30 households," said Wyeth at the AgInnovation conference in Palmerston North attended by about 180 people. "Our identity in the community is largely not known. You hear about people going to a barbecue and they are almost ashamed to say they are in the farming industry."

He said truck drivers, stock agents, and meat workers were just some of the people earning employment from farming, as well as agricultural scientists and soil scientists.

He said farmers feeling ashamed about their occupation needed to change.

"It is a crying shame. We should be standing up, with our head held high and our shoulders back, saying this is what we're doing in our community - we are providing incomes for 30 households. Our money goes round town too. Every dollar we get, goes around 10 times.

"We are a large community. People should be patting us on the back and saying 'good on you'."  

He said farmers were perceived as the bad guys and hard on the environment.

"We are challenging all farmers to invite a townie or someone less informed on our national lamb day. We truly believe that, actually, if we get these people on a farm, and we show them what we are doing with our environment, our water, and with our planting, they will say 'good on you mate'."

Wyeth said the visitors would become more educated in rural ways, try more products from farming and go on to become good ambassadors for the farming industry

Matt and Lynley Wyeth's 1000 hectare farm is a breeding and finishing operation about 10 kilometres from Masterton in Wairarapa. They have an indoor lamb programme, saving triplets that would usually be lost.

One farming communicator, who did not want to be named, said many farm managers were leaving rural areas as they were stressed and found it remote and hard.

"It is a real indictment on our industry. These people ...  are at the pinnacle of the industry, but it is too stressful and many leave."

When he started managing a farm, he was left to his own devices, meeting with the owner perhaps four times a year and employing people, and carrying on all the farm operations, he said. Remote schools, clubs and shops were adding more stress.

"But now they have to account perhaps four times a day about what they were doing, and where they were."

Leaders of Beef  and Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ), which ran the AgInnovation conference, said farmers had to feel part of a community, perhaps through a rugby club or where more support was available. B+LNZ work included getting people into management and governance as well as keeping good staff.