We should be celebrating our food producers, not criticising them

It is concerning to see how New Zealand’s primary food producers are being treated at the moment, when they are so essential to a healthy New Zealand economy. The food coming off farms feeds the rural economy, which feeds the provincial economies, and ultimately means we can have our easy living in the cities. That’s just the money side of things. They also produce food envied the world over.

Things are coming to a head over water access and quality and the rural sector is fighting back as fingers are unfairly pointed at them as having the biggest impact on New Zealand’s water quality.

Construction and cities are also significant polluters of waterways. While a sub-set of city dwellers trespass onto farms and shout at people in supermarkets to share their views on food production, they ignore their own back yard. Their diets that have them visiting the bathroom frequently and lifestyles that necessitate several daily showers are reflected on their local beaches, that are unswimmable for much of the summer. On the farm, water management is a serious issue and if there is no rain, there’s often no water for those things the city dwellers take for granted. Our farmers are custodians of the land and they’ve been taking measures to protect waterways for as long as they have been on the land – some of them four and five generations.

If rural and provincial economies are going to take big economic hits that may well drive food producers out of business, we will all suffer with them. So, it is hoped that pragmatism will prevail when it comes to addressing the environmental issues facing us today.

Much of the people the RTF represents are out in those rural and provincial areas, and one of the best parts of my job is getting out to visit those people who carry the New Zealand economy.

Last week, I visited Invercargill and got to look at the operations of Southern Milk Transport, with Brett Hamilton and his team. They are part of the vital supply chain from the farm to the kitchen, transporting raw milk for processing by Open Country Dairy, both in Southland and to Open Country’s processing plant in Whanganui, in the North Island.

The team at Southern Milk Transport visit scores of farms in Southland and Otago every day – so they are in touch with dairy farmers who are bearing the brunt of environmental hostility at the moment.

I think it is important that those criticising get out and see and hear what good work is going on to promote sustainable, good businesses. That includes the government officials setting policy.

I was particularly impressed by Southern Milk Transport’s inclusive culture and commitment to diversity. More than 20 percent of their tanker drivers are women. Brett says they wouldn’t be able to meet their business requirements if they didn’t employ women and give young drivers a chance. I’m pictured, above, with just some of the women drivers from Southern Milk Transport.

Across the group nationwide, it is estimated that the average driver age is about 10 years below the industry average, which is 54.

Southern Milk Transport has also invested in health and safety with high quality equipment, tailored to include safety features.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I would urge people who think they know all there is to know about the environmental practices in primary food production to actually speak to people out there doing this work every day – not shout at them; speak to them.

We all need the rural economy. It is the bedrock of our high standard of living. The concerns our primary food producers have at the moment are seriously impacting their health and welfare. It’s important everyone considers that, in the spirit of kindness.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

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