Kate Hawkesby: It's a tough time being a farmer these days

Kate Hawkesby,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 13 August 2019, 9:41AM
There don't seem any hard and fast answers for farmers, they have little choice but to carry on, head down, bum up.

It's a tough time to be a farmer these days. I really feel for them. Sure, they've been through lots of good and bad times, that's the nature of farming, but it feels like this current climate is really tough.

Farming seems under fire from the government in a changing climate of new taxes, regulations, rules. it costs more to be on a farm these days. And that's before we even get to Fonterra.

After massive write-downs of its assets, Fonterra's forecasting a huge loss this financial year of around $675 million. That's the second biggest loss since it began 20 years ago. No dividends will be paid to shareholders this financial year.

Champion of the regions himself, Shane Jones, has put the boot into Fonterra again. This time, saying this is the result of poor management and it's all the fault of the board and the leadership. He says there's been too much focus on overseas markets, and New Zealand's been neglected. Jones says he's worried about the future viability of Fonterra. He says we're at peak cow.

So how much of it is the previous management? How much is bad investments? Is it the co-op model? Is it just bad luck? Or bad judgement? Farmers are only interested in returns of course - and co-operatives are widely regarded as the best structure for large groups of suppliers. So why isn't it working? Fonterra will be asking itself the hard questions, and more importantly how to move forward from here. But that doesn't help the farmers right now does it.

They're existing in a climate where there's a lot of debt, a lot of external pressure, on-farm expenses are high,  there're lots of new regulations and taxes to keep up with. And this Fonterra loss will only serve to knock farmer confidence further.

There don't seem any hard and fast answers for farmers, they have little choice but to carry on, head down, bum up.

Which many will tell you is what they've always done. But it doesn't make this loss any less upsetting for them. In the middle of a tough winter, busy picking up calves and trying to stay on top of all the new measures they need to be aware of, this Fonterra announcement comes like a slap in the face. Fonterra is promising to do better, but the big question is, how long can farmers afford to wait?

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