HDPA: Westland farmers can't be blamed for picking money over the flag

Heather du Plessis-Allan,
Publish Date
Thursday, 4 July 2019, 4:15PM

You’d struggle to find a more emphatic 'yes' than what we got today.

West Coast dairy farmers voted overwhelmingly to sell their dairy co-operative Westland Milk to the Chinese. The sale got nearly 94 per cent support - that’s as close to unanimous as you could hope to get.

What that doesn’t say is how tough that decision would’ve been today. I’ve heard these dairy farmers and you will have to. They agonised over this. As someone put it, it was a decision as simple as this: the flag or the money.

The flag because this was a proudly kiwi-owned cooperative. It has history. It’s been around 150 years. The West Coast farmers were proud of it. They owned it

But they chose the money. Because Westland Milk stopped making money. It was badly run, and so the farmers themselves started doing it tough. For some, farming lost its fun. Their property prices dropped off. They weren’t making a buck. The banks were reportedly starting to think about the farmers’ debt.

Now, the farmers are being criticised for this decision. They’re being told they’ve sold out to the Chinese. But put yourself in their shoes: wouldn’t you have taken it?

$500,000 now, and good milk payments for at least the next 10 years.

The sale of course isn’t done. It still needs the tick from the High Court and the Overseas Investment Office. But I’d bet the sale will go through. Which minister is going to say no to 94 per cent of farmers who are cash strapped and stressed out?

And as well as that, the Overseas Investment Office has already said the sale is of 'substantial and identifiable benefit to New Zealand'. This is a good sale for the country: it creates jobs, it adds market competition, and it adds investment for development.

So up front, it’s a good thing. It’s a good thing now, and it’s a good thing in the future. Yili is China’s largest dairy producer. It knows how to run a business, and it has a massive customer base in China for this milk.

You might not like selling a Kiwi business to China, but before you criticise these farmers, or the authorities for ticking it off if they do, ask yourself if you wouldn’t have done this too.

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