Barry Soper: NZ First still pulls the strings on farming

Author
Barry Soper,
Section
Opinion,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 18 June 2019, 9:11AM
Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor, flanked by PM Jacinda Ardern and Deputy PM Winston Peters, during the post-Cabinet press conference at Parliament. (Photo / Mark Mitchell)
Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor, flanked by PM Jacinda Ardern and Deputy PM Winston Peters, during the post-Cabinet press conference at Parliament. (Photo / Mark Mitchell)

Talk to old cow cockies and not many of them have much of a good word to say about governments, particularly those led by Labour.

The old-timers remember the mid-1980s and Rogernomics and how banks cut off their credit lines as their land values halved, while single-figure interest rates grew overnight to 20 and as high as 36 per cent.

They remember when their living standards down on the farm plummeted as the Labour Government cut farm subsidies, where minimum prices for sheep had been assured. They'd felt they'd been hung out to dry by a country that relied on their toil for export earnings.

Farming is a business like no other, its prosperity relies on so many factors that are out of the farmers' control: like weather, volatile prices, pests and diseases like Mycoplasma bovis.

Total farm debt in New Zealand over the past 20 years has climbed by 270 per cent to just on $63 billion and the Beehive's stepped in and not before time. They are planning to set up a mediation scheme that'll help farmers deal with their lenders.

It'll require banks and the like to offer farmers who default on their payments mediation before any enforcement action is taken. It'll be similar to schemes running in Canada and in Australia where farmers say many properties could have remained in the family if a third, independent party was brought to the table.

The Government was spurred into action by New Zealand First and its farmer list MP from the deep south Mark Patterson who dropped a bill he had in the system to give them a crack at it.

And it's not before time - there are too many stories of farmers losing their livelihoods, through no fault of their own, from property that in some cases had been passed down through generations.

Rural Women New Zealand conducted a survey of its members last year that showed when farmers asked banks for mediation the answer was generally "no".

Farmers are disgusted by what they see as the devastation inflicted on families who are struggling with debt that they know, given time, they'd be likely to get on top of. They have seen longstanding and solid farms going to the wall when mediation, they believe, could probably have prevented most of them.

It's ironic it's a Labour-led Government stepping up to the plate usually served up by National.

But then any policy of note these days, particularly those that look after the rural sector, and you'll find Winston Peters in the neighbourhood. He was up there on stage with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor just to remind us, and of course the farming community, who's pulling the strings.

And make no mistake, Peters hopes by looking after their well-being they'll look after his when the votes are counted next year.

 

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