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Wayne Langford: Rural advocacy is a team sport

Wayne Langford, Federated Farmers of New Zealand,
Publish Date
Mon, 5 Feb 2024, 5:00am

Wayne Langford: Rural advocacy is a team sport

Wayne Langford, Federated Farmers of New Zealand,
Publish Date
Mon, 5 Feb 2024, 5:00am

We’ve all seen rugby sides overflowing with individual stars that somehow can’t come together as a team. Despite all their raw talent, they just can’t seem to gel or find a rhythm.

Often these teams end up losing game after game.

Sometimes I think our farming leaders can fall victim to the same phenomenon. Just like players on a rugby field, agricultural groups need to be very clear on our individual roles and strengths and play as a team if we want to win.

One of my key focuses as the national president of Federated Farmers is making sure we get those roles right – because it’s too important for us to get it wrong.

When I’m not milking my cows, or in Wellington advocating for farmers, I often pull on my old boots and coach our local Takaka under-16 boys’ rugby team.

Every Saturday morning, I give my lads the same message: "Just do your job, do it well, trust the rest of the team to do the same, and we’ll get a win out there."

The same idea applies to rural advocacy. Whether we’re Federated Farmers, Groundswell or levy bodies like DairyNZ and Beef+Lamb, we’ve all got our own jobs to do, and they’re all equally important.

I like to think of the levy bodies as being the forward pack muscling the ball up the park metre by metre with their research, science and extension work – but eventually you need to pass the ball to the backs.

That’s where Federated Farmers comes in with our authentic grassroots voices and farmer-focused advocacy work. It’s our job to decide whether to pass the ball wide, kick it for touch or run it hard and straight.

In recent times I’ve even come to appreciate the fact that Groundswell has an important role to play too. They’re the fullback making sure there’s a covering tackle for any issues that slip through the lines of defence.

You hope you don’t need them, but you’re glad they’re there when you do – even if a few of their tackles probably warranted a yellow card.

Nobody wants to see a prop on the wing or a first-five packing down in a scrum – and when you do see it, it’s glaringly obvious they’ve been caught out of position.

Often that’s when the ball gets dropped, the lineout call gets muddled, or we collide with our own players.

The beauty of this long and meandering rugby analogy is that, at the end of the day, there’s room for everyone on the field. I’m not suggesting anyone gets dropped from the team or sent to the bench – just that we play in the right position and work together.

When we fail to get that right, the only people who lose are hardworking Kiwi farmers.

Federated Farmers has never had more clarity than now about what our position is on that field and what our job is.

We are the authentic and trusted voice of grassroots farming in New Zealand, and we unashamedly advocate for farmers and rural communities.

That clarity of role and purpose really shone through during last year’s General Election, where we released our 12 policy priorities for the incoming Government.

We were clear about what we wanted, disciplined in our messaging, and that paid off for farmers. The Coalition Agreements between National, Act and New Zealand First had Federated Farmers’ fingerprints all over them.

I don’t think any other advocacy group in New Zealand could claim to have had all 12 of their policy priorities announced on the campaign trail by the incoming Government – but that exactly what Federated Farmers managed to achieve.

That’s something we’re incredibly proud of, but we know the work is only half finished. It’s now up to us to hold the Government to account and make sure they follow through and deliver on the change they have promised.

I know that’s going to be a tough job, but we’re up for it. We just need all of our farming leaders to be clear on their roles, playing in the right position, and performing at the top of their game.

If we can get that right, I have no doubt we’ll be a winning team – and the whole of New Zealand will be better off for it.

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