Over the years, talking to people coming to New Zealand on holiday, others with ideas of moving here, or who have gained citizenship, I have come to understand the view of non-New Zealanders about New Zealand and the 4.5 million people who call themselves New Zealanders. Most I have talked to have been really impressed with the natural beauty of New Zealand. Others have mentioned their love of our culture, and still more have mentioned that New Zealanders come across largely as generous, friendly and outgoing. And for the most part, I think that is probably an accurate statement.
We call ourselves a compassionate society and New Zealanders love to pride themselves on helping people and nations in less fortunate circumstances than our own. With that in mind it may come as a surprise to some that so many farmers feel alone in struggling with the financial and social impact of the economic downturn in the agriculture sector. But it should not be. The down turn has been coming for years – like any other commodity that experiences a bubble like boom, it eventually pops or finds it cannot get any bigger.
When it does, if farmers have reserves of money built up and a plan for weathering such situations, they might be okay for sometime, or if the downturn is temporary, even ride it out. But what about when a combination of factors are at work, that have had a long lead in period – I am talking about:
- Consecutive years of drought conditions in summer and into autumn where rains have failed to adequately replenish water supplies during the winter and spring. Within a few weeks of summer resuming, farmers are already starting to eat into feed and monetary reserves that were meant for an emergency
- A drop in dairy prices caused by deteriorating global economy with slower than normal demand in key markets causing a glut of product and the local market not able to soak it up
- Maximum potential for development of new farms being reached and projects involving new farms being cancelled or postponed indefinitely
A farmer who has been through lean times in the past will know enough to have worked out a plan for dealing with it; have talked to his/her financial manager at the bank about spending priorities and hopefully have contacts on local farms, among their family and local communities to be able to offer advice and support.
But what about when after consecutive years of having ones back to the wall with minimal money or feed? What about farmers who have gotten depressed over the state of their livelihoods and do not know where they will get further help from or how long they can stay on their farms? What about those with suicidal thoughts – there are probably unfortunately a few around.
We might bag farmers, and some do for their views on property rights, the environment and the role of the agricultural sector in the economy, but at the end of the day they are people just like you and me. A good time for them is when the seasons and the market are working in tandem. They have to make a living somehow to survive, to look after any dependents they might have and to pay tax to fund services that both they, I and you need. So if you know some people on a farm somewhere that is looking a bit dry and the owner is not sure about his future, drop and have a chat. Make take some cup cakes and have coffee with them. If they are family, it would be a really good time to talk about a survival plan and what help you can offer.
After all if it was you going to the wall because of circumstances outside of your control, you would want a bit of sympathy too, wouldn’t you?