Farmers in a Quandary – Perspective from the Pub

Gareth MorganEconomics, Environment

Spending a couple of hours in a pub in South Canterbury talking to the locals last week there were two topics of interest. Will Jamie Joseph be able to overcome the ‘big noter’ syndrome from the recent Wellington imports to the Highlanders and why can’t farmers get the premium for products produced in 100% Pure New Zealand?

On the first the consensus was that Jamie would have no problems because the awe emanating from the Brad Thorn persona would overshadow any prima donna tendencies from the imports from Wellington. On the second the debate was less conclusive.

On the one hand some of the sheep and beef farmers in the pub circle felt the One Plan precedent will lead to an horrendous cost impost from the local councils, while others argued that less intensive farming of that sort would not be harmed. But what there was some agreement on was that New Zealand was failing to attract a premium for its products that emanate from this clean and green environment. Regardless of whether the clean and green is a myth or not, everyone agreed we weren’t converting that into a financial reality.

Debate raged as to why – from some suggesting consumers didn’t care so wouldn’t pay extra, to others saying government was undermining 100% Pure anyway and overseas we are increasingly being seen as hypocrites on that front, to a third strand of argument that ran our rejection of country of origin labelling was symptomatic of an indifferent attitude to the value of environmental credentials.

For the farmer then the spectre of increasing cost of compliance but no price premium for clean, green products as an offset, threatens a double whammy. What to do in order to adjust to the squeeze on margins was the focal point of the debate. Do we forget the whole matter and sign up to National’s obvious desertion of environmental aspirations, or do we reverse government’s recent admonishment of clean and green as a worthwhile brand that New Zealand can capitalise on financially?

On that the debate in the pub couldn’t reach consensus but despite this impasse nobody was willing to argue that we should increase the pollution of our waterways without end. As so often is the case in these things though few were prepared to personally sacrifice profit in order to end the trend. Rather, the consensus was wait until we’re swilling in the effluent of our complacency and do something about it then.

We do get politicians that reflect our values.

Farmers in a Quandary – Perspective from the Pub was last modified: December 15th, 2015 by Gareth Morgan
About the Author

Gareth Morgan

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Gareth Morgan is a New Zealand economist and commentator on public policy who in previous lives has been in business as an economic consultant, funds manager, and professional company director. He is also a motorcycle adventurer and philanthropist. Gareth and his wife Joanne have a charitable foundation, the Morgan Foundation, which has three main stands of philanthropic endeavour – public interest research, conservation and social investment.