Over the centuries farming has never been an easy way to make a living. Farmers and their families face many challenges to their fields and livestock from weeds, disease, pests and soil health to the countless marketing, financial and business decisions that fluctuate with economic conditions and the political winds of tariffs, restrictions, trade deals and agreements.
Another more recent change has been growing consumer interest in food and agriculture. Many of our customers, and sometimes even our family and neighbors, want to know more about where food comes from and how it is produced. Sometimes there are stereotypes, or preconceived views of who farms and questions asked of methods that are based on the past. But people are curious and it is good to have questions asked – it provides an opportunity to have a dialogue, to help people learn more, to tell and show why something may be done one way instead of another.
So what does a farmer ‘look like’ today? Many folks would like to know things like why did you decide to become a farmer? What are the challenges that you face each day? What is the opportunity you see that gets you excited to get up and get to work every day?
So let’s start checking in with some members of the Global Farmer Network around the world and see what they have to say. Starting this week with Jane Smith in New Zealand who attended the 2016 Global Farmer Roundtable and farms with her husband and children…
Question: Tell us about your farm: Where is it? What size is your farm? What do you grow?
Answer: We are fourth generation sheep and beef farmers in Otago – the southern end of the south island of New Zealand. We run 500 Angus cattle and 4,000 Perendale sheep on 3,700 acres of rolling hill country. Our farm sits at an altitude of 2,000 feet above sea level and so snow is frequent and expected in winter time here. Our stock are completely free range and pasture raised – and they love the outdoors life – they are bred for resilience – we don’t use antibiotics, anthelmintic treatments or any growth hormones.
Question: Why did you decide to become a farmer?
Answer: We are passionate about our breeding robust, resilient, happy and healthy livestock. Farming families are well known to care for their communities, their farms and their family’s future and these are what we live for. We are proud of the fact that over the past 30 years, our New Zealand farmers have increased their production by running lower numbers of livestock, but producing more per animal – yet still remaining pasture-based and sustainable.
Question: What is the most significant challenge you are facing today?
Answer: Tight biosecurity is our greatest asset as an island nation – we have the ability to remain well secured from a biosecurity point of view – however with the massive increase in tourism each and every year, our borders will need to remain extremely well resourced in order to cope with the ever increasing risk of biosecurity intrusions.
We also spend a significant amount of our time ‘defending’ the place of a farmer in today’s society. We have now changed this approach to a proactive/educational stance, rather than a defensive mechanism. In New Zealand, despite the fact that we are based on a sustainable pasture- based system and that we export 90% of our product, we are held to account by our urban population to a level perhaps unseen anywhere else in the world, especially given that we are highly taxed and we have had no farmer subsidies since 1984 (this we are very proud of). We have taken significant steps to ensure that everything that we do on farm is auditable and transparent – from our high animal welfare programmes to our strong environmental focus, yet the level of regulation that is forced upon us each and every year is increasing. We genuinely want to do the right thing and have a focus that goes ‘beyond compliance’ and we believe that New Zealand farmers are indeed doing this, albeit it with very little recognition and no product premiums to reflect our high regulatory costs.
Question: What opportunities do you see, as a farmer, that you get excited about your future in this field?
Answer: We are excited about marketing our New Zealand naturally produced products to the world. We are proud of our sustainability, our efficiency and our family-based long term view of the role of the farmer. Our next step is to ensure that today’s savvy global consumer recognizes this and is willing to pay a premium for this – to allow us to maintain our extremely high quality assurance standards in producing safe and sustainable food.