New freshwater regulations add to the toll

I have been reading a lot about how farmers have to endure the new freshwater regulations (see pages 6 and 7).

Farmers are pushing back but they are forever getting it in the neck for being a bunch of whiners, is my opinion. Otago farmers are no exception.

Farmers are seen as operating in a constant state of discontent. Too much rain, or not enough rain. Crossbred wool on a downward spiral. The price of grain too low; the cost of fertilizer too high. Too much compliance. The list of complaints seems endless.

I beg to differ. Sure, the ups and downs of farming make the news, but farmers have it far from easy, even in this day of uber-technology and precision farming.

I grew up on a farm in North Canterbury, and I still think of my father as being the hardest working, most uncomplaining person I've ever known.

Each morning he would be out the door by seven o'clock. He would be in for lunch at 12 pm on the dot, listen to the farming hour on National Radio, then head back out on the farm until after 6 pm.

In the rain, the heat, the nor'wester, the dust ... whatever the weather threw at him. It was no surprise he got skin cancer in his later years.

Back in those days, there wasn't the technology or the contractors around farming there is today. Making hay involved small square bales and carting and stacking them by hand. Us offspring, home from boarding school, were employed (but not paid) to cart and stack the bales in the hay shed. This was a lengthy process, unlike today where hay bales are large and manhandled by a front end loader.

My father would crutch his lambs, again with the help of the kids. He would also class his own wool, a skill that not many have now.

Farming is so much in the "public eye" these days. Dairy farming and water quality is a huge issue and farmers must conform to obligations that weren't around even a decade ago.

Consumers are more aware of their food and want to know its origins and farmers’ production must be geared around this.

There is a sense of scrutiny and being watched that farming forebears didn't have. Farmers must become comfortable with working in a "fishbowl".

And new technology has some downsides. Email and the internet ensure a farmer can never truly get off the farm, and he is always contactable by his staff.

"You take it with you, it follows you, you don't get the break you were looking for, there is not the letting go that you need," one farmer said.

It's no wonder the statistics around farmer mental health and suicide are high. If I were to single out the most significant change between the farming generations, it would be compliance. Farmers must educate themselves around issues like water quality, nitrate levels, and health and safety as they will be audited, and often the farmers' opinion on these matters is irrelevant. 

I only ever remember my father complaining about his lot once. It was sometime in the 1980s in the middle of the drought, around the time government subsidies were lifted. It was a stinking hot day, it was blowing a nor'west gale, and the place was parched. We were walking up the paddock, and he said simply "sometimes I hate farming."

At the time it broke my heart. I never heard him complain again.

Read edition 991 of the Wānaka Sun here.


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