As you drive around the New Zealand countryside it is not uncommon to hear farmers talk about a widening gap between rural and urban people. They say, that the lack of non-farmer understanding of ‘all things rural’ has let to unrealistic consumer expectations and too much regulation. Farmers are feeling disillusioned by the lack of public encouragement they receive for their industry and are ready to build bridges.
For many urban people, it is increasingly important to understand how natural resources are being used and how the food they buy is grown. Peoples’ interest in the environment, animal welfare and food safety has meant they are interested and want to know more about what happens behind the farm gate.
Farming has become public business yet many farmers are quiet people who prefer to stand out of the spotlight. In the absence of farmers telling their own story, others have tried to tell it for them and invariable got it wrong; or embellished the ordinariness so as to better meet their own agenda. Untruths and misunderstandings about the adverse affects of agriculture are now widespread. Peoples’ expectations and perceptions are out-of-kilter with reality. People on both sides of the debate are beginning to distrust and suspect the worst from each other.
This Nuffield report will discuss how farmers overseas are engaging with the public to more positively shape commonly held perceptions of agriculture. I look for ways that New Zealand farmers can improve their image and how they can extend a welcoming hand to non-farmers. Based on what I saw overseas, I offer ideas about how to encourage more people to stand beside us on the agricultural stage before I set out a plan of actions that we could do in New Zealand to improve our relationships with non-farmers.
The report focuses on areas that I know I can affect through my work at Federated Farmers of New Zealand. In writing it, I have aimed to inspire, excite and engage others in the campaign to “bridge the divide”.