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Hamish Marr 2019 Nuffield Scholar – Global Insights: Attacking the noblest profession

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AFTER almost half of this year travelling the world there are a lot of thoughts in my head regarding agriculture and farming.

The biggest take-home for me is the universal problem of people wanting what they haven’t got simply through believing the grass is always greener over the fence and genuinely not understanding agriculture and what is involved in food production.

This fact was spelled out very clearly to me when two environmentally minded vegans in Germany told me the problem with German agriculture was that the cows were inside a lot of the time and farmers should put their cows outside all year like New Zealand farmers do.

Of course, that bought a smile from me because in NZ the green movement wants us to put our cows inside to be more like Europe.

So, who do we believe and who is right?

It is the same argument with synthetic meat, this seemingly new food on the block is going to save the planet and the people.

My question is how can a multi-ingredient, heavily processed, made-in-a-factory product even be compared to ruminant protein?

Nutritionists and health professionals all talk of whole, nutrient-dense foods consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet.

Animal meat is the ultimate whole food, laden with nutrients and, best of all, it can be eaten without any process intervention.

In the 1980s and 1990s everyone was going to die prematurely from heart disease from eating too much butter and the alternative and golden ticket to eternal life was margarine. Now, in 2019, there is very little margarine sold as the apparent health benefits actually never came to be.

Genetically modified plants are almost enemy number one world over through misinformation about pesticide use and apparent food safety concerns.

The marketers and lobbyists will have you believe GM has led to huge increases in chemical use and it has been a campaign to sell agrichemicals by large, multi-national companies.

In truth GM was designed so farmers would apply less chemicals, both insecticides and herbicides, and the companies would make their money selling the patented seeds.

GM corn, for example, contains a naturally occurring fungus (Bacillus thuringiensis). BT, as it’s known, is registered as the safest organic insecticide in organic and biological farming when used on its own and yet because it has been bred to occur in corn it is labelled as hazardous by the very people calling for safe food.

At some point all western countries are going to face a wall of loud, anti-farming noise and governments will respond to the voters.

In the Netherlands, France and Germany we are seeing populations calling for more regulation to limit productivity.

Farmers, personally, will be the collateral damage in what will result and this will happen in NZ at some point.

What the people making the noise fail to grasp is the effect they have on people.

Recently, I was asked by a panel about my thoughts on morale in agriculture considering how good prices are.

My response was simple. Morale is extremely low and will remain so as farmers feel targeted.

They are made to feel responsible for a multi-generational production model that successive governments and regulators have promoted.

They feel targeted by a media seemingly interested in a story and they feel targeted by groups that understand only small parts of what are very complex systems.

I can tell you first hand when you criticise what a farmer does you criticise them, their home and their very reason for being.

It is not like criticising a company that can hide behind a name. The effects are real and they are very personal. Farming is a very emotional-laden occupation and farmers feel genuinely responsible for producing a good product for those who choose not to do it themselves.

The regulations facing agriculture will not go away and they they will almost certainly change in form and the way they are administered but regulation is probably here to stay if what is happening in other countries happens here.

It seems the life of any regulation begins as noise that gets louder regardless of the facts.

We have to remember our farms are outdoor factories and what we do can be openly seen by anyone who drives down the road.

By default that makes us targets unlike any indoor factory where trucks go in one side and out the other and something mysterious happens inside.

In general, people talk only about small components of our farming systems but talk as if they are experts and you have to think that just because I have teeth, it doesn’t make me a dentist.

The challenge for agriculture is to find a way through by understanding what the people want and in doing so try to explain why farming is so complex, diverse and at the same time the noblest occupation.

Hamish Marr Nuffield 2019 Scholar
Nuffield Scholars for 2019 announcement at Parliament. Photo by Mark Coote/markcoote.com