Keri Johnston

If you’d asked me six months ago what 2020 might have in store for us, I would not have guessed a pandemic. Thanks to Covid-19, food and fibre producers are considered an essential service, along with medical professionals, supermarket workers, truck drivers, and other support services, and there has been pretty much no talk about how we are ruining the environment since this whole pandemic thing started.

Agriculture as the sole cause of climate change has also been absent from the headlines, replaced by the now lack of planes and the reduction of air pollution globally.

The Freshwater reforms are not front and centre of the Government’s mind at the moment.
The inevitable delay of the reforms, and the requests from many of the primary sector groups to do so, may be seen by others as farmers kicking the can down the road – that we are using our newfound status as an essential service to stop environmental regulation.

That is not the intent at all obviously – we are extremely busy doing what we do best – growing food for our country in need, and producing fibre to keep us warm, and therefore, adding the introduction of complex environmental regulation into the mix will add more pressure and divert energy and attention from where it is really needed the most at the moment. But all it takes is one vocal person with an audience to suggest otherwise and we find ourselves with our backs against the wall again.

The pandemic provides us with an opportunity. We have long voiced our opinion that regulation forced on us from on high doesn’t work. It is far more effective when we lead it, work together to come up with solutions, and ultimately drive behavioural change.

Now is the time for us to step up, take control of the conversation and lead by example. Let’s show New Zealand that we are humbled to be able to support them in a time of need, and that together, with all the other essential services, we will do our best to keep our country ticking over. And, we will do this to the best of our ability, which means ensuring we are looking after the environment at the same time – and because we want to, not because we
have to.

We are about to get into winter grazing – make sure that you have a winter grazing plan in place. Now is a great time to update your Farm Environment Plan, or if you haven’t got one, then do it.

Covid-19 has also opened up the question about resiliency as a nation. If borders are closed and we can only eat what we grow here, being able to ensure we have a secure food supply, long term, is critical. The opportunity for us here is to have those conversations.

I have been bleating on about the need for more water storage for a while, but it will be needed if we are to increase our resilience – we cannot afford to be wholly at the mercy of Mother Nature, because we all know that she can get a tad grumpy at times, and the evidence would suggest her mood swings are beginning to get more extreme.

Now, back to life in lockdown. Stay safe everyone (and stay sane). There is no doubt the NZ we knew before lockdown will be forever changed – but let’s make it for the better. A big thank you to all of you who are out there keeping us going.