King Country farmer Robert Carter is travelling around Europe, and taking note of how well the continent is handling environmental challenges.

As I write this I’m in mid-south France near a town called Brioude, on the banks of the Allier river.

Suzanne and I are on our OE, as senior teenagers, and we’ve so far circumnavigated the whole of the UK including Ireland in a small campervan. Once that mission was complete we flew to Paris and picked up another van and have zig-zagged through north-east France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and down through Italy and back up into France once more.

It’s been a marvellous trip and we’ve seen some wonderful sights and met some equally wonderful people.

Thanks to the internet we’ve been able to keep in touch with home too and wonder just how NZ is coping with out us!

When we left back in June, Jane Smith was declaring an emergency of national stupidity as a result of some of the crazy antics of politicians and climate change activists. It sounds like the hand that feeds the nation is getting a hard time (farmers) and that is a pity.

Being overseas in countries that have huge populations and masses of vehicles on the roads sharpens one’s perspective.

I can’t help thinking there is a section of our NZ population that is beating up our clean, green food-producing nation’s reputation for no really good reason.

The issues around pollution, energy usage and carbon are huge and will only have progress if all the developed nations take a sensible, collegial and concerted approach.

The key drivers that need addressing are population growth, and thus consumption, on a global scale.

We visited a climate rally in the UK at Glastonbury and we were shocked to see the amount of plastic rubbish left behind by the hand-wringing activists.

I’ve been taking very careful note of the state of the environment in various parts of Europe. I take a bow towards the Swiss, but would have to say that the rest have a way to go yet.

There are many great rivers in the world, one of them being the Rhine. I stood in it in my bare legs and had a good look at the turbidity and life within. This was about 900km inland and it was not too bad. However the Tiber, flowing through Rome was shocking, to say the least. On the one hand you see the evidence of mankind’s efforts over the ages with beauty in the buildings and infrastructure and then just around a corner, a huge pile of plastic waste and rubbish sitting on a river bank.

I feel we have a huge problem globally with plastic wrapping on food items. It’s just incredible how the packaging industry has managed to convince food distributors that they need it. And a fair proportion of it ends up in waterways.

As for carbon, well, the big issue is the millions of trucks on the roads carrying tonnes of food in either direction because consumers demand certain things. I saw Spanish strawberries for sale in Edinburgh yet one could stop at a stall on a roadside in Scotland and buy locally produced strawberries.

We are talking about food distribution efficiency or rather the lack of it.

So NZ, we could lead the world with this issue around logistics as we can place healthy food products into markets on the other side of the world with a low carbon footprint by the use of efficient transport methods.

It’s an exemplar that has not gone un-noticed by some over here.

Not only transport but actual farming methods too. An example of this is the cut-and-carry practice on many European beef and dairy operations. The animals are housed all year round in barns and an army of huge tractors gobble up fuel to cut the feed, deliver it to the animals and then spend time carting and spreading effluent back on the land. It’s not an isolated example either – we observed thousands of hectares of farms being operated in this way.

So we have NZ attempting to set an example to the world by placing requirements on our own producers yet I observe the rest of the world just carrying on as usual in the headlong pursuit of consumption and growth.

I think the goals and aims towards sustainability and a future for the planet are totally laudable but we should be as good as we can be in our own back yard but spend a lot more time convincing the big players that things have to change.

NZ, stop beating yourself up, kia kaha, you are not too bad, get out there and hug a NZ farmer, they are feeding you.