In the aftermath of lockdown Mark Chamberlain says ‘merci beaucoup’ for a welcome distraction.

Bonjour Nouvelle Zélande (more about the French later). This year is fast becoming a real dog-tucker one – a year that is testing the collective patience of the nation. Floods in the south, drought in the north and, at times, a famine of common sense in a certain area in the middle. To top it off, courtesy of our biggest trading partner, Covid-19. This gave us, rightly or wrongly, the lockdown and the loss of liberties. Not to mention Cindy’s daily Labour Party promotional press conferences with her furrowed brow and empathetic sighs, answering kindergarten-like questions from her fan club, aka the press.

It is funny how, suddenly, agriculture was not only needed it was loved. The likes of David Parker and his cohort slithered back into their holes… for now. As we emerge from the lockdown perhaps it is time to finally have a frank and meaningful discussion about New Zealand’s future. But the cynic in me cannot help but feel that we will be cast aside once more, much like my dog’s plaything.

For our family, things went well. With some deep breaths and a few shrugs of the shoulders all seven of us coexisted successfully. It was tough going for our elder daughters, home from their universities, locked up with their aging mum and dad. Meanwhile the younger trio had a blast. They did their best to wear out the pony and motorbikes, with our youngest, Grace, yet to discover second gear. And of course near the end of May, a great family day for duck shooting.

The end of May dry-off went spectacularly well. This can be a pressure point in the season when the show suddenly comes to a screaming halt over just a couple of days. Of course, if the weather plays its part, and it did, it is only half the work. Different mobs of cows coming and going, dealing with transports, meat processors, and graziers may have you out of the routine but it is also kind of rewarding.

June and July bring with them the opportunity for farm maintenance, a deep breath and, God forbid, right on cue, the unsatisfiable anti-farming brigade. The winter passes quickly, and you never seem to reach the end of your to-do list.

Just before the lockdown one of our staff members was called up for his long-awaited hip replacement. To fill his spot we welcomed into our bubble a 20-something Frenchman, Antoine, who had been travelling the world. We did not know it at the time but he was to be a welcome distraction. Between milking rows of cows we would swap stories about our culture, food, and of course red wine. I now end the day’s work with a “merci beaucoup.”

One of the things I have learned from Antoine is that when farmers in France are unhappy France knows about it. I have often admired the passion of the French and remember their agricultural version of the “resistance” when they blocked highways with their tractors and farm machinery to emphasise their displeasure. Our Prime Minister has frequently used the new catch cry “Go Hard” and perhaps New Zealand’s farming sector needs to take their own little blue pill and follow her advice. We need to advocate more strongly against the David Parkers of the world while remembering not to be smug – something like Foot and Mouth could quickly become our Covid-19.

At times, I worry about our country. The cheerleading media have conditioned us into focusing on personalities rather than policies, nice hairdos rather than substance. Now more than ever we need to spend less time on the right-versus-left politics and refocus on what is right versus wrong for our country. We need to spare a thought for those in our communities who have been seriously impacted and for whom furrowed brows and empathetic sighs ain’t going to cut it. Perhaps we need to be more like the French. Au revoir.