Rt Hon Winston Peters - Speech to opening of Northland Field Days, Dargaville: Appreciating Rural New Zealand

As the Member of Parliament for Northland, it is a pleasure to make these opening remarks at the start of the 33rd Northland Field Days, here, in Dargaville.


Before doing so we need to thank the Northland Field Days President, Lew Duggan, and his hard working committee, not forgetting the tireless work of Megan in the office, without all of whom, none of this would be possible. 


Today is a decades old tribute to the Dargaville Jaycees who started the Northland Field Days back in 1985.  Back then the average sheep and beef farm sold for $487,000 while the average dairy farm went for $298,000.


How times have changed!


Here today are parliamentary and local government colleagues, leaders of farming industry groups, exhibitors, staff and volunteers, but above all else, you, the farmers and farming families of Northland.


With days of mostly fine weather ahead there is no reason why 2017 should not surpass the 25,000, who came through the gates last year. 


We should remember that exhibitor and gate fees help to sustain Agricultural Study Grants offered by the Field Days Committee to help young Northlanders to study agriculture.


There will be many conservations over the course of Field Days 2017.  Probably ‘swimmable rivers’ will be right up there and so fellow exhibitors, like Strainrite Fencing Systems, Fencequip, Gallagher’s and others, will have brought a lot more business cards with them.  


One suspects this year you will all be very busy!


Being a son of Northland, growing up milking cows, gives one an advantage over many in and around Parliament.  We are probably not alone in yelling at the TV screen, when a reporter mistakes a bull for a cow. 


Suffice to say, given the critical importance of your industries, the big city media should have a better grasp and appreciation of just how vital you are.  Decades ago some were describing you as sunset industries.  Strange that because your future is as important today to us as a country as it ever was.


But we face difficult times.  Much more difficult than many suspect.


No one can argue that we should not have better water quality but we’re in this together, rural and urban.  It’s not just rural and it’s not just farming but that’s not the impression given off by so many critics today and those that fail to counter their criticism.


If we’re going to talk about pollution, and we must, then let’s face it as a country for there is significant totally unsustainable urban pollution as well in towns and cities.


We have been told, last week, that we are going to have to fence an area almost 18 times longer than President Trump’s Mexican wall.  And we were told that in New Zealand’s case it would be one-14th of “Trump’s wall’s” cost.  It is a major underestimation when all waterways, one-metre or wider, need to be fenced by 2022, just five years from now.  Then there is the small print adding that for stock water crossings, most will need to be bridged or culverted by 2019, just two years from now.


You all need to question exactly how that is going to be done and who is going to help pay for it.


As a rural MP, and the only major party leader who actually represents an electorate, it’s alarming how so many benefit from what you do yet try to minimise your costs into the future. 


Irrespective of whether you crop Kiwifruit, grow trees, milk cows, run beef, or fish for a living, your contribution to Northland and New Zealand is invaluable.  So here are two practical commitments we need to make to you.


We need to correct a growing rural-urban disconnect by reinvigorating the Farm Day concept that’s been sadly left to fall by the wayside.


This needs to become a priority for the Ministry for Primary Industries.  All New Zealanders, but especially those around our largest cities, must have an opportunity to get onto real working farms and orchards and the like and speak to those who work there.

Food is the world’s largest industry but we’re not doing nearly enough to promote its myriad of opportunities.


In 2015, New Zealand graduated 12 times more people with degrees in the ‘creative arts’ than we did in every farming discipline combined.  There is something seriously amiss when an Official Information Act response tells us that Telford may share Flock House’s fate and close.


This is why we need to back, all of us, a formal revival of schemes like the Farm Cadet Scheme.  One of your 2016 study grant recipients, Tom Stephenson, went onto Smedley Station in Hawke’s Bay, which with others, provides a model for how effective Farm Cadet Schemes are.  Schemes like that need to be expanded.


Ladies and gentlemen, Primary Industries are rural.  That’s why the Ministry of Primary Industries should be relocated at the centre of a rural community in the regions. It’s just common sense. This is about making government far more responsive to your farming needs than its centralised Wellington beltway of thinking and working.


As many of you will know the Electricity Authority in its latest review proposed to increase power prices in the areas covered by Top Energy and North Power towards $9 million per annum.  There is a petition circulating at these Field Days calling for an enquiry in to the authority’s pricing practices.


It is an honour to be here with you today and here’s wishing everyone involved all the best for a successful Field Days, showcasing the technology, engineering and sheer creativeness that rural industries have to offer. 


After all, you all make up the greatest industries New Zealand has, and has ever had.