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Jim Sutton Speech On Farm Monitor Reports

Good Afternoon ladies and gentlemen.

It gives me great pleasure to launch the Farm Monitoring Reports for this year.

Farm monitoring is a process whereby MAF monitors the production, finance, trends, issues and sector concerns on New Zealand farms. The expectations and intentions of farmers, and those servicing the sector are analysed and presented as a model farm.

The reports published today highlight the 1999/2000 season and forecasts the 2000/20001 season.

There are nine farm monitoring reports this year. Five of these are sector specific (deer, sheep and beef, dairying, arable, and horticulture). Four are regional (South, Central South, North and Central North).

The 1999-2000 season is considered by many farmers nationwide to be the best for 20 years.

A low New Zealand dollar and farm input prices, which have not increased, have led to a dramatic improvement in the farm and orchard incomes of most sectors.

Generally, profit levels exceeded farmers' early expectations. Farmer morale and confidence about the short-term future is very high after eight years of "being in the wilderness" suffering from low profits and feeling ignored by Government.

According to these reports, farmers see farming as the one bright spot in an otherwise lacklustre economy, and believe New Zealand should build on its strengths and competitive advantage in the primary production sector.

This is a view shared by the Labour-Alliance government and particularly by me.

For us, agriculture and horticulture is the backbone of the economy. It is a key part of New Zealand export growth ? providing two-thirds of our export earnings and most of the growth in exports in the past three years.

It is also a leading industry in the new knowledge economy.

Farmers and orchardists have long paid for research and development in their sectors. And they are quick to take up new advances in technology. Many of our scientists lead the world in their specialist areas. It is no accident that the Invermay gene link was found here in New Zealand.

Research carried out for MAF shows that rural families are in the forefront of Internet usage. Many use the Internet to buy products and to do their banking. The provision of telecommunications to rural areas is likely to become a hot topic during the next few months and one I am keeping a close eye on as Minister of Rural Affairs.

Of course, all is not rosy down on the farm.

Farmers see the acute lack of young people willing to enter farming as a concern. Farm training institutes are struggling, and agricultural student numbers at universities are well down. This is considered by farmers to be short-sighted of young people, as there are, and will be, more well paid career opportunities managing large farms.

The reports say that farmers and growers are annoyed at Government changes to ACC and the "reactivation" of the Employment Relations Bill which they see as a backward step.

My Government disagrees with that.

The ACC regulator has information that shows that more than 70 per cent of employers are better off under the Government's changes.

Most farmers are self-employed, and adjustments have been made to the scheme to take into account their seasonally fluctuating earnings.

Of farmers who are employers, 90 per cent of crop farmers and 42 per cent of livestock farmers are better off.

As for the ERB, my Government sees this bill as part of building a modern and productive economy. It's about restoring the balance of power in the workforce and brings New Zealand into line with international practice.

Basically, good employers won't notice the difference.

In closing, I would like to commend MAF for these reports. There is much of interest and useful information in them for anyone interested in our rural sector.

I will find them particularly useful to give to visiting ministers of agriculture to explain how we do things in this part of the world.

Thank you.

Office of Hon Jim Sutton

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