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The Federation – Past, Present and Future


"The Federation – Past, Present and Future"
President's Address- Tom Lambie
Speech opening 60th Annual Conference
Novotel Tainui Hotel,

This conference marks the 60th anniversary of Federated Farmers of New Zealand.

It is my last conference as president after 21 years of attending scores of Federation meetings in Wellington and many other parts of New Zealand.

Where the Federation stands today is a legacy of the efforts of our forebears in this organisation.

Our work as office-holders results in a legacy that we hand down to future members of the Federation and farmers of the future.

As farmers we take a long-term view on the way we run our businesses.

Our daily short-term decisions are made in the context of our view of the markets, our long-term view of the best use of our land, and the application of technology to our farming practices.

Farmers are looking for long and short-term outcomes in their business lives, and they bring this to their expectations of the work of the Federation.

The state of farming today is the result of decisions made by farmers and by government in the 1980s.

Farming in the future will reflect the decisions that we make now about our own farms and farming practices.

The future will also reflect the work that we do to influence the environment in which we operate.

This includes our work with central and local government and internationally.

Farming today is a complex picture of individuals working to their strengths.

They operate in a true free market which is constantly changing.

To thrive, they have to be innovative, dynamic and open to change.

They face fierce competition internationally and for land use at home.

Farmers risk their own capital, backing their own decisions.

Working to these strengths is the key to understanding how farming in New Zealand has grown from 14% of GDP to 17% over the last two decades.

This is a story of New Zealand farming that is found in some other countries but it is not the norm in most countries.

The international norm is one of subsidies and government interference distorting decision-making and leaving farmers disconnected to their own markets.

There is a growing recognition overseas that the New Zealand model of farmers making their own decisions without government interference is to be preferred.

For that reason New Zealand is now a magnet for delegations of international visitors wanting to find out how New Zealand moved from subsidies to a true free market.

The costs of that shift were borne by New Zealand farmers, by which I mean us.

There was a significant human cost to the changes which none of us forget.

That cost makes it incredibly important that as individuals and as a Federation we ensure that the gains are not eaten away by well-meaning but misdirected government actions.

The fundamental role of government is to set the environment in which we live and in which we run our businesses.

The rules of law and property rights underpin a free society.

This includes enforceable contracts and secure title.

These are the building blocks that give us the confidence and long term security to invest.

Biosecurity is another important role of government because of its impact on the New Zealand economy and our way of life if there was a significant incursion.

Our geographical isolation provides us with a natural buffer but our risk is growing because of the valuable increases in tourism and imports.

The greater interest of all New Zealand is that our border controls keep pace with these changes.

Because of the national interest, this is a cost that should be borne by the government.

Even a small outbreak of foot and mouth would have a devastating effect on the economy.

Any attempt to target cost recovery against a specific industry group is fraught, as was seen in the attempt to allocate costs for the varroa incursion.

The third role of government is to create the infrastructure that allows farmers to do their business.

This includes the regulatory framework that creates competition and the physical infrastructure to do our business.

This is a narrow view of the role of government.

It reinforces the government role to ensure that our cost structures remain competitive and that we have the provision of essential services, such as telecommunications, electricity, roading, schools and hospitals.

A separate but important point is that both farmers and the government need to base their decisions on sound science.

For the government, this is the basis for effective regulations, and a protection from populist reactions to the latest fad.

For farmers, this is the basis of good decision-making for the short and long term; both for better productivity and for a better environment.

The Federation has historically had a role internationally, working with farmers from other countries and with the New Zealand government.

This is another example of the power of farmers speaking for farmers.

The Federation speaks with a credibility that cannot be matched by a politician or bureaucrat, no matter how well intentioned.

Work to ensure a free, open and competitive international market is on-going.

This is an important role for the Federation.

Fundamentally, we are trying to eliminate the distortions and barriers that stop us talking to our customers.

I started by talking about the long term timeframe in which farmers operate.

The decisions that we make individually and collectively affect us today but more importantly set the parameters within which the future will be created.

The past is what built the Federation but we need to be forward-looking because what we do will shape the future.

This is a meeting of the National Council.

You are the ultimate decision-making body of the Federation.

Your decisions shape the history of tomorrow.

Just as the Federation has played an important role to bring New Zealand to where we are today, I believe that the Federation is well placed to play an important role in our future.

Thank you all.


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