BY TIM CRONSHAW
Mid Canterbury farmer Hamish Marr sees tight times and farming promise ahead from his travels as special agricultural trade envoy for New Zealand.
The fifth-generation Methven farmer and former Nuffield scholar was in Europe for two weeks last month and will spend about two months a year overseas in his trade role.
He remains a hands-on livestock and arable farmer for his family operation in between this work alongside the Government to support farmers and growers offshore.
After six months in the job, Marr was enjoying learning what happens on the ‘‘other side’’.
‘‘There is a lot of work goes on in the background in trade and government that farmers on the ground might have little appreciation for and so that side has been really fascinating.’’
In his first trip to Wellington, he observed this during talks about barriers to trade including non-tariff barriers — roadblocks put up at the border to slow down trade.
He said officials were working on behalf of farmers to keep markets and supply chains open, and direct contact was often the best way to go about this.
‘‘We’ve come from the last three years of Zoom meetings during Covid-19 and I think we’re moving away from Zoom now because we’ve realised how important face-to-face contact is.
‘‘It’s one thing having a meeting on a screen, but you just don’t get out of it the same as you would get to sit across someone at a table and shake their hand at the end of it.’’
Marr said efforts to find new markets and break down trade barriers were being stepped up, during a time when farming businesses were as tight as they had been for some time.
‘‘I know on our own farm here personally we are really treading water.
‘‘We’ve got extremely high input costs that have come back a wee bit, but at the same time our product prices have come back with them so margins to me are tighter than what they were and confidence is still quite low.
‘‘Optimism has a big influence on market sentiment and drive, so give it six months and we will see what happens.’’
Since taking up the family operation in 2004, he had seen three down-cycles and remained buoyant farming would be on the up again within the next few years.
During his European travels, the subjects of sustainability, climate change and the environment were raised many times.
‘‘The most humbling thing in all of that was every country I went to held up New Zealand very high in terms of leadership and stewardship.
‘‘No-one is prepared to pay for this yet and we have to remember there is no value chain set up for pricing on farm emissions or know how the value’s going to flow.
‘‘Is it just going to fall on farmers to pay that, with no actual way yet for it all to be reconciled through the consumer?
‘‘So that’s a concern I have as a farmer and a question we all need to think about.’’ Hamish Marr remains optimistic for the future.
He says the fundamentals of food had not changed under an increasing population globally, and people needing to eat three times a day.
The challenge was to extract the highest dollar for everything sold and chase the medium to high end product market as New Zealand was one of the few unsubsidised countries, he said.
‘‘For us, the buck stops at the market.
‘‘My advice is to work as closely as you can to the people you are selling to and buying from so everyone’s supply and value chain has the feedback to produce what our market wants.’’
Marr received a Syngenta Growth Award last month in the community and people category.
‘‘It was an honour to be nominated for an award, let alone be recognised by your peers so to be given the opportunity among all these exceptional farmers and be selected was humbling.’’
The other winner in the category for growers and advisers making a leading contribution to their community was Hawke’s Bay horticultural scientist David Manktelow.
The awards shine a light on the contribution and influence growers, farm advisers and community leaders have on the agricultural sector in Australia and New Zealand.
Marr said he gave time to talk to conferences and be involved in local groups because he felt strongly that being part of the rural community went hand-in-hand with farming.
‘‘Today our lives are getting more transactional and you see it all the time that people are retracting from getting involved, so I like to get involved in as many things as I can.
‘‘There are totally rewards from it and a lot of enjoyment from being involved in your local area.’’
In every small town, mum and dad teams were keeping community groups alive and thriving, which made the rural community special, he said.
He said the work of farmers was admired globally and too often they avoided telling their stories because they were a humble group.
‘‘It’s more and more important every day now that farmers tell their story of what they’re doing on farm and why they’re doing it and why New Zealand farming is sustainable, why they’d joined their local catchment group and what it’s doing.
‘‘We are a lot more efficient with water these days than what we were.
‘‘We have so much more technology and our breeding of animals and machinery is so much better, so our sustainability story and our reason why we do things is really important for people to understand.
‘‘So every opportunity farmers should not be afraid to explain why they’re doing things and be proud of doing it.’’
~ Central Rural Life