Mark’s path of listening and learning
Holding ofﬁce in a large organisation can have a number of results. Ofﬁce holders can represent their electors’ views, their own views, discover that they are out of their depth and either go quietly or dig their toes in, realise that there are other valid points of view that need to be disseminated to their electors or the wider public, and, perhaps most importantly, realise that there is much to learn that they did not know, and set about educating themselves.
Mark Adams is coming to the end of his term as president of South Canterbury Federated Farmers. He has a sheep and beef farm just outside Fairlie which has a spare, large house, often let through Airbnb. “I’m an owner operator,” he says.
“I do most of the work on the farm myself . When I speak for farmers, I identify with the majority of farmers who are owner operators. When I see owners of multiple farms – successful business people – elected onto boards, I can admire them, but they are often one step removed from the environment I am in.”
Having been in his leadership role for nearly three years, he says it has been a privilege and personally rewarding.
“I have been exposed to a wide range views where people have stated their case articulately. I have had access to people like ECan commissioners telling me about their world, and what they needed to see happen. You discuss what you think will work, then act as a conduit to farmers to get them to run with the proposed outcomes. I can tell you that some conversations do not go well.”
He has had “stimulating” conversations with urban folk, too. “You learn to navigate your way through.”
A frustration has been that Federated Farmers advocates for all farmers in its discussions with local body and government ofﬁcials and representatives, but not all farmers support the Federation.
He believes the body would be more effective and able to convey its core purpose better if all farmers were members.
“If non-members could watch the Federation’s professional staff doing their stuff, they would be inspired. These people are really impressive; they live and breathe it on our behalf.” Mark believes farming is changing in ways many people do not realise. He has come to see several major drivers that might seem unusual.
“The New Zealander on O.E. sees changes as they unfold. They look at degraded environments and come back and demand it not happen here. Our urban population is better connected, better educated and better informed.
They are asking considered questions about what farmers are doing to the environment, and the rural sector must respond in ways that are evidence-based and scientiﬁc, and acknowledge the emotion on both sides, because we are all emotionally connected to the land.”
Mark was invited as a sheep and beef farmer to attend the Dairy Environment Leader’s Forum held at Wellington last December. He was interested to note that as Dairy New Zealand’s understanding of the environment has grown, so has its alignment with Maori culture.
“As farmers consider how to be good stewards of land, water and air, you ﬁnd yourself identifying with the ways Maori identify with land, water and air.
Is this is becoming part of an emerging national identity?” Building bridges between dairy farmers and sheep and beef farmers is another aspect he sees as needing work.
He credits an ECan initiative which has divided the region into catchment areas for forcing an environmental focus onto farmers. “In each ECan area we are encouraged to engage with others.
When a farmer considers how and what they do on their farm affects others in their immediate catchment, it changes, or reinforces, their behaviour.
It is a very clever approach. It breaks thinking down into, ‘What do I have control over, and what can I do about water quality or soil structure?’ I think it is most exciting.
But there is still a rift between the sectors as Ecan presses aspects like nutrient caps, and each sector ﬁghts for its slice of the pie. The Airbnb house provides another inﬂuence for good.
Because it can sleep up to 12 it is often rented out to travelling overseas groups such as Chinese.
Mark has found these people to be very interested in farming practices here, and also very warm and friendly.
He and his wife were recently invited to share a Chinese New Year dinner with their guests.
Using broken English and cellphone translators they had a wonderful evening, followed next morning by his showing them around the farm and shearing a sheep.