The most valuable thing to farm – My Farming Journey

Written as an editorial for the Otago Daily Times – unpublished

 I’m the 5th generation of my New Zealand farming family. My early childhood memories from the 70’s and 80’s are ones of topdressing planes, hay making and shearing. My most important ones are of sitting in the gorse spraying truck watching dad turning pink from dye marker, and warnings to stay away from the various piles of agrichemicals stored around the shed. Grandad wouldn’t touch the stuff.  

 When I was at university my parents bought a large, run-down sheep station in the Wairarapa. I returned home to help on the farm and get it “up to speed”, erecting tens of Kilometres of fencing and other development work. The more I did on farm, the more I could see some things didn’t add up. After a while there wasn’t enough for all of us to do on farm, so when my brother had enough of the freezing works, I headed off on the OE. This was an eye opener.  

 I meet my partner Kate in Scotland. We travelled many places. I think someone who is born on the land is always looking over the farm fence wherever they go. We lived in the UK for a while, our eldest born there. Two things made a major impact whilst living in rural Yorkshire. One was the sight and smell of the thousands of animals being burnt due to the Foot and Mouth outbreak. The other was walking through aisles of organically grown produce in our local Sainsbury supermarket. I’d never really thought about this before. There was nothing from “clean green” New Zealand.  

 We returned to New Zealand to work on the farm with this idea bouncing around in the back of our heads. I learnt as much as I could about organic farming. When the opportunity arose, we bought a small run-down farm here in Otago and set about becoming organically certified.  

 As we continued our farming path, we learned the truth of what the most valuable product to farm in New Zealand was. It’s not dairy, kiwifruit, avocadoes, or even anything grown organically – it is the Farmer. The ideal animal. Easily herded, trained and lead, long lived, and easily milked and fleeced.  

 We found we didn’t need all the things you’re told you need, the things rural companies sell, no poisons or sprays, artificial fertilisers or drenches to make our farm work. 

 We put native into QE2 blocks. We farmed holistically and encouraged diversity. The water in the stream that flowed through our property was tested cleaner going out than coming in. We were “regenerative” before that was even a thing. I became an advocate, even working with the UN on sustainable farming.  

 We got told by others we were doing it wrong, didn’t deserve a farm. We got told our farm looked a mess. Selling organic lamb was difficult, companies pulled out of processing. Organics was a threat to their business and other farmers. This all became too much. We left farming in 2015. 

 The “conventional” way of farming for the last 50+ years has caused huge environmental damage. Farmers need to understand this. They must change. The rest of us need to realise that farmers are only doing what they have been taught, told and sold to do. They are not to blame. Industrial agriculture and those who sell it are ultimately to blame. Greed is to blame. They don’t care about farmers or the environment – only their profits. Even now they are coming up with new things to sell everybody as a “solution”. 

We’ve now reached a point where things MUST change, because the future of our species is literally at risk. Protesting won’t help. Farmers need to embrace the change – you will benefit – and you can farm a better way…  

Just stop listening to salesmen.  

Glenn Mead works as an advisor on sustainable pathways in Agriculture. 

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