With winter approaching, lockdowns ending, and trade hi-jinks rising, Guy Trafford looks ahead to the coming political games that will consume us all for most of the rest of 2020

With winter approaching, lockdowns ending, and trade hi-jinks rising, Guy Trafford looks ahead to the coming political games that will consume us all for most of the rest of 2020

The saying “a week is a long time in politics” is attributed to past UK PM Harold Wilson. While Wilson is long gone, the saying could be well applied to the last week.

The Labour led coalition were looking as though they could sleep walk back into government at the next elections as the then National party leader was striking all the wrong chords with the electorate, and with the PM having daily access to the public. Simon Bridges didn’t seem to have a chance of regaining any lost ground. But his colleagues in opposition were not prepared to remain uncompetitive.

Two damning surveys provided the motivation, and the ammunition, to force change and it was out with Simon-and-Paula and in with Todd-and-Nikki. It also brought a change in approach, with less harping and more acknowledgement of some good work done by the Government in their handling of the cards the pandemic dealt. The New Zealand Government is head and shoulders ahead of any other government in public support, perhaps a little surprising as the New Zealand public also reported the most negative impact on personal and household income of any of the monitored countries.

Given the recent results where the public gave a 90% pass for the handling of the pandemic situation and 80% for how the economic fall out has been handled, showing, at least outwardly, some approval of the current Government has been a wise move.

Under Simon Bridges there had been informal rural discussions that the sector may have seen merit in supporting New Zealand First at the next election, because if Labour gets back in, there is the ongoing possibility they will need NZ First as a coalition partner, along with the Greens, to hold on to power. This logic is that NZ First, if they stay with Labour, can act as a mitigating influence on some more extreme leanings that come from the Green left.

On the other hand, if NZ First did not go with Labour then they may be needed by National to form a government, and then the rural sector would have a double voice in Government, both from National and NZ First. If, as the election draws closer and National look more likely to compete with Labour - and generally the polls do close up nearer to election - then it may be that the loser in the results will be NZ First. The rural vote may not see the need to hedge bets and return (if they ever left) to National.

Trump-hat-on-the-sideboard aside, it looks as though with Muller and Kaye there has been a slight move towards the left and so if the electorate believe this, Labour may lose some of their less committed voters to National.

Now that Alert Level 1 is starting to look like a real option soon, the election build-up is the next cab off the rank.

The debate has already shifted to the economy post covid-19, the Government has the benefit of the profile created through the lock-downs but with a new leadership team not encumbered by past foot-in-mouth moments, National will be able to compete better.

For farmers, they may be torn between the options provided by the parties on the direct influences that affect them on farm; that is, the more micro-environment, versus what direction parties are pointing the country in at the macro level.

When it comes to regulations around water and climate change most of the heavy lifting has already been done, or at least we think so until proven otherwise. National will need to come up with some convincing alternatives in policy to regain their lost ground, and three months or so is not a lot of time to do it. As Simon Bridges showed, with the mood the electorate is in, sticking to a negative campaign will not turn things around for them.

If our elections don’t provide the interest to keep the attention going, we can always switch to looking at what is happening in the USA.

For just the reverse reason to how our government handled the Covid-19 fallout, observers would be excused for believing the Democrats have a cake walk to power in November. However, if anything has been learned from recent history it is that nothing should be taken for granted. Given the precarious position the global economy is at, it may be that the greater influence on our macro influences comes out of the United States and the success or otherwise of the New Zealand economy post pandemic may be influenced more by what happens offshore more than anything that occurs within New Zealand.

Trump has managed to drive a wedge between the two largest global economies, and hasn’t been exactly welcoming to the EU along the way.

This, plus the fact that many countries have found that key components to the smooth operation of their economies are being manufactured in other countries, especially China, has provided impetus to more focus on inward looking policies. This may reduce China’s ability to grow its economy and also reduce other countries need to import products. Hopefully, this does not extend to food products although already there are calls in New Zealand to ban the importation of potato fries from the EU as rumours say, due to a lack of sales, there they are being dumped on the international market.

With international governments showing that they are quite prepared to support their farming sectors through subsidies and payments, it may be that with the widespread support to industries from governments, agriculture in our competing countries get unfair advantages over the likes of New Zealand and Australia. If they can keep their production within their borders, fine.

However, if the potato threat becomes real, then we may have a problem.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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here are the store prices in Aus, R2 steers are making 2.30 to 2.50 a kg up here. R2 bulls 2.30 a kg.

Canterbury Park auction this week Prime Cattle 500Kg + $2-$2.09 a Kg liveweight, Sheep $100 with an exception at $217, at these prices the quite large yarding indicates the effects of market closedown/drought and desperation for cashflow. Prime prices pre christmas were close to $3 a Kg and schedule prices dropped from $6 Kg carcase weight to $4.60 - hard to run a business on this level of fluctation but many employees & employers will see a bigger reduction in income and may then have more sympathy for us farmers.

Before Christmas I had agents trying to talk me into heifers at $1140. Lambs at fielding were over $100, most going to sth island. People now are quoting me cattle for less than they paid for them. Grass is soft, thin and not going far.
Interesting times hopefully not dangerous ones.

Surely at a time of such uncertainty internationally, it is an opportunity to focus on modernising/revolutionising our agricultural systems;


Already it seems the $1.1b environmental jobs fund will concentrate efforts on ag communities and freshwater improvement, hence, to my mind the Coalition should match that amount now with direct subsidies to farmers for soil improvement via agricultural systems change in the above direction.

That way they will have addressed the trifecta of land-use issues we have here:

- re-forestration of erosion prone and low value land,
- soil quality / pasture improvement / drought resistance, and
- wetland expansion and freshwater improvement.

Obviously you are not a farmer Kate, if you want direct subsidies. ;-)

I am interested to see how the $1.1b environmental jobs fund plays out in reality. It is almost impossible to source large quantities of native plants for riparian etc planting, in some cases, for up to 2years, in advance. So there is unlikely to be a huge upscaling of planting in the next 12mths due to lack of plants. Many catchment communities work with their local nursery to a 'grow to order' system. Also many catchment communities use the local groups - schools, clubs etc to assist with planting as they then also take on helping with maintenance. With regards to fencing - 98% of all dairy waterways 1m wide and over are fenced. So that leaves the non dairy sector. Fencing for sheep/deer etc is a skilled job. Maintenance of existing plantings is where there are more likely to be opportunites in the short term, but at scale - I am not convinced. So for those currently redundant due to COVID and those in the future who will become unemployed, I would not put my hopes in getting a fulltime job in the next 12mths, courtesy of this funding stream. Some will, yes, but for many it will be a pipe dream for at least a year or more.

As to wetlands - the biggest responsiblility for destruction of wetlands lies with successive governments who through Lands and Survey dept drained the peat/wetlands for farming in order to establish farming at scale in NZ.

"biggest responsiblility for destruction of wetlands lies with successive governments " - exactly. Gerard Hindmarsh, in his great little book 'Swamp Fever' has the story of the wetlands destruction in NW Nelson - all paid for by Gubmint....

Co, i have spent a lot of time planting trees and I have lost way more than %50. I think you need cool roots and for that you need cover trees. Obviously in some areas with good rainfall and the right soils it's easy but not here.

I think those cover trees should be high quality timber trees and at present Im leaning towards gums for survivability.

This guy is interesting, I would love to see a thriving hardwood industry with farmers getting a good percentage of income of them.


Great link. Much appreciated AJ.

those mills are not expensive, i wouldn't be hard for a couple to set themselves up with mill and basic tractor, we need banks to lend to people like this.
We could start creating wealth in our communities again.

I have been using 2 1/4 " x 6 1/4 Poplar in my cattle yards and have sold some to others. It's so much stronger than pine, it's cheap to treat but need to be cut properly or it moves. I even have some untreated boards that have been in for 10 years or more. My cousin built new cattle yards and the treated pine boards are rotting after 6 years.


Andrewj - I agree location is a factor, as to which tree to grow. We use professionals to plant up our native/amenity areas these days, and to carry out maintenance - weed spraying etc. Very cost effective since we don't live on farm. They guarantee a 90% survival rate after 3yrs. We grew Eucalyptus cordata as shelter trees and hedge them. Wouldn't recommend them for our soil type - roots play havoc with tile drains and don't like their feet wet too long. So we have removed them 10m either side of tiles, and by hedgetrimming them they appear to stabilise in any wet area. On the plus side, they can handle our very strong, salt laden winds/rain in spring. They are grown for stock shelter so no intention of chopping them down for wood.

The only key ingredient not in play so far in this 'crisis', at least not massively at this stage, is food.
Should the food chain be interrupted in any way then I'm picking all out war as a quick solution.
China needs food. America grows food - a match made in heaven you would think? We'll see. China is heading to the USA for its protein, at least that what the trade deal promises, while the Aussies are being kicked to touch, for the time being, for calling out the Asian Bully for who he is. We're a small player in this part of the game so we would do well to be up with the play here. Already we're reading stories about the disruption within countries domestic food chains & it'happened here under lock down with flour, canned foods etc. so watch this space. The Global Rule Book has been ripped apart & a new set of 'relations' are already unfolding. One thing stands out of the past week - the drawn facial features of Mr Xi from Beijing during the latest gathering. I sense a man under pressure. This game is moving real fast. Don't miss it!

I suspect real Covid 19 deaths in China are close to 500,000 (Wuhan 49 Crematoria working 24/7 and 10,000 urns delivered to just one crematorium) and average Chinese not happy so Xi sees a domestic threat and is seeking to consolidate his position by claiming an external threat.

Here's where the $1.1 bn could go. I have had first hand experience of the whole resource consent to farm, farm environment plan and audit bs, at an all up cost of $15,000 to the regional council and consultants. Tell the auditor what he wants to hear, he gives you a A pass and goes away happier ( and richer ) - it's all a gravy train for everybody involved, except obviously the farmer who pays for it all.

Willy we ain't seen nothing.
Where were you last night.
They are a very determined and enthusiastic bunch.


The money cost of prepping these will be magnificent. Now if it gets into the co-ops, the question will be maintenance of funding.