So, it’s mustering day today. I leap out of bed and pull on my farm clothes. There’s still a soft mist hanging in the valleys and over the trees, and it’s pleasantly cool before the sun pops up over the hill. A heavy dew coats the grasses causing them to droop their seed heads, reflecting multiple hues of reds and mauves. It’s been noticeable how much the increase in vegetation over the years has retained the moisture despite rising temperatures.
Today we’re bringing in a mob of yearling wethers to select some for culling on-farm for our farm shop. The mobile abattoir is expected early this morning. As well as the hogget lamb, we’ve also got a few steers and a batch of well-rounded porkers to be butchered today. Much of the meat will be sold through our on-farm shop, which has soared in popularity over the years as folk from Auckland can come out and see exactly how their food is produced. And we also supply other local food retailers in nearby towns, which have gone from strength to strength with the demand for sustainably farmed produce.
In the old days, you had to be licensed to grow the top-quality produce in a system called “organic”, which was a bit arse-about-face, if you’ll excuse an old farming saying. Nowadays, we all have farm optimisation plans that are monitored annually with our farm extension rep, and which require everyone to farm while also improving the environment and building topsoil. The biodiversity on farm is measured as well as the net carbon, and credits are given for each. Those who are farming with poor scores are the ones who are penalised and find it harder to market their wares. There are international tariffs for “high-carbon” goods these days.
As I drive quietly out on the electric quad-bike to muster the sheep, I weave around our multiple restored wetlands and marvel at how they hold precious water on our land like a sponge, and keep our water table high even in severe dry spells. We have numerous scattered trees throughout our paddocks to provide shade and shelter. They have become essential as the climate has heated up and become either extremely wet or extremely dry. We have encouraged the steeper hill parts of the farm to return to native bush, which also benefits the water storage and generating capabilities of the farm, as well as it’s biodiversity. We’ve been able to diversify into offering on-farm educational and recreational activities that are as important to our bottom line as the food production.
Now that farmers are able to easily market their own produce, with their own labels if they want to, and join regional export cooperatives, there has been a mini-revolution in how our food is produced across wider Aotearoa. As a country, we’ve signed up to “climate-positive” export deals with countries that demand food grown with the planet and our future wellbeing first and foremost in mind. This was brought about by decoupling our farmers from the monopoly stranglehold of the industrialised processing chains. This was achieved by providing independent processing facilities with access to all in each region. The duopoly of the big supermarkets was also broken open to allow farmers to retain a greater share of their sales price and be rewarded financially for nutritionally superior produce.
Farmers like myself can now hold our heads high, knowing we’re doing right by the land as well as by the consumer. It’s all good, down on the farm in 2040 …