I've been thinking about blogging for a while but there’s always been something else to do; goats to feed; cattle to check on; eggs to collect or horses to spend quality time with. Plus there’s the work involved in running lifestyleblock.co.nz, the website that has outlived such sites as Ask Jeeves and MySpace. In fact when we launched the site in 2000, there was no Facebook, no Twitter and no YouTube. The online world was a different place.
But the real world was very much the same. Livestock have always needed people who care for them. Farmers have always watched the weather with a wary eye. Goats have always ignored fences.
Another thing that hasn't changed is the widespread low opinion of lifestyle farmers. Commercial farmers see us as Queen St farmers with more money than sense, companies in the rural sector see us as a nuisance and it seems we’re completely invisible to the government.
So who are we? Well, there is no official definition of a lifestyle block so I’ll give my own as 'A block of land that produces some agricultural output but cannot support a family without other financial input.' It's not perfect but it encompasses a half-acre block with a saffron plot and a 220-acre hill block.
So why do we have such a bad reputation? Over the last few years I've tried to find out. I've had the following conversation a number of times:
“All lifestyle farmers are ignorant idiots”.
Me: “But what about that very competent lifestyle farmer? You know them, they're not idiots”.
“They're not lifestyle farmers”.
Me: “Why not, they've got 15 acres?”.
'They have a lot of experience.'
Basically, if you're a good lifestyle farmer then, by definition, you're not a lifestyle farmer.
In fact, there are thousands of very experienced and competent lifestyle farmers. Data suggests that there are around 220,000 lifestyle farms, covering over 1.2 million hectares of land, which is not much less than the total land utilised for dairy farming in NZ.
If all lifestyle farmers were incompetent and inexperienced, it would be a national disaster. As it is we produce a significant (although impossible to quantify) portion of both beef and lamb production. We contribute to the national clip for both wool and mohair.
Of course, there are incompetent and ignorant lifestyle farmers, but that's true of any sector. People choose to farm a lifestyle block rather than a commercial farm not because they don't have the farming skills but because they don't want to farm full-time. We have other interests; we are doctors, lawyers, airline pilots, administrators, accountants, researchers, middle managers and vets. Farming is a lifestyle choice that fits in with our careers.
Maybe we need to stand up and put the record straight? There are thousands of competent and well-informed lifestyle farmers in NZ.
Maybe we would do that....if we weren't too busy. Now, where have those goats gone...?