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Farmers say time for a change

Jamie Falloon with his sons Joe, left, and John when he was elected president in 2012. PHOTO/FILE

When Jamie Falloon took on the role as Federated Farmers Wairarapa president, he was told to remember the three ‘F’s – family, farm, and feds.

But somewhere along the way, the priorities got “tipped upside down”, Mr Falloon said.

It’s been almost five-and-a-half years since Mr Falloon was thrust into the president’s position, not a role he initially saw himself in.

As a Bideford sheep and beef farmer, Mr Falloon was accustomed to dealing with rural issues.

He has held several public roles including on the Greater Wellington Regional Council’s Farming Reference Group, and on the Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre’s board of trustees.

Mr Falloon is also an academic.

He has three degrees – accounting, forestry and management – under his belt.

Since becoming president, he has weighed in on many regional issues affecting farmers from water allocation changes, to Wairarapa council’s potential amalgamation, drought and biosecurity incursions such as pea weevil and Mycoplasma bovis.

However, the workload with the Ruamahanga Whaitua Committee’s proposals, the Greater Wellington Regional Council’s regional plan plus the M.bovis outbreak in Pahiatua, as well as running his own farm has started to become too much.

“It’s more than one person’s job on a voluntary basis to be dealing with,” Mr Falloon said.

But he had come into the role with a goal to “reconnect the farming community with the rest of the community” and had achieved that, he said.

Last year, Mr Falloon was presented with the inaugural Federated Farmers Department of Conservation Outstanding Advocacy Award for his work during 2016 as Wairarapa farmers grappled with the pea weevil outbreak.

After he officially stands down on Wednesday, he said he would not be going “cold turkey”.

He will stay involved to support farmers through the water allocation challenges coming in via the regional council and the whaitua.

Mr Falloon said attributes for the next president to be successful would be: exceptional prioritising skills, the ability to make a decision on an issue, put that behind you and deal with the next, and to be able to swap from farming to deal with rural issues.

“And being a good listener – that’s never been my strong point,” Mr Falloon said.

Whatever he does next, Mr Falloon knows it will not be based in Wellington.

“I’m allergic to Wellington, really allergic. You can’t find a park down there, so you don’t want to drive, the train service is horrendous, so any new stuff will have to be in Wairarapa,” he said.

Chris Engel. PHOTO/FILE

Meanwhile, dairy farmer Chris Engel has decided to keep the very first tractor he bought in 1982, an International 574.

But apart from that, Mr Engel has sold his farm and is keen to get on with retired life after 40 years of farming.

While he cannot remember the exact number of years he had been Federated Farmers dairy chairman, being a voice for Wairarapa dairy farmers had its ups and downs.

Mr Engel worked his way up from the very bottom.

He came to Masterton as a court clerk from Auckland in 1974.

But after nine years in that role, he decided to throw that in and become a dairy farmer.

It all began when he met his wife, Judith, who came from a dairy farm.

“I got to really enjoy weekends on the farm and then in 1978 I decided to have a go at dairying,” Mr Engel said.

After six months as a farm worker, he was offered a job as a sharemilker in Carterton in 1978.

Then in 1980, 80 acres of land became available next door, followed by another two in 1982 which he bought to expand his dairy farm.

The industry had changed a lot in the past 40 years, he said.

“Things have changed so dramatically that we don’t lean across the fence and chat with anyone, mainly because of the size of farms now.”

Farms had expanded so much that most farmers had become “so preoccupied” with their businesses, he said.

More importantly, the attitude towards dairy farming had “intensified” and become political leverage, he said.

But owning land, especially in Wairarapa had been “an absolute privilege”.

“We only have the lend of the land, and I’m handing the baton on to another.”

Weaning himself off the farm had been an emotional journey over the past six months.

Sending off the last truck load of calves in November was the start of that, Mr Engel said.

“But I’ve enjoyed every moment of it, the highs and the lows,” he said.

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