Farming in a fish bowl. The impact of a #selfie

Team at FarmIQ on 11/03/19 01:51

FarmIQ views

 Mount Roy Wanaka

For the most part, tourism is a good thing. It brings in billions of dollars a year in income to NZ, which allows us to flourish as a nation. However, there is a down-side that, unless you farm in an area of incredible natural beauty, you might not have thought much about...

We’re just back from an epic south-island roadie where we talked to a raft of farmers who all use FarmIQ to manage their operations. Every time we go on the road, we learn a huge amount and we’re immensely grateful to the farmers that willingly give us their time.

One of the recurring themes we heard this time around, particularly from farmers in the Queenstown Lakes Region, was the impact of social media on their operations.

We are fortunate to live in arguably the most beautiful place on earth, which makes us very lucky indeed.  However, with cheap international (and domestic) air fares now the norm, the number of people that want to come and photograph our little corner of paradise for their Instagram feed is quite literally exploding.

For the most part, tourism is a good thing. It brings in billions of dollars a year in income to NZ, which allows us to flourish as a nation. However, there is a down-side that, unless you farm in an area of incredible natural beauty, you might not have thought much about.

Take Mount Roy in Wanaka as an example. It’s New Zealand’s most instagrammed destination (search #mountroy). It’s utterly stunning and its completely over-run with tourists 7 days a week 15 hours a day queueing up to take the perfect Wanka-backed selfie.

What most visitors don’t realise is that Mount Roy is part of a fully operational 4000ha sheep and beef farm. 15 years ago, the track had a few visitors a day walking through it in the summer months. Today, the summit has upwards of 100,000 visitors a year with the expectation that the number will grow to 300,000 in time. That’s an incredible number that places immense stress on the natural environment that surrounds it. 

There’s the natural land erosion and damage that comes from huge numbers of people sharing the same track. There are people that get lost (or people in search of a different camera angle) that may not cause damage but need to be managed. And, of course, there’s the problem of human waste. Overseer™ does not cater human waste, but it should because 100,000 people a year leave behind a massive amount of human waste (due to the lack of public facilities in the area).

It’s curious. Social media was supposed to send us all of to the four corners of the world in search of our own unique selfie that no one else has. Instead it has done the exact opposite and focused everyone on a small number of locations in search of the exact same selfie. Stuff wrote a good piece on earlier on a similar topic that’s worth a read.

The other unhelpful impact of social media that we heard a lot about relates to public perception of farming practices. Everyday, we talk to a lot of farmers who, without exception, care deeply about their land. However, the fact that they care doesn’t stop visitors walking through their land (in search of the perfect selfie) taking and sharing photos on social media that send the media into a frenzy.

We heard a painful story from one farmer in the region that was hauled over the coals by the media after a picture of a cow standing in a river defecating appeared on social media. They accused him of dirty farming practices and trashed his reputation. However, the water in that river was (and still is) clean enough to drink. The council knew exactly what he was doing and recognized his good management practice. But none of that matters. The reputation of the farmer and with it, the reputation of farming in general - and indeed the reputation of New Zealand inc.- was damaged.

Farmers managing high-country farms are rightly worried that in response to public pressure (driven by social pressure) government will require them to fence all waterways. If that happens farmers will have no choice but to intensify their operations to try and cover the cost which will have a far greater impact on water quality than their current operations. We simply cannot let perception drive policy

Going forwards, it seems farmers will need to be experts on social media to manage the messages and defend themselves, which is somewhat ironic. FarmIQ can also play a role, particularly if farmers are actively managing their FEP in the system. Right now, we’re actively looking at ways that we can surface relevant information into the public domain to help farmers pro-actively manage perception and get the public support they deserve.

In summary, it turns out that farming in an area of great natural beauty, where visitor numbers are booming, is a lot more challenging than anyone might think and that we, as a country, need to decide how to balance and manage the impact of tourism on our primary producers.

Next time you, or someone you know, goes off in search of the perfect Instagram photo, or you share a photo of something you don’t like the look of, maybe take a quick moment to think of the farmer trying to make a living from the land and maybe buy the postcard instead….

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