This has nothing to do with Christchurch, and is little more than a reckon, masquerading as an observation. I spent the weekend down in Queenstown for a wedding, and came back via the Waitaki Valley. We stopped for lunch and to look at some of the junk shops in Waimate. I think it’s a lovely small town, with beautiful old buildings, mostly sitting unused. Today, there was a story in the paper about the NCEA grades of the students at Waimate High, which have fallen over the last decade. The principal, Janette Packman, tries to explain:

In 2004, the roll was 354, but it was down to 295 in 2014. “This is a reflection of the fewer school-aged children in our community.” The school’s decile has decreased from 5 to 4, indicating a “lowering of the socio-economic backgrounds of our families”.

The large increase in dairying in Waimate had resulted in the aggregation of small farms into large units, and an increase in overseas workers and itinerant families from other regions, she said.

This is just one data point, but it shows a rural community getting both smaller, and poorer – in spite of theoretical benefits of the dairy industry. If you drive around the South Island, the signs of the dairy boom are everywhere. Between Twizel and Omarama, there are pivot irrigators which run along side the road. Using the odometer on the car, I measured a couple of them at 1.3km long. I realise that farming trends will come and go, and that with the current slump in milk prices, we will probably see a slow-down in dairy conversions. But I do wonder what the changes in farming practices – and the increasing aggregation of small farms into what are essentially agri-businesses, rather than farms – is doing to the fabric of our rural communities.

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