Is rural Southland changing from family farm to factory farm? Has there been a change from agriculture to agribusiness? Many farmers recently sold up and moved off their farms say that it is the case. Farm size is a good indicator. Farms that could be managed by a farming family have amalgamated, stretched their boundary fences to many times their original size. Today’s owners, often living out of the region, having installed a manager to run the new operation. Southland farms look different now. There are fewer fences, far fewer shelter belts, wool sheds, grain silos. Certainly there is less wool and more leather on show. The river monitors, be they official or amateur, say the water runs less clear. Townies, on the receiving end of the water-cycle when they run a glass of water from the tap, notice the difference. Who has prospered from these changes? The business model of farming must, not surprisingly, favour business. It certainly hasn’t done the families that used to live in the countryside, any good. Milk, fertilizer and finance companies are flush with the success of agribusiness in our region, but their gain is in contrast to the fortunes of Southland’s farming families. They’ve had to move on. The ‘economy of scale’ didn’t suit them. Rural townships and communities don’t thrive when families leave for the urban areas. Schools shrink and dry up. Community halls sit unused. Sports clubs and service groups struggle to find members. Out in the field, things simplify. The range of animals, plants and habitats narrows. Green is in but it’s all one shade. It’s a system that can’t support itself and has to be fed constantly. Enormous amounts of fertilizer are needed to keep it flush. Farms have become huge and highly tuned, not suitable for the family unit to manage. Who can afford to buy these corporate-style farms now? Forget about sons and daughters buying from their parents. The market now is for the corporations and foreign buyers. Southland’s countryside has changed and things will never be the same again.