Nick Bertram hits out at animal rights group SAFE after being stripped of top farming award

Nick and Rosemarie Bertram.
Nick and Rosemarie Bertram. Photo credit: Supplied

The farmer stripped of his title as New Zealand Share Farmer of the Year has hit out at animal rights group SAFE.

Nick Bertram, along with his wife Rose, was recently named Share Farmer of the Year in the New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards (NZDIA).

However shortly after the title was bestowed it was taken away after a series of "disrespectful" tweets written years earlier surfaced.

SAFE, which shared the now-deleted tweets, said the posts showed Bertram's attitude towards animals was "disrespectful" and advocated using "cruel and illegal" methods to handle cows.

"Put a pipe up there c*** an blow them up with air. Wrks a treat they freeze to the spot and let milk down. I never tie up or use oxytocin [sic]," one of the tweets said.

"When you try and help the smart b**** in the paddock and she ends up with your calving rope," another stated.

But Bertram says the tweets were done 'tongue in cheek" and do not represent his farming ways.

He also says the New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards (NZDIA) Trust knew about the tweets much earlier and he thought "everything was above board".

"Obviously I regret and am highly embarrassed that they've surfaced," Bertram told Magic Talk's Rural Today on Wednesday.

"At the time on the thread it was a bit of tongue-in-cheek jokes with some farmers on Twitter and obviously it got out of hand pretty quick and I shouldn't have done it at all. 

"We've got a very, very high standard of animal welfare and that's not what happens on our farm at all."

Although he admitted he should never have made the comments, Bertram also hit out at SAFE, which he said wanted "farmers to stop farming".

"It's very important not to give SAFE a win," he said.

"SAFE do not want farmers to be better, they want farmers to stop farming. And I've never ever seen a farming organisation bow down to SAFE. If people don't know what SAFE stands for or what they believe in you can soon google them or go on their Facebook pages and it's pretty obvious."

On Tuesday SAFE's chief executive Debra Ashton told Rural Today NZDIA did the right thing by revoking Bertram's title but says he never should have been awarded it in the first place.

"If they're going to put someone up as a poster child for a particular industry and there's this kind of baggage sitting there that hasn't really been addressed, that's not really giving much credibility to the standards of the awards," she said.

Ashton said she had seen Bertram's apology and could understand where he was coming from but believed he didn't go far enough.

"There's not a lot in there for me that really talks about animal welfare though - I mean there's a bit about 'we take animal welfare seriously' - but this is an opportunity to say from his perspective 'no, no, no, all those tweets they were irrelevant, this is not me, this is not how I work, I really care about my animals, I hold animals in a very high regard, I've raised the bar, I've done all these things'. There's been none of that," she said.

Bertram, who was named Farm Manager of the Year in 2014, said he had been approached by the NZDIA after the tweets were originally made in 2017 and given a "bit of a reminder to behave".

"They reminded me that once you're a national winner you're always a national winner."

He says soon after that incident he had a year off Twitter and took a course run by Federated Farmers around using social media and working with the media. 

He expressed disappointment that the issue had reared its head again after he thought it had been put to rest.

"NZDIA knew about this all along, they dealt with it three years ago as deemed appropriate, they had a meeting about it three years ago," he said.

"The New Zealand I know is that you can make a bad mistake, a grave error, you put it right at the time, you do what's asked of you and a few years later you can bounce back from that."

In announcing it would strip Bertram of the award, NZDIA said it would be taking an independent review of its procedures and entry criteria.

It acknowledged that Bertram had apologised and also that some people in the industry were aware of the posts before the award was announced.

NZDIA told Rural Today that Susan Hughes QC had been engaged to undertake the review, and an update would be given when it was completed, though it "may take some time".