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Farming: Come on townies - give farmers a fair go

18 Sep 2019

The human condition is to blame others for our own problems, and it is a problem of biblical proportions. The Bible tells the story of the goat that is ritually burdened with all the nasty problems and sins of the day and then driven out into the desert to die. The original scapegoat.

Townies are having a field day scapegoating farmers for all the sins of pollution while they ignore their own contribution to the problem. Not very much time has been spent by townies putting themselves in the farmer’s shoes.

And it is not just David Parker, the Labour minister for the environment, and the government of the day making a mockery of farmers and farming with the release of the Draft National Policy Statement for Fresh Water Management with six weeks of consultation.

Other people who should know better are dumping on the rural sector too. Elspeth McLean wrote in the Otago Daily Times Opinion on 11 September 2019 that “Oh the drama of Federated Farmers saying the governments freshwater proposals will essentially throw farming under the tractor …It is hard to be sympathetic to them. … We need fewer cows and the sooner the sector gets that message the better.” Then we have Mayor Tim Shadbolt, way past his use by date, tell us that cows are like freedom campers, they shit in the rivers and leave. It is far too fashionable to knock farmers.

When I read the draft Freshwater Management documents there is lots to laud about what is in there, but it appears from the wording I struggled through that Maori have a lot more say about freshwater than farmers. That smacks of tokenism. Maori aren’t the guardians of fresh water; farmers are. Better get them onside if we want to make any headway with improving our freshwater. And using draft regulations to promote Maori culture and language is silly. Farmers are the ones that have to understand this work, not academics in Wellington. I love Maori language and culture as I had 25 years in West Auckland but work from the bottom up on these things rather than beating everyone over the head with it from the top down.

Let me address townies as a group with my values and beliefs on the freshwater management of our streams, rivers and lakes.

“Townies – I speak for the farmers!”

  • We all want clean rivers and lakes. We all want to be able to drink the water without treating it with chemicals. We want to be able to swim in our lakes and rivers and eat the fish that comes from them. We want to be able to drink the water from our aquifers providing fresh water for our rural homes, villages, towns and cities without treating it.
  • As public policy, from the politicians down, we encouraged farmers to expand their farms and keep expanding to take advantage of our competitive advantages as a nation to earn export dollars so we could buy luxury goods from other countries that we are desperate to obtain. That some farmers at the margin ended up dairying on land that was never suitable for intensive dairying is an historic accident not entirely of individual farmers own making.
  • Farmers have at least three jobs of national significance: They not only produce more than half of the export dollars we crave for, they are also the guardians of the land keeping it pristine for us to gaze over, drive past and revel in the big unspoiled farm that New Zealand is. This is part of the reason tourists pay good money to come and drive around our countryside and in this respect, farmers contribute to the other huge export earner, tourism. Thirdly, farmers produce the food we eat. Taken altogether that is a big ask we make of our farmers. They should be one of the most respected and acknowledged sectors of society, up there alongside Professors in our Universities, doctors, teachers, nurses and engineers, the current most admired lot.
  • How can we as a nation stop the increase in the pollution of our rivers and lakes from farming and how can we begin to reverse the effects of past pollutions?
    1. Obviously, we need to fence waterways to keep stock out of streams, rivers and lakes, plant the margins with trees and shrubs which shade the water, provides habitat for fish breeding, soaks up underground nitrates, provides a barrier for sediment helping to keep the soil on the land and sequesters carbon in the soil. Also, we need to keep cows off porous land to keep nitrogen out of the underground waterways.
    2. Recognise that it is everyone’s problem, not just a problem for farmers. Farmers have an existing right to farm wherever they farm via the common law of existing use. Where farmers are farming land that is too porous, they should be compensated to help them move to more appropriate land.
    3. If we as a nation want to fix this problem, we will have to pay for it to be fixed. The government has nominated a sum of $230 million to be spent on supporting Regional Councils and farmers in preparing freshwater plans. Having plans is a good idea, but this sort of money will go nowhere towards helping individual farmers prepare their individual environment plans as well as the Regional Council plans.
    4. To my mind the task of fixing the freshwater problem in New Zealand is of a scale greater than that of the rebuild of Christchurch after the earthquakes and I suspect it requires a financial commitment from the New Zealand taxpayer of a similar if not greater magnitude. The Canterbury earthquake rebuild is estimated to have cost $40 billion in 2015 dollars. New Zealanders should be prepared to pay the real cost of cleaning up our freshwater rivers and lakes and I expect the cost would be of the order of $40 billion over the next 10 to 15 years. Say, $4 billion a year of taxpayer’s money for 10 years.
    5. Do the job and do it properly and don’t expect individual farmers to foot the bill. This is a national emergency and it requires a national response.
  • All this fluffing around by David Parker is not going to go anywhere fast because it is not properly funded and no politician will succeed in stealing the property rights of New Zealand’s most important sector, it’s farmers. We will have to wait for a politician to come along to take this issue by the horns and fix it, for all of us.

Keep asking good questions

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