Sunday, July 3, 2022

Carter’s last hurrah

The announcement of an $80 million investment in irrigation should have been David Carter’s last hurrah as Minister for Primary Industries (MPI). He has been a robust cheerleader for water-storage and irrigation-infrastructural programmes. Now the Government is establishing a Crown-owned company to act as a bridging investor for regional water infrastructure development. It will be a minority investor in any development project and plans to be a relatively short-term investor.

The Cabinet has directed that $80m for the initial stages of the new company’s operation be set aside in Budget 2013 (see story, page 34). This was the latest of a series of measures announced since 2011 when the Government signalled plans to invest up to $400m in regional-scale schemes to encourage third-party capital investment.

But Carter won’t be sitting on the Government benches when this year’s Budget speech is read. He will have become Parliament’s Speaker.

Associate Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy was promoted to succeed Carter and Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye was appointed Minister for Food Safety. Jo Goodhew will assist Guy as Associate Minister for Primary Industries.

Jo Goodhew – stepping into the Associate Minister role.

While the paperwork was being completed, Carter still had a few more days left in the Primary Industries job.

During that time he announced the latest decisions on irrigation infrastructure and it seemed he would be bowing out on positive note for dairy farmers.

Next day came news that the country’s major fertiliser companies were voluntarily suspending sales and use of dicyandiamide (DCD) treatment on farmland until further notice.

Dairy farmers use those products to reduce pollution in waterways but traces of DCD had been found in NZ dairy products.

Government agencies, including Carter’s MPI, were involved in dealing with the potentially trade-damaging repercussions. The ministry hastened to assure the public there were no food safety or health risks but it was aware the presence of DCD could have major implications for exporters.

DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle urged the two fertiliser companies, Government authorities and dairy companies to work on pragmatic solutions that would enable the product to be back on the market and able to be used by farmers.

The MPI, it transpired, had been involved since it initiated a working party to assess the use of DCD on farmland late last year.  The working group was set up after testing on whole milk powder (WMP) detected the occasional presence of low levels of DCD coinciding with the times of the year the product is applied.

But by February 1 the political issues ministerially had become Guy’s problem.

Like Carter, the Otaki MP is a farmer. He has a diploma of rural studies from Massey University and has been the manager of his family’s Levin dairy and beef farm. His wife, Erica, is communications and media advisor for the New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards (DIA).

Federated Farmers welcomed the appointment of another farmer to take over the portfolio. President Bruce Wills credited Carter with having built up a great working relationship with the federation and the rest of the primary sector and he expected Guy to continue that.

He said the Cabinet reshuffle had pushed primary industries from 10th to 16th place in the ministerial ranking but he didn’t regard that as big deal.

DairyNZ chairman John Luxton, a former Agriculture Minister, said his organisation knew Guy had first-hand knowledge of dairy farming and its challenges and would be able to engage easily with farmers and talk their language.

"That’s a huge plus when you are doing that job", he said.

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