Saturday, December 2, 2023

OFF THE CUFF: Freshwater rules an all-in fight

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Farming at this time of year is flat out as many go about all the tasks associated with calving and lambing.
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But this year farmers have the added pressure of trying to decipher the proposed legislation of the Essential Freshwater policies our three-legged monster of a government has created. 

There are a number of issues in the proposed legislation that are flawed in terms of practicality. For example, farmers will have to create and audit annually a farm plan that includes a freshwater module by 2025 though many already have a farm plan, regional councils simply don’t have the resources to do it and, in my opinion, the ability to accurately monitor and measure water in this way is impossible. 

Likewise, the proposal to exclude stock from waterways with a five metre buffer is madness personified. In practical terms it will mean thousands of farmers who have already fenced off waterways closer than five metres will have to rip out those fences and start again. This simply defies any logic and there is no scientific data to support the Government’s proposal that the five-metre zone will have any significant difference on water quality.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some aspects of the proposed legislation that I agree with. Better planning and restrictions on winter grazing policies will be much better for not just farmers but our whole economy. But farmers should be heavily involved in the framework of this legislation and not simply told what rules they will have to farm by.

So why do I feel this is important to everyone and not just us farmers? 

Farming is the backbone of our national economy. That is a fact. It provides a fabric for our rural communities to prosper and extends into the towns that enjoy the benefits of providing services. Make no mistake, this threat will not only hurt farmers, it will hurt all those in urban New Zealand as well. 

Regional and district council rates will increase dramatically and many farmers will simply stop spending money in an attempt to remain financially viable. 

I attended a public meeting in Whanganui last week where a large group of farmers discussed the proposed legislation with some industry representatives. Their messages were crystal clear: this is not just a battle for us farmers to fight. It is a war that all New Zealanders need to be a part of. 

One Taranaki rep disclosed proposed rates increases in her region for all ratepayers are likely to be above 10% in one year as the regional council simply doesn’t have the resources to cope with what is being proposed by the Government.

By their own admission farmers know improving water quality is essential to sustainable business. But what many fail to pick up on is that farmers actually just want to do it as well. They want cleaner streams, creeks and rivers and if something is ingrained in farmers’ minds you can guarantee they will invest in it. 

They view it as an investment and not a cost but the proposed legislation will take that choice from them. If you take away the profitability of a business, in this case farming, then all the investment that has previously been optional simply won’t happen.

As Kiwis, I think we can all agree improving water quality is important. But having legislation forced upon us with very sweeping and constricting regulations is not the best option for anyone. There are already catchment groups working hard and investing considerable amounts of money to improve waterways all over NZ. These are organised and run by those who live in the catchments as a means of improving the environments they live in. The Government would be far better to invest in them, work alongside them in collaboration and actually stop and listen to what locals have to say because they know their own regions best. 

But, perhaps, the most significant part of this legislation is the way it is being done by the Government. The policy documents were released for consultation at the busiest time of the farming calendar. Initially there was only six weeks for consultation. extended by two weeks after a public outcry. Once submissions close on October 31 they will be summarised by officials and reviewed by an independent advisory panel. The final decisions will be made by Cabinet ministers with no hearings and no options for debate. 

In my opinion that is a deliberate attempt to fast track legislation all but agreed on and goes against the very fabric of what a democracy means. 

I encourage all Kiwis, both town and country, to make a submission to the Government before October 31. The only way to make a difference to what is being proposed is by sheer weight of numbers in terms of submissions. It might be just a simple sentence or two or summary of what is important to you personally but it all counts. More information about the proposals can be found on the website: Submissions can be emailed to:

Have your say before it is too late.

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