Saturday, December 9, 2023

PULPIT: Farmers support everyone in NZ

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Wairarapa farmer Sully Alsop expressed his concerns about foreign land ownership and a lack of consultation with farmers when he addressed the 50 Shades of Green protest at Parliament.
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Sully Alsop

It took me about a minute to get up here to speak to you today. And something amazing happened in that one minute. 

Something truly remarkable that happens every minute of every hour of every day in New Zealand. Something that you are all a part of. In that one obscure minute NZ exported another 5.5 tonnes of pastoral agriculutural product generating more than $100,000 for NZ.

The average income in NZ is $52,000, so, in less than a minute, the pastoral sector generated the annual household income for one family.

The rural sector you all work so hard in just paid for a school teacher, a police officer, a nurse or maybe about a quarter of a politician’s salary. Maybe that minute made it possible for one of those non-farming households to take their family on a holiday or get their children a better education.

And that is the message we all bring to Parliament today. 

This isn’t just about rural communities or urban centres. This is about all of NZ and protecting the way of life we all enjoy, the way of life the pastoral sector contributes to so significantly for all, every minute. 

And that pastoral sector that is so much the fabric of much of our country’s identity is confronted with unprecedented change and challenges. 

We are not here to push back against change, we are not laggards and do not have our heads buried in the sand. Quite the opposite. Much of the change being proposed is not actually change at all but a continuation of the good work done by our sector over the past decades – well before water quality and climate change became daily talking points. 

We should all be proud of the more than 50,000km of waterway fencing already undertaken. We should be proud that more than a quarter of the nation’s native bush is on our land that we protect and enhance. 

Our rural communities are proactive problem solvers. 

I am personally very proud of what has been achieved in my neck of the woods, Wairarapa. A cyclone in the 70s caused huge damage on the delicate hill country. Soon after poplar and willow planting trials were done and since then millions of trees have been planted for erosion control. This was not legislated, it was not compulsory, it was just motivation of farmers and some education from regional land managers. 

That’s right Shane Jones, if you’re still trying to work out how to plant half a billion trees, you don’t need to be up all night researching on your laptop in a hotel room, you just need to pop over the hill and ask the farmers and land managers in Wairarapa. 

We are not here to push back against change, we are here to make sure that change is done right. 

And what you have proposed in the Healthy Waterways legislation is not right. 

To be blunt, it is a lazy, unimaginative, piece of legislation that at best will be clunky, inefficient, ineffective and demotivating. New Zealanders, all New Zealanders deserve better. We are not here to push back against intended outcomes of this legislation but we are here to push back strongly against how you have proposed to achieve those outcomes. 

The Healthy Waterways legislation gives a broad-brush, one-size-fits-all attempt at dictating terms on a national level. Landowners were never consulted as to the relevance and practicalities of this plan. That is either arrogant or lazy and NZ deserves better. 

How can one document cover all the different soil types, topography and climates in this diverse country. The issues on Canterbury’s stony plains will be different to the high country, which will be different to the peaty soils of Waikato, to the beaches of Auckland, to the dry hills of the east coast. 

If this Government really wanted to show leadership it would have taken the time to clearly define the issues and work with all stakeholders to come up with a practical solution that would work on the ground, rather than cave to public perception.

This lack of consultation showed in the 17,500 submissions highlighting the weaknesses of the legislation. 

Why the pastoral sector was not consulted is beyond me. 

What you are proposing will have massive impacts on our businesses, our families, our communities and, in turn, the rest of NZ – the teachers, the nurses, the police officers agriculture supports every minute. It would be nice to think we were at the table and not simply on the menu. 

The lack of research was evident by ideas such as grandparenting land use change and audited farm plans being included. They have proved to be unfair and ineffective tools in regional plans throughout the country. The fact they showed up again in the Healthy Waterways legislation shows the lack of imagination and research. It was lazy and all NZers deserved better. 

So, I challenge our leaders.

Instead of clunky, one-size-fits-all legislation give us the space and flexibility to come up with our own solutions tailor-made to our individual land and water quality issues. 

Instead of auditors and box tickers we will pay for either directly or indirectly, pour money into science. Our universities, Massey and Lincoln, so vital to the production gains made over the last 40 years can again be vital in this next stage of pastoral agriculture that is less about production and more about maximising the value of that product. Give us fewer box tickers and more research and development. 

Instead of box tickers give us support and expert advice. We will come up with great solutions that even the universities cannot if you give us support, confidence and education where we need it. 

Instead of audits give us flexibility to come up with our own solutions. 

Instead of being stick wavers, be our partners. 

All New Zealanders, the nurses and policemen and teachers, rely on our success. 

I’m not scared of this change because it is not really change but a continuation of the good work we already do. 

I’m not scared of this change because our sector has been challenged before and we rose to that challenge and adapted. 

But we cannot do it without pastoral land. 

We have to stop the sale of productive land into foreign ownership. We cannot meet the challenges ahead and continue to provide all New Zealanders with the NZ we currently enjoy without pastoral land. 

We have to stop prostituting NZ out as the dumping ground for the world’s carbon addiction. 

Our rural communities matter. 

Our schools matter.

And not just for our rural communities but for all those non-rural households our exports support every minute. 

These international owners don’t care about NZ’s future, they don’t care about our communities. They are simply here to dump their carbon rubbish and move on, leaving our grandchildren to wonder what happened. What happened to the NZ we, their grandparents talked about, what happened to all those nurses, teachers, police officers that are no longer supported. 

I know this was never the intention of this legislation but by signing off on the first 30-year bandaid of an idea that springs to mind is short sighted, lazy, and again NZ deserves better. Show true leadership. Look for long-term solutions, don’t just settle for the best idea of a bad bunch. NZ relies on you doing so. 

To you all thank you and feel proud about what you do in every unremarkable minute of the day and the impact it has on this country.

Who am I?
Sully Alsop is a Wairarapa sheep and beef farmer. He has worked as a farm consultant and director for Baker Ag and is a former winner of the sheep and beef consultant of the year title and was runner-up in the Young Farmers Contest in 2015.

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