Keep it Clean this was the message from Bruce Wills in his address to Federated Farmers 2013 National Council:
. . . It will not come as a surprise that Federated Farmers biggest area of work and advocacy continues to be water. How we use it more efficiently whilst maintaining and improving its quality.
Most of our towns and cities store water to ensure their residents don’t run out of this valuable resource during the dry summer months. We need to get better at applying this same logic to our rural areas through water storage. The big challenge is how we can continue to grow farming but to do this with less impact upon the environment.
Why is storing water for urban use accepted but storing it for agriculture attracts so much opposition?
. . . This water debate is complex and it will take time.
The farming community must remain a leader in this debate. I want to acknowledge Ian and our respected water policy team for the good work they continue to do in this area.
Water does not instantly degrade but reflects cumulative actions over a period of time. Those actions may be farm related, they may be industrial and in some instances, they may be natural.
The Otago Regional Council found seagulls were to blame for low water quality in the Kakanui River.
Getting good science is the starting point for the rational discussion we sometimes haven’t held when it comes to water. In two days time, Dr Jan Wright, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, will release her much anticipated water quality report.
Parts of this report, frankly, will not be kind to agriculture but to improve we all need to understand what the problem is, what the science is telling us and then move to sensible solutions. We need to ask our communities what their aspirations are for water and what they are prepared to pay economically, socially and culturally.
As farmers, we have perhaps been guilty in the past of farming in denial about the nutrients we lose from our farms. This has changed thanks to the Land & Water Forum process. Diffuse nitrogen loss to water, as opposed to the direct loss you typically see in political cartoons, represents our biggest challenge but also, our biggest opportunity.
There is far greater recognition from farmers of the impact their practices can have on water and far greater effort into reducing it.
I have commented previously about my recent learning’s from World Water Week in Sweden. Compared to the rest of the world, New Zealand is in a lucky and privileged position when it comes to both the quantity and quality of our water.
It worries me that as a country we risk beating ourselves up around our water concerns. Of course we can and must do better but we do need to keep things in perspective.
The world is a hungry and growing place with an amazing 2.3 billion more stomachs due to join the human race between now and the year 2050. It is the sale of our food and primary commodities which helps to pay much of this country’s bills. Farmers share the aspiration to live in a prosperous and beautiful country with bountiful clean water for all.
This is the challenge of our time and I can confidently report that we are making steady progress. . .
Comparing our water standards with those in other countries isn’t an excuse to accept less than optimal practices here or rest on our laurels where we’re getting it right.
Discussion on what needs to be improved and how to do it must be based on science and an understanding of what can be done and what that will cost.