Rural round-up

October 21, 2017

Farm life and environment important for the Laugesen family – Kate Taylor:

A Central Hawke’s Bay farming family has fenced, leased and worked its way to farm ownership. Kate Taylor reports.

Young pheasant chicks will be making their new home on an Elsthorpe farm dam this Christmas.

But the Laugesen kids might not be there to see much of them. They’re hoping to repeat last year’s summer holidays and camp out the back of the farm.

Planting native trees, regenerating wetlands and restoring birdlife is a huge bonus of farming for Graeme (who’s known by all as Logie) and Kate Laugesen and their children – Phoebe, 15, Maddy, 13, and Jack, 9. . .

Finalists announced for the 2017 Enterprising Rural Women Awards :

Rural Women New Zealand (RWNZ) is proud to announce the category winners and finalists for the Enterprising Rural Women Awards 2017.

The four finalists are vying for the Supreme Enterprising Rural Women Award, which will be revealed on Saturday 18 November at the RWNZ National Conference at the Ascot Park Hotel in Invercargill. . . 

Enterprising Cromwell winemaker up for Supreme Rural Woman Award

A Cromwell woman has been recognised for her business success, creating a niche market for port and providing solutions for fast-growing boutique vineyards.

Debra Cruickshank, of Tannacrieff Wines, is one of four finalists to be announced for the Enterprising Rural Women Awards 2017 after taking out a category win – the SWAZI New Zealand Entrepreneurial Enterprising Rural Women Award.

She joins Kylie Davidson and Emma Hammond, of Hammond and Davidson Accountants, in Riversdale; Jo Kempton, of Happy Belly Ferments, in Greytown; and Kiri Elworthy and Jenny Bargh, of Tora Coastal Walk, Martinborough. . .

Three generations working together – Sally Rae:

There’s a bit of a family affair going on at Waipori Station.
In fact, Pete Ronald jokes he has warned manager Dave Vaughan there could well be a takeover.

Mr Ronald (61), his daughter Nicky Adams (41) and his granddaughter Shelby Wilson (19) — who is Ms Adams’ niece — all work on the 12,000ha Landcorp-owned property which surrounds Lake Mahinerangi.

There’s a reasonable amount of good-natured banter when the three gather over lunch, with Ms Adams wearing her trademark cap emblazoned with Auntie. . .

Pneumonia, parasites something to get excited about – Sally Rae:

Kathryn McRae jokes that she is ‘‘one of those strange people’’ who gets excited about parasites and lungs.

Farm staff at AgResearch’s Invermay campus always know that if an animal dies from pneumonia, she will want to inspect its lungs.

Animal health is a particular interest for Dr McRae, who grew up on a sheep and beef farm at Mokoreta in eastern Southland.

The property has been in the McRae family for more than 100 years and has been the recipient of a Century Farm award. . .

Strong leadership needed on climate change:

The dairy sector is calling for the future Government to provide the strong direction necessary for New Zealand to move toward a low emissions future, says DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle.

His comments came following the release of the Our Atmosphere and Climate 2017 report.

The report confirms that global emissions of carbon dioxide topped 400 parts per million in 2016, the highest for 800,000 years. . .

Visa changes for workers will leave gaps – Jemma Brackebush:

A Filipino leader in the dairy industry is worried tighter restrictions to visas could leave huge holes in the farming workforce because they do not accurately reflect what happens on farms.

In late July, the government announced that workers in low-skilled jobs earning below $41,500 a year would after three years have to leave New Zealand for 12 months before returning on a new visa.

Roberto Bolanos is a New Zealand citizen with more than a decade’s experience in the industry, and feared the changes could leave gaps in the workforce if immigrants had to leave after three years. . .

 

 

Advertisements

Rural round-up

October 15, 2017

Provenance story not just clean and green – Pam Tipa:

New Zealand’s provenance story is not always based on clean and green; often it relates to the friendliness of the people, says Mark Piper, Fonterra’s director group R&D.

The NZ Story and how it resonates depends where in the world you are, he told an ExportNZ conference.

“To be honest, when you go around the world you would struggle to find somewhere where NZ doesn’t resonate – be it the Hobbits or the clean green image of water tripping down the snow-capped mountains. . .

Beef + Lamb New Zealand unveils plans for ‘Future Farm’ to promote excellence in sector:

Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) is to establish a “Future Farm” to trial new technologies and farm systems as part of its strategy to support farming excellence and lift farm productivity and profitability.

The Future Farm, which will be a hill country sheep and beef property with around 6,000 stock units, will operate as a fully commercial livestock farming enterprise and feature state of the art monitoring, measuring and communications technologies. . . 

Dairy sector challenge: target the right people for our workforce:

The dairy sector is calling for a future Government to lead a strong workforce strategy to support the growth of a skilled workforce for the dairy sector, says DairyNZ Chief Executive Tim Mackle.

“Young people deserve the opportunity to do well within the agricultural industry. We need a strong long-term plan that aligns training through the school curriculum with practical experience on the farm,” says Dr Mackle. . . 

Vaccines control disease in people, livestock – Mark Ross:

Vaccination is the most effective way to protect against life-threatening diseases such as distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus and leptospirosis that affect New Zealand animals.

NZ rates of leptospirosis are among the world’s highest, says the NZ Veterinary Association (NZVA). The zoonotic disease afflicts rats, dogs, pigs, cattle and people.  It puts farmers, particularly dairy farmers, at risk as it can spread from infected urine in dairy sheds.  It is also an occupational risk for meat workers, who can contract the disease in the same way. NZVA says anyone in contact with cattle could be at risk. . . 

From potatoes to broadband: The man connecting King Country – Jemma Brackebush:

A potato farmer who built his own radio site to provide broadband to his property has just won a government contract to provide wireless internet to the King Country.

After the success of his personal project, Hawke’s Bay-based farmer Lachlan Chapman established AoNet Broadband in 2014, which now has six staff.

The company has just won the Wireless Internet Service Provider to service the King Country, as well as a small portion of the $150 million the government has dished out to improve broadband in rural areas around the country. . .

Civil defence preparedness a farmer priority:

Getting accustomed to Civil Defence planning and preparedness should be a farmer’s priority says Federated Farmers.

Throughout this week, Civil Defence is raising public awareness with their “Get Ready Week” promotion that coincides with International Day for Natural Disaster Reduction on Thursday.

The message should be loud and clear to all farmers says Federated Farmers Vice President Andrew Hoggard. . . 

Silver Fern Farms Restaurant Awards 2018:

A new season and a new challenge for New Zealand’s best restaurants

Silver Fern Farms has announced a new format restaurant awards with new categories, new judges and a new season showcasing autumn red meat dishes in 2018.

The 2018 Silver Fern Farms Restaurant Awards build on the success of the Premier Selection Awards, the refreshed format will see restaurants showcasing their skill and expertise with red meat at the end of the summer dining season. . . 


4,000 cattle to be culled

October 13, 2017

The Ministry of Primary Industries has ordered around 4,000 cows from seven farms to be culled to prevent the spread of Mycoplasma bovis:

The Ministry for Primary Industries is moving forward with control measures to prevent further spread of the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis, with plans being developed with farmers to cull animals from the known infected farms.

“Since the start of this response in late July, we’ve carried out tens of thousands of tests of the infected, neighbouring and trace properties as well as district-wide testing in Waimate and Waitaki, and nationwide testing of bulk milk,” says MPI’s Director of Response, Geoff Gwyn.

“The only positive results for the disease have been on 7 infected properties, leading us to be cautiously optimistic that we are dealing with a localised area of infection around Oamaru,” Mr Gwyn says.

“To prevent further spread of the disease, around 4,000 cattle on 5 of the 7 infected properties will need to be culled and a programme put in place to decontaminate the properties and then re-populate the farms. The 2 other properties have had a small number of animals culled already and no cattle remain.

“This whole operation is about managing the disease while keeping our future options open. We want to minimise the risk of further spread of the disease.  Moving ahead with depopulation of the affected farms will allow them to get back to normal business as soon as it is safe to do so.”

Currently there is no need to remove animals from other farms in the Van Leeuwen group that are under restrictions. Testing of animals on those farms continues and should infection be found, they will be subject to the same measures.

In the coming weeks MPI will be working closely with the animal industry bodies, the Rural Support Trust and others to support the affected farmers.

DairyNZ, Federated Farmers and Beef+Lamb New Zealand support the actions MPI is taking, while at the same time recognising that this is a difficult time for the farmers involved. The industry bodies believe the measures are necessary to protect New Zealand cattle farms against this disease. New Zealand is one of the few countries in the world where Mycoplasma bovis is not endemic, which is why the industry groups support such significant measures to keep it that way.

“The coming weeks will present new challenges and will be tough for these affected farmers. MPI will work with those affected to make the process as straight forward as possible. I’d like to particularly thank the owners, sharemilkers and farm workers involved for their ongoing support, recognising this is a very difficult time for them,” Mr Gwyn says.

“I want to be very clear that this isn’t something that’s going to start tomorrow. This is a big logistical exercise, it needs to be thoroughly planned and co-ordinated and we will be doing it with the farmers who know their businesses best,” Mr Gwyn says.

MPI anticipates the first stage of the process – removing the animals – will start after consultation with affected parties. Most of the cattle will be sent for slaughter in accordance with standard practice.

All premises, transportation vehicles and equipment involved in culling will follow a strict decontamination and disinfection protocol to mitigate the risk of spreading the disease.

Once depopulation is completed, there will be at least a 60 day stand-down period where no cattle will be permitted on the farms. During this time the infected properties will be cleaned and disinfected.

Following this work, the aim will be to get cattle back on the farms as quickly as possible. Surveillance, monitoring and testing will remain in place for a period as a further safeguard.

The affected farmers can apply for compensation for verifiable losses relating to MPI exercising legal powers under the Biosecurity Act.

The disease carries no risk to human health but there is no cure for it. Culling is a drastic step but it has the support of affected farmers and industry groups including DairyNZ:

Dairy farmers around the country will be reassured by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) decision to cull animals on farms infected with the disease Mycoplasma bovis (M. bovis), says DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle.

“Since M. bovis was first identified in July farmers have been on high alert and worried about the impact of this disease,” says Dr Mackle.

“DairyNZ is supportive of MPI’s decision to step up control measures by culling these animals. However, we also know that the decision will create heartache for the affected farmers, and our sympathies are with all those involved on-farm.”

Dr Mackle says the decision follows extensive work and testing by MPI, with significant support from DairyNZ and many other agencies. Since the disease was first identified in July over 30,000 tests have been carried out by MPI.

MPI is increasingly confident that infection has not spread outside the primary farming enterprise involved with this outbreak, or any of the other farms also under restricted place notices.

Over the coming weeks there will be continued monitoring and testing in the interests of shutting down this disease in New Zealand.

He says biosecurity is fundamental to the future success of all New Zealand’s primary sectors, dairy included. . . 

This is echoed by Beef + Lamb NZ:

. . . James Parsons, chairman of B+LNZ, said: “The decision will obviously have significant implications for the farm businesses and the rural communities affected by this disease outbreak and we wish to see all available support and compensation provided to those affected. We believe these measures are necessary to protect New Zealand cattle farms against this disease.

“New Zealand takes its biosecurity very seriously and is one of the few countries in the world where this disease isn’t endemic, so that’s why the industry is willing to support such significant measures to keep it that way.” 

Federated Farmers also supports the move:

The decision to destroy stock which have been in contact with affected animals is the only option which will ensure peace of mind for the rest of New Zealand’s dairy and beef farmers, Federated Farmers President Katie Milne says.

“We also support the continuation of strict movement controls on the remaining 13 properties that have been placed under Restricted Place Notices.

“These restrictions have significant implications for the people concerned, and all other farmers, so this action is essential to keep the option of eradication on the table.”

M. bovis infected stock can be severely affected by the disease, causing pain and suffering.

“We recognise the disease has come at a significant emotional cost to the affected farming families and their animals. The process of culling whole herds will be very stressful for the people concerned.

“But the disease does not respond to treatment and cannot be vaccinated against. Culling is the only logical option to prevent ongoing suffering of the animals.”

From a national perspective, our size, relatively low population and geographic isolation gives us the ability to manage and attempt to eradicate biosecurity incursions, when other countries cannot.

“M. bovis is found in most countries, including Australia, this is a disease that we definitely don’t want and we should seek to eradicate it, if feasible.

“We’ve remained free of many pest animals and pest plants (weeds) and diseases that have decimated other country’s livestock industries. For the sake of our livestock industries and the economy, it’s crucial we act now to ensure this remains the case,” Katie says.

Culling the cattle is necessary but that won’t make it any easier.

When some of our cows tested positive for TB a few years ago we had to cull a few dozen from the herd.

That was hard enough but a very small loss compared with the thousands to be culled on these farms.

MPI will pay compensation based on the commercial value of the stock but that won’t cover the loss of income or the costs of rebuilding the herd. Nor will it replace generations of breeding that went in to building up the herd.


Rural round-up

September 18, 2017

DairyNZ slams farm tax proposals – Hugh Stringleman:

All of New Zealand’s 12,000 dairy farms face an average $18,000-a-year additional taxes under the carbon and nitrogen taxes proposed by the Green Party, DairyNZ has calculated.

Add in the Labour Party’s proposed water tax and those 2000 farms that also irrigate face more than three times the impost, an average of $63,000 per farm.

DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle said details on the proposed new taxes were sketchy, but his economists used what was available from Labour and the Greens to come up with the figures. . .

Sell-off surprise – Alan Williams:

A process for the surprise sale of most Landcorp farms to young people will start very quickly if National is re-elected, Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy says.

Landcorp was unaware of the plan till told just before it was announced.

He hoped to have several farms leased to young farmers during the next term.

That would be the first step towards them buying the farms over the next five to 10 years. . . 

From milk to advanced medical nutrition – a farmer’s journey from Southland to Toronto:

Dylan Davidson was a passenger in a car when the driver lost control after a deer ran out. The car rolled and left Dylan with two broken vertebrae in his back and several other injuries. Dylan lost a lot of weight from being in a coma for three weeks, and Dylan’s parents, Paul and Carol Davidson, said the Milk Protein Concentrate (MPC) from Fonterra farmers’ milk played a key part in the healing process. The value of milk protein in human nutrition and muscle recovery has been well known for many years – but, as delicious as milk is, it takes litres of whole milk to do what a small amount of milk protein concentrate (MPC) can. . .

Florida’s Farmers Look At Irma’s Damage: ‘Probably The Worst We’ve Seen’ – Dan Charles:

When the worst of Irma’s fury had passed, Gene McAvoy hit the road to inspect citrus groves and vegetable fields. McAvoy is a specialist on vegetable farming at the University of Florida’s extension office in the town of LaBelle, in the middle of one of the country’s biggest concentrations of vegetable and citrus farms.

It took a direct hit from the storm. “The eyewall came right over our main production area,” McAvoy says.

The groves of orange and grapefruit were approaching harvest. But after Irma blew through, it left “50 or 60 percent of the fruit lying in water [or] on the ground,” says McAvoy. Many trees were standing in water, a mortal danger if their roots stay submerged for longer than three or four days. . . 

Predator Free 2050 Ltd on the hunt to fund bold conservation projects:

New Zealand conservation groups committed to broad scale predator eradication are encouraged to lodge an expression of interest for funding and support from Predator Free 2050 Ltd.

The organisation – tasked with eradicating possums, rats and stoats from New Zealand by 2050 is seeking Expressions of Interest from regional and local councils, community organisations, mana whenua, businesses, Non-Governmental Organisations and other entities capable of delivering eradication initiatives in line with its 2025 goals. . . 

 


How much more do you want to pay for food?

September 14, 2017

We don’t know all the details but we do know that a Labour-Green government would impose new taxes on farming:

Green Party and Labour Party policymakers want to hit dairy farmers with a trifecta of environmental taxes that could cost an average of $18,000 per year for each farm, and for those farmers that draw water for irrigation the cost would be in excess of $63,000 per year, says DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle.

“But unlike winning the trifecta at the horse races, there’s nothing for New Zealand’s dairy farmers to celebrate,” says Dr Mackle.  “Our economists calculate that the proposed carbon tax would add an average of $6,850 to each farm’s costs, the nitrogen pollution tax would add $11,232 per farm – and then there’s Labour’s proposed water use tax which would add a further $45,000 average for farms irrigating.”   He notes that of New Zealand’s 12,000 dairy herds, 2,000 use irrigation.

“The tax trifecta would severely reduce dairy farm profitability, and possibly require additional borrowing for some farmers to meet expenditure.  It would impact the success of our rural economy, and put at stake the livelihood of our rural communities.” 

It would also inevitably lead to an increase in the cost of food, and that’s without a land and capital gains tax.

Dr Mackle says if a political party had asked him what the dairy sector wanted from Government, he would have said an economy-wide plan outlining the emission reduction expectations for each sector over the longer term.

“Targeting farmers this severely and swiftly does little to incentivise mitigation, and ignores the hard work farmers have been voluntarily doing themselves to lessen emissions.

“Dairy farmers have been operating in a climate of uncertainty with no indication of when they would be faced with a charge for agricultural emissions. Despite this, we have put the Dairy Action for Climate Change plan in place so that all farmers now know what they can be doing right now to reduce their carbon emissions.”

He says the Greens’ leader James Shaw welcomed the climate change plan when it was announced in June.

“He’s well aware of the work currently underway. However, what might be a surprise to him is that we support the concept of a climate commission, and the idea of clear carbon budgets so the dairy sector can plan for the future.”

Dr Mackle adds that the Dairy Action for Climate Change plan is in partnership with Fonterra, and has the support of the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry of Primary Industries.

“It dovetails with the work of the Biological Emissions Reference Group (BERG), a joint sector and Government reference group. BERG’s purpose is to build robust and agreed evidence on what farmers – that’s dairy, beef, sheep and deer – and the horticultural sector can do to reduce emissions, and to assess the costs and opportunities of doing so. BERG’s final report is due later on this year, and will be vital in informing future policy development on agricultural emissions.”

He says New Zealand is acknowledged as a world-leader for efficiently producing milk on a greenhouse gas per unit of milk basis, as reported by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.

“And we’re committed to doing even better, but it must be understood by everyone, including the Government of the day, that climate change is too complicated for each sector to attempt to address on its own.

“Rather than strongly taxing dairy, we want strong Government direction to get all sectors – rural and urban – to work together through an economy-wide plan to reduce New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions over the longer term.”

Brendan Moyle writing at Sciblogs has calculated the cost if agriculture is forced into the ETS:

. . . Some back-of-the-envelope calculations show putting agriculture into the ETS isn’t straightforward. Supposing the price of carbon is say, $16 per tonne, and 1 kg of beef protein takes the FAO average (see below) of 342kg of CO2 emissions.  If a beef cattle yields 200-250 kg of meat (about 1/6th of which is protein), then that’s about 40kg of protein. That’s associated with about 13-14 tonnes of CO2. So that’s an additional cost of about $200 per beef steer. Any way you play with these numbers, the cost of sheep, beef and dairy farming in NZ is going to rise dramatically. . . 

If the cost of farming increases dramatically profitability drops and the price of food will increase.

If emissions drop here it will be because herd numbers drop. Out competitors in other countries will take up the slack and global emissions will increase because they aren’t nearly as efficient as we are.

Until science comes up with ways to reduce emissions, forcing agriculture into the ETS is just tax for tax’s sake.

It will hit farmers and the New Zealand economy without improving the environment.

Rather than leading to environmental improvement it will lead to an increase in emissions in other countries whose governments are sensible enough to leave agriculture out of their emissions targets.


Farmers’ pledge will work where water tax won’t

August 23, 2017

Farming leaders have pledged to make rivers swimmable:

In a first for the country, farming leaders have pledged to work together to help make New Zealand’s rivers swimmable for future generations.

The Farming Leaders’ Pledge has been signed today by a group of New Zealand pastoral farming leaders, that represent over 80% per cent of that country’s farmed land, committing them to an ambitious goal of working to make New Zealand’s rivers swimmable for their children and grandchildren.

Group spokesperson, Federated Farmers President and West Coast dairy farmer Katie Milne says the intent behind the pledge is clear.

“Many of our rivers are not in the condition we all want them to be. We are doing this because we want our kids and their kids to be able to swim in the same rivers that we did as children.  And by swim we mean swim. It’s as simple as that.

“We’re standing up and saying we haven’t always got this right. More work is required and we will play our part. While there has been progress on farm in the past 10 years, we know there is more to be done, and that it must be done fast, and together.

Clean rivers aren’t an abstract concept for farmers.

This is the water we drink and wash with every day, not something we might visit a very few times a year.

“Today isn’t about laying out the detail on the huge amount of work going on already on farms up and down the country and how these efforts will need to increase.

“It’s about us as farming leaders signalling our commitment to making New Zealand’s rivers swimmable and doing everything we can to achieve that.”

Ms Milne, says the group understands much of the work needed will be challenging for the farming sector.

Challenging yes, but a  lot will build on work already being undertaken.

“We haven’t put a timeline on our commitment.  Each community will need to decide that for themselves.  This goal will be difficult to meet and we don’t have all the answers today on how it’s going to be achieved”, she says.

“We know that we have work to do. We know it will be challenging for farmers. We know the answers are complex and we don’t have them all now.   This commitment is simply the right thing to do in playing our part to give back to future generations what we enjoyed as kids.”

The Farming Leaders Group is an informal grouping of New Zealand pastoral farming leaders that was established in May 2017 to work on issues of importance to the sector. 

The current membership is Mike Petersen (Sheep & Beef Farmer), Michael Spaans (Dairy Farmer and Dairy NZ Chair), James Parsons (Sheep & Beef Farmer and Beef + Lamb NZ Chair), John Loughlin (Meat Industry Association Chair), Katie Milne (Dairy Farmer and Federated Farmers President), Bruce Wills (Sheep & Beef Farmer and Ravensdown Director), and John Wilson (Dairy Farmer and Fonterra Chair).

The improvements already made have been done by farmers who understand the importance of clean water, without the crude instrument of a water tax which Megan  Hands describes as a kick in the guts for farmers:

There is no doubt that water management is top of mind for many of us this election, but none more so than our farmers and growers, particularly those with irrigation. It’s struck me that using the word farmer seems to irk many, as if it has some kind of negative connotation.

The reality is that New Zealand’s farmers collectively are a group of thousands of small, often family run businesses and their employees. Many are self-employed and punch well above their weight to compete on a global scale, often up against farmers from nations who receive significant subsidies from their governments to assist with their costs of production, top up their incomes or assist them to undertake environmental works.

Irrigation dates to back the Ancient Egyptians and, simply put, we have it because we need water to grow crops or feed for our animals. In the areas of the country that have the most irrigation, rainfall can be scarce, ranging from just 300mm in parts of Central Otago, through to 500-700mm in Canterbury and Marlborough, as compared with the 1,200mm that falls in Auckland annually. Irrigation is used by some farmers and growers to supplement that shortfall in rain and to remain resilient in drought years.

Irrigation schemes don’t just allow farmers to weather dry weather. They also augment natural flows in rivers and streams to improve water quality and enhance water life.

What then is the likely impact of Labour’s water tax policy on these families and their communities?

On the face of it phrases like “polluter pays” or “user pays: may sound appealing, but the balancing of the environmental, social, cultural and economic needs of our communities is more complex than that.

An important point to note from the outset is that nobody in New Zealand pays for water. Even in Auckland, Watercare charges for the treatment and reticulation of water to your home or business, not for the water itself. In the same way as you pay the council through your rates or water bill, Irrigators pay for the infrastructure through consenting, drilling of wells, installation and running of pumping stations or through payments to irrigation schemes with costs of up to $800 a hectare.

That’s what we pay for water from North Otago Irrigation COmpany’s scheme – $800 a hectare a year. On top of that we have to have an environmental farm plan which is independently audited each year.

When Labour’s policy was first announced, there was little detail of pricing. It appears now we are looking at a price of 2 cents per cubic metre, or 1000 Litres.

For some context, to apply 1mm of water over 1 hectare of land it takes 10,000 litres of water or 10 cubic metres. So, to supplement that shortfall of rainfall and sustain crop or pasture growth it quickly equates to large volumes of water.

To keep the maths simple, a 200ha cropping farm growing grain or grass seeds in mid Canterbury applying 500mm of irrigation water a year would have a new additional tax bill of $20,000 a year.

A 100hectare vineyard in Blenheim might use 199,500 cubic metres of water through a drip micro system and have an additional tax bill of $3,990.

Another dairy farmer well known on Twitter has calculated his annual water tax bill on his farm to be $53,000.

Suddenly a couple of cents doesn’t sound so small.

It’s not just the amount but that it will be taken from irrigators regardless of whether their practices are contributing to water quality problems, some will go to Iwi and some will go to regional councils.

What’s left after the costs of collection and distribution is supposed to be used to clean up waterways, but how? It it’s individual farms causing problems they should be responsible for fixing them and not at the cost of those who are already doing everything right.

The key drivers for irrigation requirements are the soil type and its ability to hold water, the crops water demand and the evapotranspiration of the area. In the examples above, grapes have a lower water demand than pasture or grain crops. There is a great deal of science and high level of management that goes into managing irrigation efficiently.

One arable farmer at a meeting in Ashburton on Friday said that he had calculated that at 2 cents/m3 his annual water tax bill could equate to half his annual income. Another wondered aloud what happens if he has a crop failure and he receives zero income for that year but still must pay the tax for the irrigation water he used?

What will happen in wet seasons, like the last one, when there was hardly any irrigation? Our power bill was about 10% of what it had been the previous season which indicates we used about a 10th of the irrigation.

And what will they do with the seagulls which are causing the only water quality problem in the Kakanui River?

In districts where there are significant areas of irrigation this tax would mean millions of dollars being removed from these local economies in additional tax. In these regional areas, the small towns and cities rely on primary industry to keep them going. For Ashburton and Timaru some estimates have come in around $40 million. Tim Cadogan, mayor of Central Otago, is quoted as saying the tax will cost his district $6 million dollars. That’s millions of dollars not transferred to local tradesman, the local café or the rural supplies store.

This proposed tax has been portrayed as the solution to NZ’s water quality problems, although the more we learn about this policy the more difficult it is to link the purported benefits with the method proposed. If Labour do as they say and return the tax to the areas from which it is collected (minus the percentage that goes to iwi), the areas with the poorest water quality will only receive a small slice of the tax. This is because there is almost no correlation between swimability of rivers and irrigation.

This policy is based not on facts but on the unsubstantiated belief that irrigation causes water degradation.

In our area it’s the opposite case. The Waiareka Creek that used to be a series of semi-stagnant ponds now flows clear  all year and water life has re-established because irrigation water is doing what nature couldn’t – maintain water flows.

One of the greatest concerns regarding this policy is the possibility it could make meeting required reductions in nutrient losses more difficult. Making changes on a farm to improve water quality is not cheap and any additional money squeezed out of what are often tight budgets may make it more difficult to do so. As an example, $20,000-30,000 can pay for three or four soil moisture meters to aid in more targeted use of irrigation or perhaps part of a new effluent system.

A water tax is a broad-brush approach to what are varied and complex issues. In my view identifying the contaminants causing the water quality problems for a catchment and targeting the management of those at catchment scale is a far superior approach than paying money to a government organisation in the hope that it will be returned to be spent the catchment it came from.

Last Friday David Parker, Labour’s spokesperson for freshwater fronted a public meeting in Ashburton. While I’d already been publicly critical of the approach of a water tax, I wanted to hear what he had to say in more depth than a media soundbite or the 300-word summary on the Labour party website. I’ve also long believed that there is a legitimate conversation to be had about how we should fund environmental infrastructure such as the Managed Aquifer Recharge site in Ashburton, new storm water systems or floating wetlands such as those installed at Te Arawa in Rotorua.

I was bitterly disappointed.

Mr Parker provided photos of poor farming practices to set the tone. Of the farming practices that we were seeing in the photos, not even one of them was related to irrigation and none were from Canterbury. Almost every single one of them would be illegal in Canterbury under the existing Land and Water Regional Plan putting your consent to farm or your access to irrigation water at risk of being cut off.

When questioned on the price, Mr Parker warned the room that he wasn’t there to negotiate and threatened the farmers in the room that if they pushed him it would be 2 cents instead of 1 cent. He continually referred to the farmers in the room as “you people”, taking aim at them and telling them they alone were responsible for the rural urban divide.

It is the responsibility of us all to manage our water well and that includes irrigators, towns and cities, and other commercial users. If we are going to tackle these challenges we must do it together, instead of pointing the finger at one another.

The management of our freshwater is important for our ecosystems, our businesses and our recreation. Water is precious to all of us and deserves far more sophisticated and collaborative policy development then soundbites and feel good election policies if we are to deliver the kaitiakitanga it deserves.

The pledge by the farmers’ group will work where the water tax won’t.

It will be led by and accomplished by farmers working with farmers, not politicians extracting a tax only some of which will be applied to improving water quality.


One week two taxes

August 10, 2017

It’s just over a week since Jacinda Arden took over as leader of the Labour Party and she’s already announced two new taxes.

The first was a fuel tax :

The Labour Party might have changed its leaders but where it wants to take New Zealand hasn’t changed, National Party Campaign Chair Steven Joyce says.

“By resurrecting a decade-old idea of charging Aucklanders another tax it’s now clear why they had to abandon the “fresh approach” line,” Mr Joyce says.

“Regional Fuel Tax was Labour Party policy back in 2007 and it has been rejected by voters many times since then. It’s about as tired as R&D tax credits.

“Labour would make Aucklanders pay at least another 10 cents a litre every time they fill up their tank and that’s just for starters. That would have a real impact on the cost of living for hard-working Aucklanders.

“And it would probably spread around the country. Last time around, Wellington and Canterbury were lining up for regional taxes too. There is also no national price so fuel companies could easily transfer the cost to motorists around the country.” . .

The second is a water tax.

 A Labour-led government would implement royalties for bottled water, irrigation schemes and other commercial uses, leader Jacinda Ardern told the Environmental Defence Society’s annual conference in her first major policy speech on environmental policy since becoming party leader last Tuesday.

Drinking water, stockwater for farms, and ‘non-consumptive’ uses such as hydroelectricity generation would not face the charges, which would be set following a national conference of affected industries and water users within the first 100 days of the new government, Ardern said. . .

What happens when irrigation water is also used for stock?

Why is water for stock to drink seen as a more virtuous use than water to grow grass for stock to eat?

Farmers are understandably worried:

Pledges from Labour to consult on a “proportionate and fair” royalty for irrigation water have eased the concerns of farmers – but only by a tiny margin.

They remain terrified by the potential impacts on farming families, rural communities and the entire economy.

Federated Farmers water spokesperson Chris Allen said consultation is welcome “but talking won’t allay the fears of farmers of where this could go”.

The Federation remained opposed to any royalty on irrigation water, especially when it remains unclear what purpose it would serve, other than adding another tax.

“At least Labour appears now to be proceeding with caution, recognising the considerable risks. They’ve promised that if they are part of a new government, deciding the levels of any royalty on commercial use of water will be preceded by consultation.”

Mr Allen said the 10 cents a litre figure some had bandied around would bankrupt farmers and cripple our export competitiveness and regional economies. Even one thousandth of that figure, if that’s a level Labour has in mind, would be “eye-watering” given the volume of consumptive water use.

“With any royalty, farmers and growers would have little choice but to pass on the extra cost, if they could, meaning New Zealand consumers would pay more for food, and our products would be at a disadvantage against imports.”

Farmers recognised some positives in the Labour policy announcements. They would applaud that riparian planting would qualify for carbon credits under the Emissions Trading Scheme, “but we hope this is not a hint of a policy announcement to come on including animal emissions in the ETS”.

And the idea of activating young people who are out of work to join water quality improvement projects is worthwhile.

“That will get young people out on the land and more familiar with the farming sector, and they’ll get to experience – and help with – the large amount of environmental enhancement work farmers are already doing.”

But the whole exercise of adding a new tax on water, even if the revenue is shared with regional councils for water quality work, “is counter-productive, and a money-go-round with administration costs added in.

“Farmers are working hard to live within the limits imposed by environmental standards and the desire by all New Zealanders – farmers included – to clean-up water quality hot-spots.

“Adding an extra cost in the form of a water tax drives a perverse incentive for farmers to intensify their activity, and deprives them of income that at worst puts them out of business and at best leaves them with less money to spend on environmental protection work.”

Labour has pledged to consult, and Federated Farmers would take that opportunity, Mr Allen said.

“If we can get round a table with them, we’ll be able to talk them through all the downsides of what they’re proposing in a rational way. This needs to be done without the distraction of a general election.”

Federated Farmers believes an important principle is that if there’s to be a charge for commercial use of water, it should be paid by all, with no room of discrimination.

“If you’re going to be stupid enough to bring this in, it’s got to be fair.”

DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle said Labour’s proposal to introduce a water royalty for commercial water users would be difficult and require extensive consultation around the regions.

. . .“Within a farming business, just like any business, commercial water rates already apply. Our farmers also pay for access to irrigation, and access to water on their land through council consents. Water royalties could potentially duplicate these costs.

“Labour earlier hinted that such a levy wouldn’t result in a cost increase for farming, but without a robust conversation about how their water royalty policy will work we can’t know exactly how this would affect dairy farmers.” . .

Horticulture NZ says “Let’s not do this“:

“Extra costs on growers of fresh, healthy fruit and vegetables will make healthy food more expensive,” Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman says.

“This seems incongruous with policies around alleviating poverty and the benefits of healthy eating to reduce the economic burden of secondary health issues as a result of obesity.

“Horticulture New Zealand supports sound, consistent water policy to support efficient use of water and we have issued our own such policy (available here).

“But we do not support a blanket tax without due consideration of New Zealand’s water priorities as a nation. These priorities must include water for drinking, sanitation and food production.

“Today’s statement does not provide sufficient detail about Labour’s intentions, which should be made clear prior to the election. We don’t feel it is enough to say that if Labour forms the next Government, there will be a conversation about water within the first 100 days.

“There is already the Land and Water Forum which has been working on the wider issues of water allocation, rights and use for some time.

“Horticulture is a rapidly growing industry, contributing significantly to the economic wellbeing of New Zealand. Our vision is healthy food for all forever. We do not want to see the cost of fruit and vegetables grown in New Zealand, supporting local economies and providing jobs, pushed up higher than the cost of imported or processed food. We do not believe the long-term outcomes from a blanket water tax would benefit New Zealanders.”

The Taxpayers’ Union says a water tax shouldn’t pick and choose:

“Picking and choosing who pays what ‘water tax’ and changing the tax rate based on its use, is economic silliness,” says Jordan Williams, Executive Director of the Taxpayers’ Union

“In principle, a case can be mounted for charging users of water. However, Labour’s proposal seems more focused at the users, than the actual use.”

“If Labour is genuine in charging a ‘fair’ amount for water, why hasn’t it backed tradable permits for water? That’s a far more efficient, fair, and environmentally beneficial system than royalties payable by some users.”

“Jacinda Ardern comparison to royalties on oil and gas is a bit silly. Labour’s water royalty policy is akin to saying, they’ll charge oil drillers if the oil is used to make asphalt, but not if it’s used for plastics. Our point is that a water royalty should treat industries the same – rather than pick and choose.”

“The most disappointing thing about today’s announcement is that it’s really just another tax on business and entrepreneurship.

With the Treasury swimming in money, Labour should be explaining how it will lower the tax burden to get Kiwi businesses ahead – not saddling industry with even higher tax bills.”

Taxing water for bottling will be popular with voters even though a tiny amount of available water is involved and there’s a danger of it being regarded as an export tariff.

But why tax water for bottling unprocessed but not the water that is processed into beer, wine and other beverages? Or will the spring water at Speights be taxed too?

Taxing irrigators might be popular in some places until the consequences become apparent – higher costs for milk, meat, fruit and vegetables.

But popular isn’t necessarily good and the water tax is unfairly targeting a small number of businesses, most of which are in Canterbury and Otago.

Most of these will have fenced and planted waterways and already be doing everything else they can to protect and enhance water on or near their farms. It is unfair and unreasonable to take money from them to clean up other people’s messes elsewhere.

It is especially unfair for those of us who have to adhere environmental farm plans which are independently audited each year, where the only problem with nearby water is E.Coli from seagulls and where we pay the costs of water to provide environmental flows in the Waiareka Creek.

Some of the money would go to regional councils the rest would be absorbed into the consolidated fund, to be used for Treaty settlements, where there is no need for it.

The government is forecasting surpluses for years ahead, there is no need for any new taxes unless there are compensatory cuts elsewhere.

The water tax is Labour’s attempt to hide its economic profligacy under environmental camouflage.

Two new taxes in one week prove that the party has a new leader but nothing else has changed including its tax and spend policies.


%d bloggers like this: