An overwhelming majority of people don’t want large-scale irrigation schemes and intensive agriculture expansion unless there’s protection for downstream waterways so that they remain safe for swimming, fishing and food gathering.
The ‘Farming and the Environment Survey’ of 3134 respondents aged 18+ was commissioned by Fish & Game NZ and conducted independently by Horizon Research Limited, with a margin of error of just ±1.8%.
Fish & Game NZ chief executive Bryce Johnson says while the organisation’s primary interest relates to the habitat of trout and salmon and the pursuits of freshwater angling and game bird hunting which are enjoyed by many thousands of New Zealanders, this research proves that Fish & Game and the wider public are united when it comes to freshwater issues.
“The sole focus on ramping up primary sector growth, whatever the costs, has put the economy on a collision course with the environment and public opinion,” he says.
“What this research shows is that nine out of 10 New Zealanders fundamentally link their Kiwi identity and lifestyle to their natural environment. It also exposes that a very clear risk of losing support exists for political parties which introduce policies promoting economic growth without guaranteed safeguards to protect the environment.”
A majority 67% of respondents say they are prepared to see large-scale irrigation schemes proceed to facilitate the growth of intensive dairy farming, but only if ‘scientific evidence proves that measures are in place to ensure downstream waterways will not be adversely affected’.
What this research shows is that people want clean water but don’t understand what it already being done by farmers to ensure their activities comply with regulations and don’t cause pollution.
“Presently we have a number of large-scale irrigation projects being proposed by Government and regional councils with scant regard being given to the adverse environmental consequences that invariably result from the change in land use, especially downstream water pollution including estuaries and coastal areas,” Mr Johnson points out.
That is simply not true.
Farmers have a vested interest in water quality not just for occasional recreation or food gathering but as a constant source for household use including drinking.
Mistakes have been made in the past but regional councils, farmers and dairy companies have learned from them and are applying what they learned for any new schemes.
North Otago Irrigation Company set a very good precedent for this. A condition of consent from the regional council was that all shareholders have to have an environmental farm plan which is independently audited each year. Anyone who doesn’t meet the standards doesn’t get water.
“The ‘precautionary principle’ is being conveniently ignored here and this negligence is going to leave a legacy of pollution for future generations.”
The poll also found an overwhelming 74% of respondents do not want regional councils to allow new agricultural development and expansion ‘if it restricts public use and makes waterways unsafe for swimming, fishing and food gathering’.
The only surprise there is that it’s not more than 74%.
What the summary doesn’t say, but the full report does, is that a good number of farmers are among them:
The survey finds
- An overwhelming 89% of adult New Zealanders link their Kiwi identity to their natural environment
- · Some 2.34 million of the country’s 3.199m adults believe dairying has worsened water quality in the past 20 years.
- 67% will agree to large scale irrigation schemes – to grow intensive dairy farming – being allowed to proceed, but only provided scientific evidence proves that measures are in place to ensure downstream waterways are not polluted.
- · There is strong agreement that polluters should pay, including 76.1% of farm owners and managers. . .
I’m surprised those last two numbers aren’t higher.
The last point is a strong rejection of the Green Party policy at the last election.
They wanted to tax irrigators and use the money to clean up waterways.
That would mean people who are doing what they should be would be paying for those who weren’t and that’s not what those surveyed want.
The support for polluters-paying is reinforced further on:
Responsibility for improving water quality
There is a strong agreement that those who pollute waterways should be made accountable for their restoration so they are safe for swimming, fishing and food gathering.
Some 89% support this view; only 1.6% disagree. Agreement sweeps across all occupational groups, including farm owners and managers (76%) and supporters of all parties currently in the New Zealand Parliament. Among those who cast their party vote for the National Party in 2011, 88% believe polluters should be held accountable for restoration of waterways.
New Zealanders also want farmers to take responsibility for reducing any impact of dairying on the environment (only 15 % agree that they should not, 72% disagree with a statement saying farmers should not be required to take responsibility).
Dairy companies’ responsibilities
There is also strong support (73%) for requiring dairy companies to take responsibility for the environmental performance of their contracted suppliers .
This support rises to 82% among farm owners and managers and to 75% among 2011 voters for the National Party.
That is happening now.
The dairy industry and farmers are already investing millions of dollars in managing their environmental impact and taking their responsibilities seriously.
DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle says dairy farmers, through the milksolids levy they pay to DairyNZ, have boosted their industry environmental investment by 61 percent this financial year to $11 million per annum.
Dr Mackle says it is not surprising that a public attitudes survey just released and funded by Fish and Game paints a negative picture of public attitudes to dairy farming. He doesn’t see the survey work as particularly rigorous or important. “They are playing politics in an election year and dairy farmers are the convenient football to kick around,” he says.
“I think New Zealanders understand that dairying is important to the success of the New Zealand economy and that dairy farmers are an important part of our community. They just want to see the industry acting responsibly and managing its impact,” he says.
“We don’t need another survey to tell us what we already know – that New Zealanders care what the dairy industry is doing to live up to their expectations around environmental stewardship. We’re already acting on that concern in a range of ways – and have a strategy and plan for ensuring responsible and competitive dairy farming including a new, stronger Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord. We launched all that last year,” he says.
“Farmers have certainly recognised the need to lift their game in investing in industry actions above and beyond their usual on-farm investments to show leadership. Across the industry we have signed up to a new water accord and strategy and we’ve been putting our money behind meeting our commitments in those agreements.
“We have programmes and investments in place with regional councils in every major dairying region in the country – from Northland to Southland and every place in between. We need to work harder at making sure more New Zealanders have a better understanding of all that is being done. Farmers are certainly paying their fair share,” he says.
“Most dairy farmers are doing a great job. Industry standards for dairy farmers, no matter where you farm or what dairy company you supply, have now been set and are being implemented through company supply agreements with dairy farmer support. We’re still let down by a few bad performers but that’s like any industry,” he says.
DairyNZ strategy and investment leader for sustainability, Dr Rick Pridmore, says in Southland, dairy farmers, through DairyNZ, are spending $1.1 million each year on environmental work with the council and in the Waituna catchment. In addition, the on-farm investments by Waituna Catchment dairy farmers so far sit at around $1.5 million, with another additional $2 million of work still in the pipeline.
“Where we’re part of the problem, we’re investing in solutions with councils and communities – generally at a catchment level. Just ask any regional council. And this is above and beyond what individual dairy farmers are spending to meet their regulatory requirements or paying as rates including targeted rates in some areas.”
He says dairy farmers, through DairyNZ, are partnering with councils on projects and spending big money. Last year this included work with Horizons Regional Council ($500,000), Waikato River Authority ($1.2 million), Environment Canterbury ($1 million), Northland Regional Council ($400,000) and $100,000 with the West Coast Regional Council.
“Fonterra dairy farmers have fenced 22,000 kilometres of waterways around the country now and that is all GPS mapped. Depending on how much riparian planting and maintenance is included, we estimate farmers have spent $100-200 million to achieve this, reflecting around $5-10,000 per kilometre,” he says.
“DairyNZ is also investing dairy farmers’ money in leading New Zealand’s largest catchment project in the Waikato River above Karapiro. This $2.1m project, co-funded by DairyNZ, Waikato River Authority and central government, is delivering environmental management plans to all 700 farmers in the catchment.
“Each Sustainable Milk Plan for those farmers will cost us $2,400 to produce, and out of that will fall a range of actions and investments that the farmer will spend on their farms. That includes installing water meters on most of these 700 farms at a cost to farmers of around $1.5 million. Other examples are Taranaki farmers who are voluntarily investing an enormous amount of money and time to ensure waterways on the Taranaki ring plain are protected with fences and vegetation. Around $80 million has been spent on plants, fencing and contractors since the project began. That’s a fantastic achievement.
“So we can point to an increasing and substantial investment by dairy farmers that shows how much they are all paying in a range of ways to manage their environmental impact. On top of that the dairy industry supports the Government’s plans for farming within environmental limits that is rolling out across the country. This will address the bigger issue of managing land use change. Already in Canterbury, there will be ‘no grow’ areas for dairying in that region as part of implementing its new land and water policies,” says Dr Pridmore.
In January this year, Kiwis voted 71% pro-irrigation in an independent poll commissioned by IrrigationNZ. . .
IrrigationNZ CEO Andrew Curtis says while he agrees with some of Fish&Game’s survey results, unfortunately the organisation has chosen to focus on the negative. In reality only a minority of Kiwis hold views that reflect no development or progress for New Zealand.
“Fish&Game is reiterating the same old rhetoric around the water quality problems that we all know exist in some parts of New Zealand. It’s like a broken record. Fish&Game need to change their focus and make a constructive contribution. After the Land &Water Forum the farming community is now focused on finding solutions – not throwing stones. Kiwis in our latest research emphasised that as long as irrigation is undertaken in a sustainable and responsible fashion, the majority are comfortable with it.”
“We do however acknowledge that Kiwis need more information on irrigation practice today and how it is monitored and managed and we hope to fill that information gap next month with the launch of our new SMART irrigation website.”
In the meantime we agree with the following findings from Fish&Game;
- Industry bodies to better understand and align with public opinion on issues relating to irrigation, water and environmental protection in order to form responsible and acceptable policies and industry standards;
- That irrigation which aids economic development must be managed responsibly with standardised measures and monitoring in place and that
- ‘Smarter’ practices must be sought out which both enhance production but also protect New Zealand’s resources.
“Irrigation New Zealand is working with agencies, organisations and individuals to minimise the impact of irrigation on our rivers and river flow and water quality limits are being set so that irrigators sustainably manage the water we all value,” says Mr Curtis.
A lot of what appears in the media is a result of poor practices in the past.
There’s a lot of time and money going into remedying those problems and helping farmers do all they can to protect and enhance waterways now.