Rural round-up

June 16, 2020

Faltering forestry risks NZ’s climate strategy – Marty Verry:

Global headwinds are lining up against New Zealand’s number one climate change mitigation strategy – the one billion trees policy. The coming weeks will tell if the Government has given up or is committed to making that policy a success by backing it with its procurement.

But first let us recap on what is at stake. The country’s plan is to use trees to sequester carbon dioxide over the next 30 years while it finds ways to reduce emissions from our other main pollutant sources: transport, buildings, energy and agriculture. If the forestry strategy fails, we will need a more aggressive approach to meeting carbon zero by 2050 – something consultancy EY calculated in 2018 would cost the country $30 billion. New Zealand cannot afford to add that to the $60b Covid tab, so the forestry strategy simply must succeed.

So let’s look at the prospects for forestry. For New Zealand, the battle ground is China. Like it or not, it takes 80 per cent of our log exports. All our logs are in that basket, you could say. . .

Federated Farmers wants migrant workers on Govt’s COVID exemption ‘A-list’ :

Auckland officials are emphasising the economic benefits of letting in America’s Cup crews, but farmers feel they’re being left off the ‘A-list’. 

The Government has granted border exemptions to cup challengers American Magic and INEOS Team UK, each bringing a couple of hundred crew and staff into the country. 

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff says they’ll face the same 14-day quarantine rules as New Zealand citizens at the border, to prevent one of them inadvertently bringing in COVID-19.  . . 

Visa uncertainty threatens farm crisis – Richard Harman:

The Government is considering extending temporary work visas due to expire over the next few months so that essential businesses do not lose semi-skilled workers.

But there are big questions about why it won’t announce that it is doing so. POLITIK understands that around 70,000 temporary work visas are due to expire by the end of September.

But following representations from the dairy and aged care sectors POLITIK understands the Minister of Immigration, Iain Lees-Galloway favours an extension of six to 12 months for many of the workers. . . 

Why is it taking so long to install fishing cameras? :

“Cameras are all about transparency. They’re all about public accountability and providing proof that the industry – as they state – have nothing to hide. Now if they have nothing to hide, why aren’t we seeing cameras on some of these big boats?”

That’s the question Newshub reporter Michael Morrah has been trying to solve since National decided they were a good idea and promised to introduce them in 2016.

But their introduction has been pushed back again and again, often quietly.

National’s primary industries minister Nathan Guy was attacked by the then Labour opposition over them; but just a few months after Labour came into office and “the whole idea around accountability and transparency is put on the backburner”, Morrah says. . . 

 

Horticulture NZ says New Zealand needs more water storage schemes like Northland:

HortNZ says New Zealand needs more water storage schemes like the one just announced for Northland.

‘New Zealand is not really short of water, it is short of water capture and storage,’ says HortNZ Chief Executive, Mike Chapman.

‘People and plants need water – that’s a basic fact. For years, we have known that our climate is changing – droughts are getting more severe – however, red tape and a lack of capital has seen most parts of New Zealand slow to do anything practical about the situation. . . 

New trial could lead to breeding of low methane-emitting cows – James Fyfe:

A trial is underway in the Waikato to see if there is a link between cows’ genetics and how much methane they produce.

If such a link is found, it could mean it’s possible for farmers to fight climate change by specifically breeding cows that emit less methane.

The trial, involving dairy breeding bulls, is being run by Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC) and CRV Ambreed, which between them sire 90 percent of the country’s dairy herd through their artificial breeding bulls. . . 

NZ Food Heroes campaign takes off:

Thousands of free-range chooks have been able to keep on laying rather than getting laid off due to lockdown. It’s just one of the heart-warming stories shared in the ‘NZ Food Heroes’ campaign.

From baking to business models – nominations for the NZ Food Heroes Awardare flooding in. Diverse in nature, the entries all reflect the Kiwi brand of innovation and community spirit that has flourished during the COVID-19 crisis ensuring New Zealand has access to fresh, local produce.

Nominee Olliff Farm north of Auckland faced a dilemma. With 95 per cent of their pasture eggs supplying high-end Auckland restaurants and cafes in normal times, lockdown restrictions presented a complete loss of business income. . . 

Fonterra’s Asia Pacific market gets creative in lockdown :

Fonterra’s Asia Pacific market is living proof of the adage “necessity is the mother of invention” Judith Swales says.

Fonterra’s CEO for Asia Pacific told The Country Early Edition’s Rowena Duncum that Covid-19 restrictions had forced the co-op to rethink its approach to customers.

“Our teams have adapted really quickly and they’ve done a lot of great work. It’s about how we adapt to customers and consumers” Swales said.

One example was a trend that had popped up in Korea – creating new recipes for the garlic cream cheese bun. . . 


Science not unsubstantiated aspiration

August 9, 2019

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says better land management can contribute to tackling climate change but is not the only solution.

. . . Land must remain productive to maintain food security as the population increases and the negative impacts of climate change on vegetation increase. This means there are limits to the contribution of land to addressing climate change, for instance through the cultivation of energy crops and afforestation. It also takes time for trees and soils to store carbon effectively. Bioenergy needs to be carefully managed to avoid risks to food security, biodiversity and land degradation. Desirable outcomes will depend on locally appropriate policies and governance systems. . .

Greenpeace must have missed the bit about food security and locally appropriate solutions because it immediately called for New Zealand’s dairy heard to be halved which, Politik points out, would cost the country approximately $8.3 billion in lost exports.

On top of that, there would be job losses on farm and in the downstream businesses, irreversible depopulation of rural communities and global emissions would increase as less efficient farmers in other countries ramped up production to meet the demand for food we’d no longer be producing.

Greenpeace would be more aptly named Redpeace to reflect its politics. Their call ignores the fact that what is being called for is largely what New Zealand farmers are already doing, and are striving to do better.

It comes on the eve of Federated Farmers submission to the select committee on the Zero Carbon Bill where they called for honesty on what farmers are being asked to do:

Adopt a methane target that science tells us will ensure no additional impact on global warming, not an unsubstantiated aspiration that will cause lasting damage to rural communities and the standard of living of all New Zealanders.

That was the message from Federated Farmers to the Select Committee hearing on the Zero Carbon Bill this morning.

“Federated Farmers agrees with the current text in the Bill on the need to achieve net zero carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide in the NZ agricultural industry by 2050,” Feds climate change spokesperson Andrew Hoggard said.

“This ambitious support is in spite of the industry being heavily reliant on reliable energy supply and internal combustion powered vehicles for transport, both of which produce carbon dioxide, and despite the task of agriculture reducing nitrous oxide to net zero being incredibly challenging.”

Farmers “embrace this challenge” because those two gases are long-lived and build up in the atmosphere, so New Zealand – and the world – needs to get those gases to net zero as quickly as possible, Hoggard said. But methane, which is belched by livestock, is a short-lived gas that produces almost no additional warming and flows in and out of the atmosphere if emitted at a constant rate.

The science says NZ agriculture needs to reduce methane by about 0.3% a year, or about 10% by 2050, to have no additional warming effect – or in other words a zero carbon equivalent. Yet a 10% target has been set for 2030 – much earlier than for any other sector of society – and up to 47% methane reductions by 2050.

Hoggard told the Select Committee that appears to be “because it seems easier to tell people to consume less animal-based protein than it is to cut back on trips to Bali.

“If that is the case then let’s be open and honest and admit the agriculture sector is being asked to do more than its share.”

Farmers are in a minority, it’s far easier to pick on them than to ask people to make real and meaningful sacrifices.

The Minister has challenged those disagreeing with the proposed targets to explain why he shouldn’t follow the advice of the IPCC. Federated Farmers provided three main reasons:

– a key piece of advice in the relevant IPCC’s 2018 report was not to use the numbers from that report as precise national targets,

– the report also recommended a much lower target for nitrous oxide but Federated Farmers is ignoring that as it is a long-lived gas.

– finally, the report modelled numerous pathways that all achieved the 1.5 degree warming target. In some of those pathways biogenic methane actually increased. Economists pondered those pathways to work out the least cost to the globe of achieving the target, not the least cost to New Zealand.

“This report was clearly not designed to be copy and pasted into our domestic legislation. Modelling on what is the least cost to the economy for New Zealand to do its part hasn’t been done,” Hoggard said.

Answering Select Committee member questions, Hoggard suggested there was a strong case for rewarding or incentivising farmers to go beyond 10% by 2050 methane cuts. Methane reductions beyond 10% would actually have a cooling effect on the planet and in effect was the same as planting trees to sequester carbon, a practice rewarded through the ETS.

But planting trees with a 30-year life before harvest is only a temporary solution, and blanketing productive farmland with pines kills off jobs, spending and inhabitants that rural communities depend on.

The science, peer reviewed and provided by Environment Commissioner Simon Upton, says forestry should not be used to offset fossil fuel emissions but could be used for shorter-lived gases like methane.

However, if farmers achieved the 10% methane reductions that ensure no additional warming, and are rewarded for striving for additional reductions, there is incentive to invest in additional emissions reduction technology.

“That keeps the rural community going, and reduces global warming – a win/win situation.”

The proposed policy is lose-lose.

The only way for farmers to meet unrealistic targets would be to reduce stock.

That would have devastating economic and social consequences and no environmental gain.

If the government expect us to accept the science on climate change, it must accept the science too, all the science including that on methane, and not just the bits it finds convenient.

It must also accept the Paris Accord’s stipulation that climate change mitigation should not come at the expense of food production.


Ag part of the tech boom

July 5, 2019

Politik discusses Knowledge Wave Mark Two which seeks to boost the tech sector and quotes Helen Clark from the original Knowledge Wave conference:

Our export profile resembles that of developing countries, not that of a developed one.

Our export profile is unique among developed countries for the volume and value of primary produce and the large part that plays in our economy.

But the quote, and some policies from this government, send the message that there’s something wrong with that.

They ignore the fact that primary production does so well in New Zealand not just because of our natural advantages – the climate and soils – but because of the investment in, and application of, research and technology.

There is some comfort in David Parker’s statement:

“The agritech sector has been chosen as a key focus because it brings together two of New Zealand’s key competitive advantages – our expertise in agriculture and horticulture with our well-educated workforce,” he said.

This focus is already being undermined by government policy which incentivises forestry over food production.

Economic growth,  a broader based export economy and technological innovation are all worthy goals but none should be achieved by dragging down or devaluing primary production.

Our export profile does resemble that of a third world country, but primary production in New Zealand is very much a first-world business and already part of the tech boom.

When climate change could threaten food security, our ability to produce highly nutritious food in a very efficient manner is of even more importance.

 

 


Conspiracy censorship or . . .?

June 22, 2018

Speaker Trevor Mallard  ruled out an amendment from the Overseas Investment Amendment Bill that would have made a controversial 106-house luxury development in Northland more attractive to wealthy overseas buyers.

The amendment that exempted Te Arai property development near Mangawhai from the consent provisions of the bill was inserted by the office of Associate Finance Minister David Parker, the minister in charge of the bill.

It was included in recommendations on the bill from the Labour-chaired Finance and Expenditure Committee.

That was despite concerns from National members of the committee that the inclusion of a private exemption for Te Arai development through an amendment to a public bill was inappropriate. . . 

Richard Harman wrote a comprehensive post at Politik yesterday explainging the background to this.

National’s Amy Adams questioned the minister about the issue yesterday:

3. Hon AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Associate Minister of Finance: What is the purpose of the Overseas Investment Amendment Bill?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Associate Minister of Finance): There are three main purposes. The first is to ban foreign buyers of existing New Zealand homes; the second is to bring forestry registration rights into the overseas investment screening regime to ensure they’re treated similarly to existing screening for freehold and leasehold forests, whilst at the same time streamlining screening for forestry to encourage foreign direct investment in the forestry sector; and the third and equally important purpose is to preserve policy space for future Governments to protect the rights of New Zealanders to own their own land. This policy space would, in practice, have been lost forever had this Government not acted to do these things before the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) comes into effect.

Hon Amy Adams: Was it the policy intent of the bill for developers of multimillion-dollar homes targeted at foreign buyers, such as the Te Ārai property development, to be exempt?

Hon DAVID PARKER: No. The transitional exemption that was put forward but has been ruled out of order was put forward with the intent of helping the iwi who had suffered long delays on the project. It was a time-limited, transitional measure. There was advice from Treasury that this was procedurally appropriate to allow an exemption. However, the Speaker has advised that the select committee’s recommendation is not within the Standing Orders. The Government accepts the Speaker’s ruling, and therefore the transitional exemption will not proceed.

Hon Amy Adams: Well, is it his intention to promulgate regulations under the Overseas Investment Amendment Bill to exempt the Te Ārai development, or any other development linked to John Darby, from the provisions of that legislation?

Hon DAVID PARKER: No, and, indeed, the other regulation-making power in the bill—and the member will know this because she was on the select committee—would not allow such an exemption. . . 

Hon Amy Adams: Since becoming the Minister responsible for the Overseas Investment Amendment Bill, has he had any discussions about the bill and the proposed Te Ārai development exemption with the chairperson of the Finance and Expenditure Committee, Michael Wood; and if so, when?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Obviously on a number of occasions, but I do that with every bill that I’m responsible for.

Hon Amy Adams: Since becoming a Minister has he met, corresponded with, spoken to, or texted John Darby or Ric Kayne, as the beneficial owners of the Te Ārai development, or any representative of their business interests; and if so, for what purpose?

Hon DAVID PARKER: No. I know thousands of people in New Zealand, including Mr Darby. I have bumped into him probably once or twice in the last decade. The last time I can recall talking to him was when I bumped into him, and it’s so long ago I can’t remember when it was.

Hon Amy Adams: Well, since becoming a Minister, has he met, corresponded with, spoken to, or texted any representative of John Darby and Ric Kayne’s lobbying firm Thompson Lewis; and if so, for what purpose?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Everyone in the House will know that GJ Thompson actually was the acting chief of staff here, so I’ve regularly spoken with him—unfortunately for the member, not about this issue. Someone made me aware that Mr Lewis had some involvement in this. I have not spoken to Mr Lewis about this at all nor corresponded with him. The two meetings that I can recall having with Mr Lewis since we were elected were in respect of carbon rights and forestry, and members of staff were present at those meetings to witness them, as well. . . 

Later Matthew Hooton tweeted:

I read the column but if you click on the link now, it’s disappeared.

Is there a conspiracy, is it censorship is there really nothing to see or is there more to come?

 


Good for party not good for govt

June 15, 2018

In March Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Shane Jones calling for sacking of a board member was a step too far.

A few months later he can say what he likes:

He’s shared a personal opinion, it’s not government policy, and that’s the end of the story,” Ms Ardern told Newshub.

That might have been a personal opinion but it was also a political act and it’s not the end of the story.

Jones wasn’t invited to Fieldays as a private citizen or even an MP, he was invited because he’s a Minister and Ministers should not meddle in private businesses.

If he wants to comment on Fonterra and its board he should buy a farm, some cows and shares in the company.

And then he should still refrain from making personal attacks on board members.

But of course he was playing to the gallery.

RIchard Harman at Politik says it was a carefully calculated campaign by NZ FIrst to boost its poll ratings.

But what’s good for the party’s poll ratings is not good behaviour for a minister, good governance nor for the government.

Jones’s comments added fuel to the fire of concern already burning businesses.

They’ve made the Prime Minister look as if she can’t control her cabinet.

And they’ve added to concerns about what might happen when Jones’s leader Winston Peters is acting PM.

 


Casually wasting diplomatic capital

March 29, 2018

Is the government deliberately setting out to upset international friends?

It started with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s repeatedly sticking her nose into Australia’s affairs over Manus Island refugees.

She followed up by making the mistake of telling a story about Donald Trump mistaking her for Canadian PM Justin Trudeau’s wife which she ought not to have shared.

Then came the reluctance by her and Foreign Minister Winston Peters to condemn Russia for the nerve agent poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

And now New Zealand is an international laughing stock over the PM’s claim we have no undeclared Russian spies here.

New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, and foreign affairs minister, Winston Peters, say they would expel Russian spies from the country, if there were any.

More than 100 Russian diplomats alleged to be spies in western countries have been told to return to Moscow, in response to the use of a chemical weapon in the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal, a former Russia/UK double agent, and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury, England on 4 March.

The New Zealand government has condemned the attack and supports the international action, but says there are no such “Russian intelligence agents” in the country. . . 

The ABC explains the difference between declared and undeclared spies:

. . . Spy is the conventional term for someone who gathers intelligence overseas, without letting their host country know what they are doing.

They often present themselves as diplomats and work out of embassies, alongside declared intelligence officers.

The difference between declared and undeclared intelligence officers is that the legitimate ones present their credentials to their host country and make it known they are there to make contact and to formally share mutually beneficial information.

Spies appear on an embassy’s list of diplomats, but they are involved in gathering other intelligence.

According to Ian Lincoln, a former diplomat who is now president of the Australian Institute of International Affairs (New South Wales), spies have the same objectives as intelligence officers but use different methods, such as gathering intelligence through unofficial contacts, sometimes by finding a weakness in an individual.

John Blaxland, a professor of international security and intelligence studies, says undeclared intelligence officers pretend to comply with regular protocols, appearing at events and doing other things that make them look like regular diplomats, but on the side, they are carrying out a range of other activities. . . 

Richard Harman’s Politik morning e-newsletter says:

There has been no comment on whether any of the 16 staff with diplomatic status at the Russian Embassy [ in Wellington] may be undeclared intelligence officers — but it is a comparatively  large staff for a country which would seem to have only peripheral interests here..
In comparison’ Australia has 13; China 23 and the USA, 48. 

David Lange’s government burned off friends with its anti-nuclear policy but that was a matter of principle.

This government’s stand doesn’t look to be done on principle:

Whether or not we are seeing the emergence of a new Peters Doctrine is moot. We shall have to wait to see. But it’s curious that Labour has been dragged into this line of thinking.

It may be that Ardern & Co have an instinctive willingness to not necessarily fall in behind the great powers of the West. But is this really the time? Given the personalities in charge of what can be loosely called the West – especially President Donald Trump – there may well be a time quite soon when we want to play an independent hand. There may soon be issues where we want to stand apart from the US and other Western (or Five Eyes) allies on issues of real importance.

So why waste your card playing it now? Why raise the eyebrows – and perhaps the ire – of our traditional friends over this case? New Zealand bases its foreign policy on the international rule of law, so when there is a global consensus that Russia has blatantly and murderously broken those rules, why would we not rush to stand alongside those protesting such an action? Surely this is an opportunity to earn show some solidarity with Britain, the US and others, given that down the track we may want to spend some diplomatic capital distancing ourselves from them.

It seems a careless, overly casual and unnecessary waste of diplomatic capital; one I suspect this government will soon regret.

If the government was acting on principle its words and actions might be understood.

But rather than principle, it looks like it’s fooling round with foreign policy, carelessly and casually wasting hard-won diplomatic capital.

In doing so it’s dangerously out of step with both security and trading partners in a time when the foreign and trading environments are anything but benign.


Will Marks be rolled?

February 22, 2018

There were no surprises when Winston Peters was re-elected leader of New Zealand First unopposed.

The man and the party are almost one and the same thing and there would be no question of dissension

But this morning’s Politik newsletter Richard Harman, who is usually well informed, suggests that Peters might be about to depose Ron Mark as deputy in favour of Fletcher Tabuteau.

The waka jumping legislation hasn’t been passed yet.

If Mark was sufficiently unhappy with show of no confidence in him he could leave the party and still stay in parliament.

That would mean he’d no longer be a minister though and he could well find that too high a price to pay no matter how upset he was.

 

 


NZ loses its way

November 22, 2017

For several years, New Zealand has received international attention and praise for its economic success.

Just a few weeks with a new government this commentary from Jared Dillian at Forbes is less than enthusiastic about its policies:

On September 23, the people of New Zealand elected 37-year-old Jacinda Ardern as prime minister, the youngest prime minister in New Zealand’s history. Ardern has brought youthful energy to New Zealand politics, but her scary rhetoric during the campaign (like calling capitalism a “blatant failure”) has some people wondering if she will take the country back to the bad old days of the 70s and early 80s.

New Zealand is a supply-side economic miracle. Not long ago, it was one of the most unfree economies that was not actually Communist in name. Most industry was nationalized, from telecommunications and transportation, to banks and hotels. There were strict capital controls and prohibitions on owning foreign assets. And of course punitively high tax rates, inflation, and extraordinary levels of government debt. . .

Those policies from the early 80s back are the ones which failed us.

The 1980s saw an enormous rollback in the size and scope of government, and the beginning of a supply-side revolution. Of course, economic liberalization was happening around the world at that time, but it was most dramatic in tiny New Zealand.

New Zealand enjoyed unprecedented economic growth, and leapfrogged to near the top of the economic freedom rankings, where it usually sits only behind Hong Kong and Singapore. It became one of the richest countries in the world. Part of New Zealand’s success was due to good central banking; the Reserve Bank of New Zealand was the first central bank in the world to institute a formal policy of inflation targeting, which other central banks have copied over the years, to everyone’s benefit. . . 

Inflation is theft. It steals the real value of money and it’s the poorest who are hit hardest by it.

It seems likely that New Zealand will experience a recession during Ardern’s term. Nobody is predicting a return to the bad old days of the 70s, but New Zealand will probably lose its status as one of the most open, free economies in the world. It takes decades to weaken an economy, just like it takes decades to strengthen it. But investors will probably want to avoid New Zealand for the time being.

This government has taken down the welcome sign to immigrants and inwards investment.

Richard Harman at Politik reports the Government is to put the approval of overseas purchases of farmland on hold as it gets advice from officials on how to carry out its coalition agreement with NZ First to strengthen the Overseas Investment Act.

The hold is likely to affect tens of millions of dollars of property sales and possibly hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business transactions.

POLITIK understands that the sale of one large South Island property and the potential sale of an iconic Wanaka station along with two large North Island dairy properties are likely to be caught up in the move.

It was not clear from the comments from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday whether the hold will also apply to overseas business investments – but if that is the case, there are proposed takeovers in both the oil and gas and private hospital sectors that could be affected. . . 

The sale of Icebreaker  to VF Corporation which needs OIO approval as will the sale of carpet maker Godfrey Hirst to global flooring manufacturer Mohawk Industries.

Uncertainty over the economy, the inflationary affect of a lower dollar and higher borrowing, and whether immigrants will be available to fill staff vacancies is denting business confidence.

Less confidence means businesses are less willing to take risks, including hiring more staff.

It’s very early days but if overseas investors are being warned off and local businesses are losing confidence, it’s a sign that New Zealand is losing its way.

 


Super announcement 4pm

March 6, 2017

An email from Politik says Finance Minister Steven Joyce is expected to join Prime Minister Bill English at the post-cabinet media conference at 4pm to make an announcement on superannuation.


Mallard makes it easier for Bishop in Hutt

July 25, 2016

POLITIK reports Hutt South MP Trevor Mallard won’t contest his electorate at the next election but will seek a list seat:

He says he is doing this because Labour will nominate him as Speaker and he told them he had come to the view that it is very hard to be both an effective electorate MP and chair the house in an unbiased manner.

And he says the move will help the party with its process of renewal by bringing in a new MP.

That means that he is not expecting Leader Andrew Little  who does not have an electorate, to stand in the seat.

Labour’s Deputy Leader Annette King appeared to confirm this last night when she told POLITIK that she did not expect Mr Little to stand in any seat.

A leader’s workload is one reason for Little to continue to be a list MP. But that also makes it easier to say he lacks the on-the-ground experience of people and issues that electorate MPs  gain working in a seat and for its people, in contrast to list MPs who can pick and choose more.

This decision also makes an already task more difficult for Labour’s list selection if the party can’t get a substantial boost in its support.

Wallowing in the popularity shallows as it is just now would give Labour very few list MPs.

But the move also opens the way for one of National’s young rising stars, Chris Bishop, to possibly win the seat. . . 

Some list MPs don’t try to win electorates, some do and Bishop is one who has been working very hard in Hutt South.

Little would have a much higher profile than a newcomer should he stand in the seat but Bishop would also be able to argue that he (Bishop) would be able to devote much more time to the electorate than a party leader.

Should Little not stand, a newcomer would have to work much harder to gain profile that Bishop’s service in the electorate has given him.

Either way this makes it easier for Bishop, who lost by only 709 votes to Mallard in 2014, to gain the seat.


The case for irrigation

June 3, 2016

Peter Graham puts the case for irrigation:

Irrigation is not just a question of economic stimulation, increased farm incomes, more jobs, growth of our cities, and creation of wealth (so we can afford to clean up our already degraded rivers and streams). The reason is far simpler. 

Just consider:

  • World food production will need to double in the next 50 years to meet demand.
  • 20% of world’s agricultural land is irrigated to produce 40% of world’s food.
  • By 2030 world fresh water demand will exceed supply by 40%.
  • By 2030 more than 3.5 billion people will live in areas affected by acute water scarcity.
  • Temperature increases and changes in climate patterns are predicted to severely reduce world grain and rice production. 

The world needs more food. New Zealand is blessed by ample rain so water storage, irrigation and land-use intensification is essential. . . 

Irrigation is not just about more and better options for farmers. It’s about producing more food for New Zealand and the world.

But there are barriers:

Water storage is a big-ticket item. The smallest project comes in at around $70 million and larger more than $300 million, excluding on farm costs. Investigating proposal feasibility and proving viability is also costly. Practically, it is hard for the irrigators to fund them and service the debt without outside assistance and/or major increases in food prices. 

Government funding for feasibility studies and funding of schemes as a minority short-term investor is  not sufficient. Obtaining private sector funding and keeping operating costs at an economic level for farmers is also proving difficult on large-scale proposals. 

Expecting local government to be the majority funder in such high cost infrastructure is unrealistic. It is hard to see how infrastructure on this scale can be funded without major government capital investment.   

Food is essential to a stable functioning society and we must look at irrigation as essential public infrastructure. We must consider its benefits in terms of regional development and food production, urban water supply and recreation use, not simply in terms of economics and income generation.  . . 

Irrigation is infrastructure which provides benefits and opportunities for individuals, businesses and communities in the same way for example roads do.

Only central government is in a position to fund projects on the basis of a far longer return on investment period than the private sector. Only government is in a position to target funding at environmental flow and environmental rehabilitation requirements and plan for infrastructure requirements of this scale on a long-term basis. 

If the increasing demand for electricity had not been met by massive post war hydroelectric dam construction, New Zealand would be a very different place. If government hadn’t built infrastructure, New Zealand simply could not have supported post war population growth and the baby boom. The reality is that in New Zealand, very large infrastructure projects require greater government input than is presently available for irrigation projects. 

The regions and rural New Zealand need revitalisation. Environmental rehabilitation of rivers and wetlands and environmental protection of riparian margins needs to be paid for. Public Private Partnerships or suspensory loans, with repayment remitted on meeting of clear targets for job generation, increase of summer river flows, improvements to urban water supply, improvement of water quality and riparian and watershed protection, may be effective in ensuring irrigation schemes are not only economically viable, but that they also deliver wider community and environmental benefits.  

Past mistakes with intensification of farming without farm environment plans have contributed to water degradation. We’ve all learned from that . New water plans and the requirement for farm environment plans will ensure new schemes don’t degrade water quality.

Water storage schemes go further in providing the ability to improve water quality, by for example maintaining minimum flows during droughts.

Waiareka Creek was a series of semi-stagnant ponds before North Otago Irrigation Scheme maintained minimum flows, improving the quality of the water and water life.

Years can be spent going through a resource consent process for a major project at significant cost. As councils develop land and water plans that give clear directions as to how water is to be managed it is becoming easier to determine what is required to make a proposal compliant or able to be consented. Generally, it’s the time and cost of appeals that have been the major issues with the consenting process for irrigation projects. 

The interface between the RMA process and disparate central government processes for the use of the Crown estate needs to be addressed urgently. It is not reasonable to have a project that has gone through a long, intensive and expensive consenting process effectively re-litigated in the context of subsequent objections to use of Crown land or parts of the conservation estate. 

Classes and categories of conservation land need to be clearly established and realistic protection criteria clearly set out. The ability to obtain consent in conjunction with the RMA consent applications being dealt with is essential. This shouldn’t be controversial. 

The rules need to be clear so complying with them is easy and gaining consent less expensive in terms of both time and money.

Our environment and river systems are already highly modified and in many areas degraded.    

We need to deal with future land-use in the context that people will continue to live and work in the environment.  Most of our issues are legacy issues and will cost money to fix.  We need to set realistic standards that invite compliance. 

Most water quality problems now are legacy issues. There is a nitrogen bloom in a river near Nelson caused by a pig farm which closed down 30 years ago.

The requirement for independently audited environmental farm plans and the necessity to comply with council water plans will protect water in the future. Existing problems caused by poor practices in the past must be addressed but that will be expensive and must not be used as an excuse to block new irrigation schemes.

Controls on groundwater discharges and leaching of nitrogen and phosphorus are essential and must be treated sensibly. It is important to determine what a healthy standard is for each river system and what is needed to achieve and maintain it.   

Individual farm environmental plans and detailed records of water use, fertiliser application, and stocking rates is simply part of living in today’s environment, as is development of wetlands and fencing of riparian boundaries.  

However, regulating these plans and records must be achievable and effective. It is one thing to require detailed monitoring and reporting when the output has a real effect on water quality. It quite different to require the same level of on-farm monitoring and reporting when the level of discharges can be monitored and controlled simply by monitoring water quality in the river. 

We need to start looking at water storage and land use intensification as part of the solution and manage the environmental issues appropriately. It’s as simple as that. 

Water storage and land use intensification can with the right rules improve water quality and will contribute to rates and taxes needed to deal with legacy issues.

Irrigation provides opportunities for farmers who choose to make the big investment required on-farm and in the off-farm infrastructure.

But the benefits go far beyond the farm gate:

I live in Napier and I want to see Hawke’s Bay grow and prosper. I want my kids and their friends and my grandkids and their friends to have a future here.

I want to see the Tukituki have strong environmental flows in the summer. I want to see all farms having individual environmental management plans and effective nutrient discharge limits and controls. 

I want to see water managed properly with existing degraded rivers and land areas restored by riparian plantings, development of wetlands and sensible management of areas with high landscape and environmental values. 

I can also live with the inundation of riverbeds and small areas of the DOC estate when the Conservation values of that area are already well represented, or where appropriate mitigation offsets or vesting of land in exchange can be achieved. Everything has its pros and cons but you have to look the big picture and what really matters.   

So, it’s simple really:

  • Councils, who haven’t already done it, need to get their act together with the land and water management requirements in their plans and appropriate discharge and reporting limits.
  • Rules for use of the Crown estate need to be better co-ordinated with RMA consent requirements.
  • Better mechanisms for increased public finding of schemes focussed on clear targets for regional and environmental benefits, as well as increased food production need to be developed, or food costs will skyrocket.

The world needs more of the high quality food New Zealand can produce if more of the water that flows out to see is used for irrigation.

That requires better, clearer rules to reduce the cost of the consent process.

It also needs more public investment in the infrastructure, recognising that the environmental, economic and social returns are widespread and long term.

P.S. The link at the top is to Politik, where you will find the best-reasoned and researched, non-partisan political comment in New Zealand.

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No “only” about .9%

February 23, 2016

One criticism of the Trans Pacific Partnership is that it will add “only” .9% to New Zealand’s GDP.

Politik has the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s response to  two economic studies quoted by Labour  using that figure to justify criticism of the deal.

MFAT Chief Negotiator David Walker says that 0.9% increase in baseline GDP in 2030 is equivalent to NZ$2.7 billion.

There is no “only” about $2.7 billion.


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