Inaction on water plan reflects farmer inaction

15 Oct 2007

Forest owners have complimented senior MAF official Paul Reynolds for his candid remark that the government’s Water Programme of Action was a “programme of inaction”.

“Reynolds was just being honest,” says NZFOA president Peter Berg.

“The programme has effectively stalled, because some farming sector groups are willing to make only weak and vague commitments for reducing the effects of intensive stocking on the quality of the New Zealand environment.

“Farming organisations were successful in mobilising their members to fight the government’s Fart Tax proposals. The challenge they now face is to mobilise their members to respond positively on economically important environmental issues.

“New Zealand is marketed internationally as 100% environmentally pure – a brand value which gives New Zealand’s food and fibre exporters an increasingly important marketing edge.

‘NIWA’s environmental monitoring studies show that lowland streams are continuing to deteriorate, and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s “Growing for Good” report exposes weaknesses in the ‘100% pure’ claim.”

Mr Berg says the failure of some farming groups to make binding commitments to better environmental performance in realistic time-frames is worrying.

“It puts the credibility of those industries who have done the hard yards – like forestry, viticulture and some orchard crops – at risk.”

He says the forest industry has a detailed Code of Environmental Practice which it proposed to make binding on forest owners and people working in forests by September 2009. It was also willing to help the Ministry of the Environment develop a National Environmental Standard for Plantation Forestry.

While the irrigation sector has been proactive by launching a new Code of Practice, some farming sectors only talk of disseminating, promoting, lifting awareness and maintaining dialogue. There’s nothing specific.

“The dairy industry is better. They have made firm commitments for excluding stock from streams, lakes and wetlands, but their nutrient budget targets seem a very long way away.”

“Meanwhile sector inequities continue: The forest industry is to be responsible for 95% of its carbon emissions from 1 January 2008. By comparison agriculture starts to account for emissions in 2013 and even then, 90% of its 2005 emissions are exempt.”

Mr Berg pointed to the analysis by Ecologic group which found that there is a long history of farmer-dominated councils failing to responsibly manage New Zealand’s water resources. Environment Waikato’s proposed Variation 5 for Lake Taupo is a prime example.

“The Taupo variation, which is being appealed by forestry and Maori interests, prevents anyone with unused or forest land from further developing their properties, so that existing farmers can keep on discharging nitrogen into the lake. This clearly contravenes farmers’ obligations under the RMA to avoid, remedy or mitigate adverse effects of their activities on the environment.”

for more information, please contact Peter Berg, Tel 021 421 291