Todd Muller: Freshwater proposals would hammer the primary sector

Opinion 10/09/2019

By Todd Muller, National Spokesperson for Agriculture, Bay of Plenty MP.

The Government’s freshwater announcement amounts to another gut punch to rural New Zealand from a Government who continues to heap pressure onto a vulnerable sector.

These proposals will put the shackles on our farmers’ ability to innovate and will heap costs on to a sector that is already facing historically low confidence.

Our farmers’ ability to adjust their land use to market conditions is one of our greatest strengths.

Restricting this will be detrimental to both our primary sector and wider economy. Marlborough used to be covered in sheep, cattle and arable crops, but farmers there saw an opportunity to diversify into grapes and now the region is famous for its Sauvignon Blanc. The ability for our farmers to make the most of their land in these ways is one of our competitive advantages, and these regulations will take that away.

The proposed nitrate level reduction of up to 80 per cent is completely unfeasible, and will put farmers out of business if implemented. The Government’s own modelling suggests that it could mean an 84 per cent drop in profits for some Canterbury farmers. Meanwhile modelling also suggests that 68 per cent of drystock farms in the Waikato/Waipa catchment would be converted into forestry as a direct result of the proposed regulations.

Farmers have put their shoulders to the wheel and put in the hard yards for our water quality, with dairy farmers fencing off over 98 per cent of waterways and spending over $1 billion in environmental investment over the last five years. National applauds these efforts but the Government continues to ignore the sector’s hard work. The Government’s own data from Land, Air, Water Aotearoa shows more river quality measures improving than deteriorating, but again there is no acknowledgment from the Government that farmers are making a difference.

There is almost no economic analysis to be found in the document, and no mention of the severe costs that will be inflicted on to farmers and the wider economy. It appears that this Government is content to just heap the costs on to farmers with no consideration of the damaging lingering effect this will have on our rural families, their community and the wider economy.

The primary sector accounts for 60 per cent of our exports and is the backbone of our economy.

If we want first world healthcare, transport and education, we have to sell something to the world to afford to buy our first world affluence. To regulate our most productive industry into oblivion simply due to political ideology is reckless economic sabotage.

We all want improved fresh water outcomes but we have to back farmers to farm their way to better outcomes as they have been doing. Farmers must see a pathway to improve while being profitable, our rural communities and economic wealth as a country depends on it. 

These new proposals will be a hammer blow to what is a highly vulnerable sector and will damage our competitive advantage as a country.

Todd Muller is National's Spokesperson for Agriculture and MP for Bay of Plenty.