Federated Farmers and Irrigation NZ provided the following questions (italicised within text). Here is my response.
1. Hawkes Bay has one of the lowest rates of economic growth in New Zealand. Do you think that the regional council should have a role in driving better economic growth? If so, what initiatives would you support to create significant growth in Hawkes Bay?
This depends on whether you see economic growth as a solution. Economic growth simply measures money circulating in an economy (GDP). The strongest period of economic growth experienced on the East Coast in recent times was after Cyclone Bola. Should we be advocating that we welcome a Cyclone Bola every year? I don’t think anyone would want this.
Economic growth also depends on the increasing use of resources. For example for economic growth to be realised from the dam farming systems on the Ruataniwhia Plains will need to change and more off farm inputs utilised.
I believe we need to move away from being fixated on economic growth as a measure of our success. It is a model that has only been prevalent since the end of the Second World War and has perhaps past it’s used by date.
What I am interested in is growing the satisfaction of life levels for the residents of Hawkes Bay. The regional council can work towards growing this measure by ensuring that we have a healthy environment. We need a healthy environment to have a healthy economy.
2. Water quality is of major concern to the public. What policies do you support that will meet this growing public expectation whilst allowing growing economic activity in the Province?
You assume that there is somehow a trade off between water quality and growing economic activity. There isn’t.
You also assume that water quality isn’t an issue for our agricultural community. If you haven’t received the message loud and clear that consumers offshore expect safe produce grown in an environmentally sustainable manner then there is no hope for us.
If a particular economic activity is dependant on declining water quality then that particular economic activity needs to take a long hard look at itself and consider doing something else. If a particular economic activity can grow in a sustainable, resilient manner then declining water quality is not going to be an issue.
Our water quality is not for sale at any price. Lets work within those bounds and go for it.
3. The primary sector is the number one economic driver for Hawkes Bay. Last summer (drought/water restrictions) again demonstrated the need for resilience in our productive systems. What solutions would you propose to help build this resilience?
Resilience is about building internal capacity to cope with extremes. Given that Hawkes Bay is likely to experience more weather extremes under climate change then building resilience is vital to agricultural systems.
One of the more sustainable ways of doing this is to store water on farm, in the soil. This can then be accessed by more deep rooted feed crops such as lucerne.
This kind of thinking will require a move away from the industrial agriculture model which requires high capital inputs in the form of machinery, fertilisers and irrigation.
If we move away from high capital inputs which generally require high debt then we are more able to look after ourselves rather than being beholding to the banks.
I see the Regional Council’s role as being one of encouraging debate and discussion around what is meant by resilience and to help our farmers’ transition to more resilient systems. The council can invest in science to demonstrate locally how resilient systems are not only better for our environment but also make better economic sense.
I also see it as the Regional Councils role to encourage a greater understanding amongst Hawkes Bay urban community of the challenges faced by our farmers in the face of extremes. It should not be an us v them scenario, but instead a true partnership.
4. Low flow levels (minimum river flow) are being debated. Do you support lifting these levels and if so, what mitigation options do you support to maintain provincial productivity and economic activity? (How do you reduce the impact on productive activity if the minimum flow is raised?)
To my mind low flow levels are a simplistic way of measuring of water quality in real time. In this respect they are of importance in terms of ongoing monitoring. If I can be facetious they have been constructed by Accountants for Accountants.
However the key issue is and remains water quality (and by inference the state of our waterways).
So if we are all able to work co-operatively on a local level then restrictions constructed to manage low flow levels can become more flexible in crisis situations.
This does not mean that water quality can be traded off, it just means that the resources we can take need to be managed more effectively. I have faith that our farming community can still talk amongst each other to resolve these issues, it just needs the regulator to get on board and be less dogmatic.