Why we don’t need irrigation – Talking Point HB Today

The least surprising thing about the Board of Inquiry findings on Plan Change 6 was the response of HBRC. For the chairman to state that the last person out of Central Hawkes Bay should turn the lights out indicates how much they had riding on this decision. Well their chickens have come home to roost.

With the nitrogen limits being placed on the Tukituki catchment by the Board of Inquiry it is difficult to see how farmers can justify purchasing expensive inflation adjusted water on a take or pay basis given the traditional 20th century farming methods likely to be used if they intensify.

This is the true game changer, and is where plan B that the HBRC should now be advocating could kick in. Because if they were to look at changing the traditional methods used by most of our farmers by promoting the methods used by the progressive profitable farmers that are already out there, the Tukituki would be much better off even without the RWSS.

But how does HBRC go about doing this? Firstly they need to acknowledge that the Board of Inquiry made the right decision and is not sending Central Hawkes Bay to hell in a hand-basket. There needs to be a change in language from the council. It is not an issue of trading off the environment vs the economy because the two are intrinsically linked. Without a healthy environment we don’t have a healthy economy.

Secondly, HBRC could properly investigate the feasibility of on farm water storage by capturing water in the soil, or by promoting the use of small scale on farm storage, instead of promoting a mega industrial scale dam. We have yet to see any study done on genuine alternatives. Sometimes grand schemes are not the solution but the problem. Whilst working hand in hand with their landscapes may require an adjustment in thinking by our farmers is was not that many generations ago that this was how things were done.

And why are these two points important? The Hawkes Bay as a whole needs to consider how best our farming community can increase profits by operating within ecological limits, and then what tools do we need to give them to allow this to happen. The most obvious one is to declare Hawkes Bay GE Free, as Pure Hawkes Bay has argued for some years. A GE Free sticker on produce could give our farmers an immediate 10% boost in income without any additional cost or input. How sensible is that!

Another way to increase farm-gate income is to ensure that value is captured by the farmer as far down the value chain as possible. Murray Douglas from Te Mata figs is doing exactly this and the growers involved in this co-operative are all reaping the rewards. We need to become price makers, not price takers. This will not be achieved by a continued focus on traditional commodity products.

We need to recognise that the solution to climate change and therefore an increasing number of droughts is not by irrigating 5% of our productive land area but working out how 100% of our productive land can manage an ever increasing number of dry years. For example, Canterbury University is doing a lot of work around replacing rye grass with lucerne which could be part of the solution. This is but one of building blocks being worked on which do not seemed to have been discussed as a solution to the drought issue.

Our 100% pure branding is essential to holding, and in future increasing, product value. We cannot afford to take any risks in this respect because once our reputation is destroyed, it is destroyed. The same goes for food safety. Cadmium for example is becoming an issue of genuine concern. According the HBRC’s own research the Ruataniwha Plains will be unfit for food production within 50 years or so, if traditional production methods are maintained.

When I was a rural business manager for the BNZ I visited hundreds of farmers and was privileged enough to have been taken on tours of their properties. I got the sense from every family farmer I visited that leaving their property in a better condition from that which they found it was something they valued highly. It’s why I have always had the utmost confidence that we can find solutions to the challenges confronting us around fresh water. I found it interesting that the most vocal proponents of RWSS do not seem to be family farmers, but industrial farmers. It says a lot about the values of the people backing the scheme.

The Green Party is and remains the friend of family farmers because, as surprising as it may seem, we share many of the same values. I look forward to working with our farming community to find the solutions to the challenges that confront our most important industry, rather than ensuring that a few get subsidised at everyone’s expense.

Submitted 23 April 2014

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