There are many potential issues to consider when looking at the potential sale of Lochinver Station. Those that are of most concern are economic and environmental. Both are related.
In a recent column Rod Oram explained one side of the economic concern far better than I could but basically his concern is that there is little value in the sale of Lochinver to Shanghai Pengxin Group if they are going to have complete control of the supply chain. In other words there is very little GDP gain to the NZ economy.
One could argue that whilst it may be good for the current owners to earn a premium price for the property all it does is inflate farm prices through out the country making it even more difficult for family farms to survive in the long term. Inflated prices for land only leads to further industrialisation and intensification as the status-quo dictates that this is the only way of receiving a reasonable return on your capital investment. That’s why the Green’s have consistently opposed selling off our farmland to oversea’s buyers no matter where the buyer comes from.
Apart from forcing family farmers off the land why should industrialisation and intensification be of such grave concern? In his talk at the Love-the-River day over the weekend Hugh Ritchie of Central Hawke’s Bay waxed lyrical about how the industrialisation of farming had lead to a huge decrease in the number of staff employed on farms and he sees a potential future where everything is done by a press of a button and no staff will be employed. Perhaps we now know why Central Hawke’s Bay is, in his own words, dying.
Another side of the economic argument to be considered is what does Shanghai Pengxin Group intend doing with Lochinver in the future? This is where economics meets the environment. By all accounts the current owners of Lochinver had an understanding of the environmental constraints that they had to work under. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to realise that the station’s soil types are pumice based and therefore extremely porous. Extreme care needs to be taken when farming these soil types.
Lochinver sits in the catchment area for the Taharua, Ripia, and Rangitaiki Rivers. The Taharua and Ripia Rivers ultimately feed into the Mohaka River. Therefore these catchments come under the management of the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council. Following the conversion to dairying of a number of farms in the Taharua River catchment it started coming under pressure. Water quality deteriorated to such a point that some action had to be taken. Because there were so few farmers in the catchment the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council took an integrated management approach in the Taharua catchment to come up with solutions. This involved farmers, Maori, council, recreational user, fish & game, and other community stakeholders getting together and coming up with solutions. Ultimately the agreed standard included a bottom line of rivers clean enough to swim in.
Part of the solution was that this accord needed to be included as part of the Regional Resource Management Plan so that any future owners would be bound by it. To date this process has yet to be finalised hence my concern about the Lochinver sale.
Because the recently announced National Policy Statement for Fresh Water bottom lines are for rivers just clean enough to dip you toes in and not get sick, then I have grave concerns that any new owner of Lochinver will not have the same motivation to maintain what is currently a voluntary accord. They can quite rightly say that they are going to farm to their legal limit because frankly, given Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s current track record on water quality issues, it is unlikely that the ‘dip your toes’ bottom line will be strengthened any time soon.
There is of course also the issue of the Ripia and Rangitaiki River catchments which are not covered by any sort of accord. Whilst Hawke’s Bay Regional Council is not responsible for the Rangitaiki River it would have been encouraging to see them invest in taking an integrated catchment approach to the Ripia River catchment. Because the Ripia River is a tributary of the Mohaka River one could argue that the Mohaka River is at risk should Lochinvar ever convert to intensive dairying. However funding for such initiatives has been cut, which is unfortunate.
So the Green’s opposition to foreign ownership of farms is based on economic and environmental arguments. I don’t know about you but I believe it should be my right, my children’s right, and my grand-children’s right to have rivers safe enough to swim in. Until we get our water quality management issues sorted out we need to stop making things worse. Something I can see happening given the sale of Lochinver at such a high price.
Published 20 Aug 14