The agricultural policies on offer at the forthcoming election represent a rather depressing microcosm of the broader suite of policies the electorate will be encouraged to choose from on 17th October.
I have never felt so uninspired about voting in an election as this year: my choices are to keep moving towards a nanny state with Labour or to turn back the clock with National who want to give away much of the available taxpayer money in temporary tax cuts, but cannot make the sums add up to cover the annual operating budget. Unfortunately I am too old to vote Green, too young to vote NZ First, not philosophically disposed to vote ACT, while the rest are not worth serious consideration.
Labour’s strategy is to sleepwalk towards what most people believe will be an inevitable victory on the back of its risk averse, so far fairly successful, management of the Covid-19 crisis, but without having achieved very much else except to set up loads of committees, increase the minimum wage and enact unworkable freshwater regulation. Apart from the wage subsidy, Labour has shown almost total unawareness of the stresses involved in running a small business or being a farmer, nor does it appear to have a strategy for a gradual reopening of the borders.
It has also suffered from leading a coalition government with the arch tail wagger Winston Peters exerting a disproportionate influence, while the Greens equally have had more ministerial posts than warranted. The question now is whether either will be back in parliament or, if so, involved in government. The Greens, to the rural sector’s dismay, have more chance than NZ First, many of whose supporters appear to have evaporated, presumably because many of them couldn’t forgive Peters for supporting Labour over National.
National, leading in the polls at the beginning of the year, has now virtually imploded after two leadership changes; having lost Bill English and Steven Joyce early in the term, there has continued to be an exodus of much of the talent that underpinned the claim to having a stronger team than the government. Realistically National faces a stern challenge to rebuild its credentials and talent base in time for the 2023 election.
From an agricultural perspective the most visionary policy comes from the Greens who have proposed a fund of $297 million to help farmers transition to organic or regenerative farming, whether or not they want to, on top of the $700 million already allocated to clean up waterways. This would be partly paid for by a levy on nitrogen and phosphorus fertilisers, although the most radical tax proposal is to increase tax on higher income earners and apply a wealth tax on assets above $1 million. Even if Greens form a minority part of the next government, these proposals are most unlikely to find their way into law, other than Labour’s proposed top tax rate increase.
National’s policy is designed to appeal to its rural base, promising to ensure agriculture is not included in the Emissions Trading Scheme and to reverse or review the freshwater, carbon zero and resource management acts. But there is nothing visionary here which would suggest its policy would recognise the need for New Zealand farming to continue making progress towards more sustainable, environmentally friendly practices to satisfy not just environmentalists, but also the changing desires of international consumers.
Labour has so far put up one element of agricultural policy, a $50 million contribution to encourage farmers to develop an integrated farm plan which will assist them to transition to environmentally friendly practices and meet compliance requirements. The industry would also no doubt like to know there will be willingness to consult constructively on the more draconian or just plain wrong elements of the Freshwater and Carbon Zero Bills before they finally become law.
Although Federated Farmers and Beef + Lamb NZ accept the good intentions behind Labour’s proposed assistance with developing an integrated farm plan, both are concerned to ensure that the Government does not reinvent the wheel by mandating more plans than those the sector already has in process, and see it as another instance of government potentially interfering in implementation.
B+LNZ Chairman Andrew Morison says that it is traditionally the government’s role (across all sectors) to prescribe the rules but businesses determine how to meet the rules as there are often a number of ways that standards can be met. B+LNZ is just about to roll out an environmentally focused farm planning process that will cover all aspects of the environment including water, climate change, biodiversity and soils. It will evolve over time and among other things help farmers meet their Essential Freshwater and He Waka Eke Noa commitments.
Chris Allen, Feds’ environment spokesperson, points out the sector plan already commits to individual farm plans and the integration between different plans should be as seamless as possible. It must then be up to the farmer to ensure compliance. He is also wary of the cost to individual farmers which he believes will cost upwards of $10,000, well in excess of $50 million in total. Feds want clear policy which will deliver a good platform for all farmers to achieve the desired environmental outcomes, as well as evidence of limiting the continual increase in bureaucracy and compliance costs imposed by central and local government.
Farmers are generally committed to excellent environmental practice and high quality food production, recognising the world in which they operate has changed. They also recognise government has a responsibility to develop policy to encourage this, but they want the government to listen to them and be willing to make sensible changes to regulation and the pace of implementation. The period after the election will show if their wishes have been granted.
Current schedule and saleyard prices are available in the right-hand menu of the Rural section of this website.