Allan Barber reports that for the rural sector, 'good intentions' by most parties are backed up either thin, superficial, or counterproductive policy ideas, few of which will appeal to farmers, or achieve those 'good intentions'

Allan Barber reports that for the rural sector, 'good intentions' by most parties are backed up either thin, superficial, or counterproductive policy ideas, few of which will appeal to farmers, or achieve those 'good intentions'

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.


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17 Comments

Yes, the top-down, one-size-fits-all approach is likely to continue and intensify over the coming Parliamentary term. It will not only increase compliance costs, stress, and mental health detriment, but also foobar succession plans, remove lower rungs from the farm ownership ladder, and impact financing and values. But in the eyes of the 'We Know Best' crew, that's just collateral damage.

Hey ho.....

Looking at the rest of the world, my main concern this election is voting for a party that will keep Covid out. National and Acts policies of letting people quarantine in Student Halls and Air b-n-b's isn't going to do it.

Polling shows most NZ First voters have gone to Labour, with a smaller percentage to ACT and the New Conservatives. https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2020/09/newshub-reid-research-po...

TOP is worth serious consideration.

If you don't like the party platforms on offer this election from the main parties, then refusing to look what the minor parties have to offer is just a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Can suggest two reasons. Firstly the NZ electorate is too small and immature to embrace MMP effectively. Secondly, and following on from that, are the polls. NZrs see a low rating, below the threshold, and therefore see that as wasted vote. Hard for any newcomer to get on board in the face of that. Greens got there by firstly winning a “green” seat and have stuck it out on the back of the international profile of the green environmental movement. ACT came and would have gone if not gifted Epsom. Otherwise parties arrived by virtue of incumbents such as Anderton, Dunne & Peters, & die off once that identity moves out.

PureAdvantage did a thorough and inspiring consideration regarding regenerative agriculture in NZ;

https://pureadvantage.org/ourregenerativefuturecampaign/

Why not give them a PGF-like fund under some co-governance arrangement to work with the sector and put us on the path we need to be on over the next three years? Let these experts, people with both theoretical and practical experience plan and implement 'Our Regenerative Future'.

The groundwork by them is already done.

Kate, the problem many non farming people don't realise is a farm system can't be turned around in such a short time frame. Regen Ag has been around for a long time but until there is income support for farms during the transition phase (generally at least 5 years) it will never gain mainstream support. Keith Woodford has correctly promoted the advantages of legumes (clover and Lucerne) to replace artificial Nitrogen for probably 20 years but the uptake has been relatively low. The problem is rooted in the debt loading of many farms that just can't tolerate a production drop year to year - they're trapped.

Yes, I understand and absolutely agree with all of that. We need a substantive policy initiative for that transition phase. To me the transition policy needs to include a scheme of 'payment for ecosystems services' and for highly indebted farms my idea would be to establish a government-owned Rural Wellbeing Bank to retire debt in exchange for those ecosystem services (i.e., on-farm improvements)..

A worthy idea. However I'll give you an example - Farms and farmers have been flayed for their environmental footprint and yet recent research (finally published) actually shows that the average sheep and beef farm is carbon negative. When the system of counting carbon is set up to favour European interests (can't count indigenous forests pre '90, can't count carbon sequestration by pasture, can't count shelter belts on NZ farms) is it any wonder that most farmers say "F@#k it" and just keep grinding away?

My concern is more for freshwater and biodiversity than it is for GHG gases. I don't think the focus of Regen Ag is on methane reduction but rather with improved biodiversity, healthier animals, happier farmers.

Kate, why should highly indebted farmers have their debt retired, but not others who were early adopters? Mortgage discounting happened in the 1980s. The inequities that caused means it is unlikely to ever be done again.

The payment for ecosystems services scheme would be extended to all agricultural landowners, not just the highly indebted.

The point with the Rural Wellbeing Bank is that it would use the PESS revenue to write off debt - and in doing so would allow these debt holders more time to do that than a private sector retail bank might be willing to do. The idea of the Rural Wellbeing Bank is to prevent mortgagee sales.

Preventing mortgagee sales was exactly the reason for mortgage discounting in the 80s. It creates inequality.

I guess the one consistent from the last three years is farmers and in particular their leadership have never stopped talking themselves into a hole just because we have a labour government. The government just has to smile at them and they reckon their whole lifestyle is being attacked, but it was soooo different under a National govt. If only we could employ more cheap foriegn workers and pug more ground over winter, I really don't understand why we can't.

Rather than taking cheap shots you should actually either a) educate yourself about farming and its drivers or B) talk to a few with an open mind. Yes there have been (and still are unfortunately) some serious laggards in the industry that need to exit. Unfortunately Fonterra is legally bound to take all milk offered at the moment - though that may change when the DIRA review kicks in. Farming is a difficult enterprise with long lead times on decisions and a heavy toll can be exacted when a mistake is made, both on humans and animals. "If only we could employ more cheap foriegn workers and pug more ground over winter," is a statement that merely exposes your ignorance of reality

Actually hook, farming is my reality. I've long been critical of our leadership and head in the sand attitudes. And I've always struggled to understand the unthinking antipathy toward labour while snuggling up to a national party that has only ever paid lip service to the relationship.
Was listening to the farm advisor go off over fresh water the other day, asked what it would actually mean to the the farms he serviced and the answer really came down to affecting only those with heavy stocking and excess water use etc would have any problems.
As to the cheap labour, I've been that cheap labour that those employers think are paid well, at the end of the day, or more particularly the month or year it's not being paid well enough to be remotely worth while.

"Actually hook, farming is my reality. " - funny you say that, few days ago I asked if you actually owned a farm or had any association to one and you denied it. More "False News". If you want better pay rates then get qualified. Plenty of opportunities for qualified managers - stock, pasture, or staff

Just had a quick search but couldn't find that conversation but do remember bits of it and no that's not what I said as I've always had an association but don't own a farm. If you can remember the article post it.