Days to the General Election: 38
See Party Policies here. Party Lists here.

Issues on both sides of the fence on lifestyle land

Issues on both sides of the fence on lifestyle land

The issue of growth of lifestyle blocks and their productivity has been debated for years and it seems there are few rules to prevent it growing out of control and occupying good productive soils with a poor choice of land use.

As an owner of a lifestyle block I believe the landuse and return from intensive cattle grazing is justified on our 4 ha. We run a small technosystem to feed our cattle that allows us to maximise and utilise the grass grown and the profits earned enable us to pay the rates and insurance on our dwelling and feast on beef every year or so. Experience of 30 years of farming have allowed us to farm like this.

Sadly some who occupy such properties do not have the skills or inclination to farm their little blocks efficently and at times animals will suffer because of this. At least lifestyle blocks on good soils are not lost to agriculture for ever, as we see happening in urban subdivisions occuring rapidly in some areas on the south end of Christchurch.

What are your views of the growth of lifestyle blocks and should local body authoritys have stricter controls as to land use?

About 10 per cent of NZ's most productive farmland is now occupied by lifestyle blocks, according to new research by Landcare reports Business Day. The work by Landcare researchers Robbie Andrew and John Dymond showed lifestyle block numbers now numbered 175,000, an increase of 75,000 over the past 13 years and covered an area of 873,000 hectares. Lifestyle blocks occupied 148,000ha (17 per cent) of high-class land, which was defined as land that could be used intensively to produce a wide variety of crops. That is 10 per cent of New Zealand's total area of high-class land.

Dymond said national guidelines were needed to help local government make more informed decisions over the rules for subdividing farmland into lifestyle blocks.There was no effective, nationally consistent, preventive measures against the gradual whittling away of productive land by urbanisation and subdivision. He questioned if lifestyle block development constituted a loss of productive land and whether high-quality land was adequately protected.

A national policy statement was needed, but it should come with the flexibility of allowing subdivisions where appropriate while at the same time preventing quality farmland being lost to lifestylers. Attempts by regional councils to protect high-quality farmland were not working, he said.The research was submitted to the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand in December.

However, Kate Brennan, who edits small farming website lifestyleblock.co.nz, said the research made too many assumptions about lifestylers. She took exception to the claim that lifestylers did not use their land productively because their output did not contribute to the country's gross domestic product or contribute to the export sector. "It's counted as nothing and that's ridiculous." Lifestylers grew their own meat and vegetables, and provided their children with the opportunity to grow up in the country, she said.

Federated Farmers local government spokesman David Rose doubted national guidelines would be flexible enough for district councils to form policies that were specific to their region. The growth in lifestyle blocks was an issue that had its members on both sides of the debate, he said.
 

http://tvnz.co.nz/breakfast-news/lifestyle-blocks-video-4666929

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.

23 Comments

I did a three-minute stint with Dr Dymond, on Breakfast TV, about this. Deep and meaningful it wasn't, and I share some of Dr Dymond's sentiments, and all of Kate Brennans.
 
Your description of 'productive', is the main thing I take issue with. Ever since Malthus, we've averted problems with growth, population and agriculture, by tapping into ever-larger -  very finite - sources of energy. In the period, we falsely valued currency - merely a promisory note - for real wealth, when the real driver was that energy.
 
Take the energy away, and your 'productive' is in trouble. Fuel for helicopters, fuel for tractors, incomes to 'pay' for them. Few folk understand what is currently happening, but this graph:
http://www.indexmundi.com/energy.aspx
says it all, and was well heralded: Beyond that peak, growth finance is dead.
http://www.peakoil.net/uhdsg/
This is no place for the debate (but bring it on) but if energy per acre is going to diminish, manual labour per acre will increase. Think of it asgoing back down that which we climbed. One thing we will have going for us, is more understanding of the science, and never-better technology, but all bets are off if that technology itself relies on fossil-fuels for content, manufacture or delivery.
 
Where's this all going?  Big Ag and urban car-dependent sprawl, are both oil-based, and thus both in serious trouble, as of now. If we're going to see less and less 'wealth' (it was mostly parasitic) from the CBD's of this world, we can presume a migration paddock-wards. More labourt per acre says smaller units. Says villages get rejuvenated, says food will get more local.
 
This is why farmers' markets, home-kept chooks, glasshouses and irrigation systems are all the rage. I suggest too,  that there's not one Lifestyle Block showing erosion, but I only have to look out this window, to see erosion as a result of Big Ag.
 
If you, or others who read this, haven't a clue what I'm on about, I suggest a slow, careful read through this lot:
http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/
Especially note the 'growth has an expiry date' ,and the 'peak oil' ones. Big Ag, in that scenario, has peaked, as has the global ability to underwrite real wealth - and therefore the incomes which are required to 'buy' the produce. I wouldn't be a leveraged dairy farmer for all the melamine in China. The small-holding is the way the future is headed, and it's going to have to be almost completely a closed-loop. Inputs balancing outputs (the alternative is misery at some point) and it'll be a return to local, and seasonal.
 
The bigger question - how 7 billion people fit onto a planet capable of sustaining 2 billion long-term, and maybe only 1 billion at our level, I don't want to answer - but there's a good chance it'll render this little debate irrelevant.

You were on TV PDK!!,  Go on pull the other one,  it's got bells on it.
I require the channel and time it aired  immediately, so i may lodge a complaint!
What was it about by the way?
 

The extinction of a species.
They should have interviewed you.
I dunno, rightly. T'was on TV1, I presume. I don't have a telly, and it was pretty unmemorable - I came away thinking that it was unsurprising how dumbed-down the populace was, if that was the depth they go into on other subjects.
try googling john dymond, breakfast tv, lifestyle blocks

I am not extinct, merely endangered.  Only Elvis or Mr Hickey can suppress the advance of the garden implements species.   But in the end, we will conquer all!
Good luck with the TV career. You'll need it.

Murray Grimwood = PDK – is that you with the "grim wooden beard" ?
 http://tvnz.co.nz/breakfast-news/lifestyle-blocks-video-4666929
Now, not only no fuel for tractors and helichoppers, but no fuel for shavers too - really make sense.
 

Mr Knust, your link does not connect well enough.
5 times i have klicked on it and yet, no image of the rare PDK bearded thingy has emerged.
What can be possibly be wrong.     I think he is Camouflaged.

moa man - what a pity. Your TV could be too old or Murray is not in the studio right now -  just having an organic coffee or a green tea.

I saw that interview, well done Murray, good stuff..but you lost me upon the introduction of the P work though.  (your a bit of a through back ain't ya.)

Throw, the word is throw.
Sorry I lost you.
But there is enough homework in the links above, for you to catch up.
You never want to take your eye off the ball, NeilD. Malthus' prediction was only forestalled by vast amounts of energy being injected into agriculture. The Club of Rome's predictions (actually, they were just 'run scenarios') have not even come to the time they were due, yet. In both cases, they were poo-poo'd because they 'haven't happened yet', while the same poo-poo'ers pointed to current growth, presumably suggesting that projecting  history can blindly predict the future.
 
Nothing to do with being dated, it's to do with keeping track of trends. This last few years, since 2005, was the time to start hollering.

As the owner of a lifestyle block, I totally agree with "She took exception to the claim that lifestylers did not use their land productively because their output did not contribute to the country's gross domestic product or contribute to the export sector. "It's counted as nothing and that's ridiculous." Lifestylers grew their own meat and vegetables, and provided their children with the opportunity to grow up in the country, she said."
 
Speaking for ourselves, we've planted several hundred trees including many (about 50) fruit trees plus lots of berry bushes, started a veggie garden, got the chooks from the word go and a (basic) irrigation system for the trees. Some paddocks for a few sheep & cows are in our medium-term plan (only been there 2 years) and in the meantime, our friendly neighbour makes and takes our hay for himself so it's not wasted (he's a grazer, well not he personally but the cows he grazes anyway!). Our land is apparently very good soil and that's great since I expect we should not have too much trouble growing what we want.
 
I am extremely glad not to be part of the city "rat race" and very glad for my kids to grow up in this great environment too. They spend most of their time outdoors and with no TV for us either, we are unlikely to contribute to the obesity problem. Since owning a lifestyle block generally means being away from the CBD, and therefore from shopping malls, lifestyle blockers probably also aren't the worst offenders when it comes to the obsession of society with consumption (and the debt that goes with it). Being away from a large city means a nice community feel and friendlier environment (I think anyway, it's not everywhere you know every shop owner by their first name, and so do they). So all in all, I'd say there are lots of positive things about giving folks the opportunity to buy lifestyle blocks if they wish to (not that many people want to, at least not for long since maintaining one involves a significant investment of time).
 
PDK, been on TV1 a few times too and it wasn't terribly memorable either, but good fun :)

Elley - agreed and agreed.
 
There are some - usually insecure business types - who need to put big, "I am" houses on ride-on-mower-demanding patches, but apart from the house footprint, those lawns can always be re-used.
 
The BigAg model is artificially kept going by fossil-fuel fertiliser, and won't last. It might stagger on for a decade, but I wouldn't put money on it. Meat, interestingly, takes 27 calories of fossil fuel, to make one calorie of food, so we're essentially eating a finite resource - it won't continue. Grain is better, but it's still 10:1. Still unsustainable in current form. Monocultures also have biodiversity problems, hence the need for bee-corridors etc.
 
Track record says that farmers hang on and run it into the ground (we picked our place up after one such) rather that stop or change in a timely fashion. Just like the Queensland prawn trawlers using undersize nets in the estuaries during spawning season - it's all about the mortgage payment this month.
 
ps - did you read my last column? You're a traveller, you might enjoy it.

Track record says that farmers hang on and run it into the ground (we picked our place up after one such) rather that stop or change in a timely fashion. Pretty broad generalisation on 'farmers' there pdk.    I was under the impression your block was around 60acres - if that is so, that is not a farm, it is an oversized lifestyle block. ;-)
I have friends whose family have being farming the core part of their land for 5 generations.  They wouldn't still be there if they had hung on to it and ran it in to the ground as your comments implies that is what farmers do.
Up our way you can't subdivide productive land in to less than 40ha.  Quite a few of the smaller lifestyle blocks have the majority of the land leased to commercial farmers in the area.
As a commercial farmer I see 'lifestyle blocks' distinctly different to 'farms'. Though I know many 'lifestylers' who earn their income in the urban area consider themselves to be 'farmers' simply because they have some land and a few horses and maybe a pig. :-) Perceptions I guess.

Sounds like the new food bill is going to ban farmers markets and any chance of buying food anywhere except a supermarket - so that we will be 'safe'.
There is an exception for charitable purposes that trade less than 20x a year - doesn't sound like farmers markets will meet that crireria though.

Have your say here and spread the word
http://www.petitiononline.co.nz/

CO - 'commercial'.  Says it all. Wrong connotation of 'productive'.
 
My family hails from 5 farming generations back too, photos of dark-clad Victorian women and places with names like 'Errolbush'.
Not all farmers are 'into the dirt' types of course, but if there is a mortgage involved, and incomes haven't met expectations (happened a lot with the subsidy removals in the mid 'eighties, I seem to recall) then it happens. My place was a subdivision of one such, into 4. Two of us arrested the slipping with forestry, one went to a low-key farmer (shepherd doing it on the side) and one to a rip-shit-and-bust type - National voter for sure!). He's the one I expect to be in trouble.
 
The question is one of sustainability. The growth-based fiscal system, for instance, can't outsurvive the peak of global energy inputs. Yet you refer to 'commercial'. Surely the better yardstick is : Long-term viable?

'Productive' can have different meanings to different people.  Sustainability is always the issue, otherwise the commercial industry of farming would have failed long ago. Sure land can be productive if someone is being self sufficient off it - but its major productivity gains are for the individual. On a commercial farm, the benefits of the productivity accrue to a wider area of population.
You can be a commercial farmer and have a sustainable operation.  Without us commercial farmers, urban populations would not be fed.
I use commercial in the sense of being in the business of farming as your main source of income.  Unless it is your main source of income to me, any others who profess to be farmers are investors or lifestylers. But then you probably disagree with that. :-)
The shepherd is more likely to be the National voter, the rip, shit and bust probably ACT! ;-)

CO - to the last sentence, chuckle.
"You can be a commercial farmer and have a sustainable operation"..
Could. More and more, that's a historical statement. Note my comment above, re 27/1 calories, oil to food. Few folk understand that energy is behind everything. Even food  (by cooking it - releasing wood-sourced carbon bonds in the form of heat) we bypassed the need to use more of our food to digest raw food, so more EROEI. More time not needing to eat, to do other things.
BigAg only works by consuming an unsustainable amount of fossil fuel. That's not sustainable.
"Without us commercial farmers, urban populations would not be fed".
Too true. Which is why some of us have applied some thought to what's ahead. We don't support 9 billion people on this planet in 2050, for instance. We'll be very unlikely to be supporting the current 7 billion, and I suspect the real number will be about 5 billion, struggling.
That oil allowed your game to go into an artificial overdrive, which allowed populations to overshoot - crudely put.
 
Income?  When did you last think seriously about what money is/was? Ever? Or did you just accept that what has been, will always be? 
  Money is a proxy - and expectation that it will buy goods/services. They in turn rerquire work, which requires energy. Backwards, it goes: no energy, no work, no produce, no underwrite.
 
So peak energy meant peak money - at what point on the way down, does "main source of income" become irrelevant? Given that those who wish to purchase, will also be hamstrung by the very energy shortage of which we speak.
 
Being a cashed-up xth generation farmer, you have options, but I'll predict they'll include having more workers on-site, with time. I notice Owen McShane - a person from a completely different idiom to me, thinks similarly about villages, CBD's (a kiwiblog comment, from memory).
 
 
 

The ultimate fate of the word "sustainable"
http://xkcd.com/1007/

I find this a very interesting discussion. Personally I think that as a society we're destined for an agrarian future, with a return to small multi-use family holdings being the norm. 40 hectares sounds about right to me, maybe even a bit on the large size. In my area it's an open question whether the large farms we've become accustomed to will even still be around when peak energy really starts to bite - many of them are on the brink of recievership/mortgagee sales already and will go under if there's another banking panic. I wouldn't be surprised if the mortgagees ultimately resort to splitting them up if no buyers emerge (because those same banks won't be prepared to lend enough to anyone to buy them whole).

Conrad - The question that needs to be asked - is there enough people with this skill set/were withall to make your agarian future work? 
By the way - I agree with your comment re large farms - many of them should never have been set up in the first place.

No, there isn't at the moment , but I don''t think we'll have any alternative in the medium term. Our current model of sprawling suburbs fed by large tracts of oil-dependent agriculture just won't be an option.

So we need to get the skills - usually held by the 70-plus age group now - that are relevant, across to a younger generation, while they're still around.
The generation in the middle won't be as useful as teachers. When I was an apprentice (1971ish) the last of the old 'tradies' were there, who had built locomotives from the ground up, from blueprints. They were impressive, the next wave just opened a box marker 'Caterpillar', and bolted the replacement in.

Absolutely, sadly a lot of those skills have died with their practitioners. Still, I'm sure we'll muddle through somehow. It may not be a pretty transition though

Your access to our unique content is free - always has been. But ad revenues are under pressure so we need your direct support.

Become a supporter

Thanks, I'm already a supporter.

Days to the General Election: 38
See Party Policies here. Party Lists here.