The Country takes a look at some of the agricultural policies on offer ahead of the general election on September 23


Northland MP NZ First leader Winston Peters is making a serious pitch for farmers' votes in next month's election.

"Both the old parties and their Klingons have lost the plot over water," he says.

"In the 'red corner' is a concerted push for resource rentals, a tax on agricultural water use, to dramatically affect what people pay to eat and over 70 per cent of our exports.

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"In the 'blue corner' the sins of the fathers are being visited on the current generation of farmers. Take the 56,000km of river, stream and creek fencing being demanded by 2030 but stock crossings and culverts by 2019. National pretends to be the farmer's mate but is laying the groundwork for resource rentals imposed by iwi behind the farming community's back."

"No farmer I've talked to wants their child to inherit a world with longer droughts and chronic water shortages, more frequent and intense storm events."

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NZ First views water taxes and resource rentals as coming from the loony-left ideas bin. Mr Peters says New Zealand will not remain a First World country by bankrupting agribusiness.

He says NZ First will:

* Reform the RMA on the principle of one law for all.
* Order reviews of regional plans using panels of real farmers, genuine residents and truly independent experts.
* Seriously invest in the nutrient tool Overseer and only allow its use in regional plans when fully calibrated.
* Provide 100 per cent depreciation for farm environmental works done against farm plans while supporting farmers to take on job seekers to help with fencing, riparian planting and maintenance.
* Boost research and development to 2 per cent of GDP over 10 years with a focus on real-world land and water solutions.
* Target nitrogen-leaching pest plants and animals.
* Close the rural-urban divide certain politicians have exploited.
* End land sales to foreign interests and introduce policies to ensure the retention of the farming sector in the ownership of New Zealand resident farmers.
* Not support the trialling of genetically engineered crops or other plants in the field. GE plants which have been proven safe under controlled conditions may be permitted for proliferation under certain circumstances.

National

National is backing the primary sector because it's the backbone of New Zealand's economy, says the party's campaign co-ordinator Clark Hennessy.

"Despite a challenging year where earthquakes, flooding and drought have tested many of our producers, overall primary industry export revenue is expected to grow to $38 billion this year and jump by nearly 10 per cent next year to $41 billion," he said.

"Our primary sector employs over 350,000 people and accounts for a third of the world's dairy trade and we're working hard to support diversification, innovation, sustainability and growth."

National knew when our primary sector succeeded, New Zealand succeeded.

"That's why this Government is investing in promoting innovation, opening markets and supporting rural communities," Mr Hennessy said.

"Our Primary Growth Partnership initiative is investing more than $720 million in programmes aimed at growing our primary sector, we've beefed up biosecurity to record levels of funding - $223m - and we're investing in rural mental health.

"We're also supporting rural communities by investing billions in infrastructure, like $450m in faster rural broadband, providing more funding to health and education than ever before and announcing $503m for more police staff. We're also continuing to invest in road and rail so you can get your goods from the shed to the stores.

"We want to see our products on more shelves around the world, so we're setting the ambitious goal to have 90 per cent of our goods exports covered by free trade agreements by 2030. Other parties are constantly opposing trade agreements, which is the last thing our rural communities need."

Mr Hennessy says that only by keeping a National-led government can we afford to keep investing in the things that matter to rural communities.

The Labour Party agriculture policy is expected to be released for publication
next week

"A party vote for any other party is a vote for a chaotic Labour/Greens/NZ First coalition which would gut our primary sector," he said.

Opportunities Party

New Zealand's current model of farming is broken, according to The Opportunities Party (TOP) deputy leader and candidate for Wellington Central Geoff Simmons.

"We are reliant on increasing volume rather than value, chasing capital gain rather than yield.

"This can't continue forever. We now face a legacy of high land prices, high debt and poor returns. Meanwhile the rivers and lakes in many parts of the country are under severe pressure."

Explaining how New Zealand could transition from a volume-based approach to one based on adding value, Mr Simmons said TOP tax reform would ensure all assets paid their fair share of tax - and those already doing so would receive a tax cut. This would encourage investment in productive assets, rather than speculating on land prices.

TOP would also ensure polluters pay for the environmental damage they cause.

"Those polluting above an agreed level will pay, and that money will go to other farmers who are polluting less. All money stays in the farming industry, and within the catchment. This will reward farmers that farm in an environmentally friendly way."

Together this would reward farmers that produced high value, environmentally friendly produce.

"Ultimately this is where our industry needs to go; producing premium products for the world," Mr Simmons said.

Greens

New Zealand farmers, growers, and processors grow and produce great food and fibre, but remaining world-class means not only producing great products, but producing them in a great way, says Green Party primary industries spokeswoman list MP Eugenie Sage.

People want to know that what they are eating is safe, animals are treated well and the environment is looked after, and they're prepared to pay a premium for this, she said.

"We must put sustainability first to ensure our primary sector thrives long term and can capture more value from the food and fibre we produce. The Green Party will review the RMA, strengthen the rules around how we manage land and water to clean up our dirty rivers and protect the health of the rest.

"Hard work by farmers has lifted the bar in terms of what business as usual looks like on farms these days but we need to do more."

Ms Sage says New Zealand needs catchment-based water management within an effective regulatory framework which recognises the wide community interest in healthy rivers, lakes and aquifers.

The Greens will put a charge on water bottlers, irrigators and other commercial water users with wide public discussion on the charging regime. The revenue raised will help improve how we manage land and water.

Climate change is not some distant threat. It is happening now with more extreme weather events such as the longer and more serious drought that wiped $1.4 billion off our economy in 2013, Ms Sage said.

"No farmer I've talked to wants their child to inherit a world with longer droughts and chronic water shortages, more frequent and intense storm events.

"We must do our share to reduce emissions and the Greens will ensure that biological emissions from agriculture are part of the Emissions Trading System to help protect our climate."