Fear of prime Pukekohe growing land being lost to development seems to have become a last-minute Auckland Mayoral race issue.
But there is agreement on the issue between Mayoral candidates Phil Goff, John Palino and Vic Crone: All three say prime Pukekohe growing land, which supplies most of New Zealand's vegetable production at this time of year, should be spared further development.
Pukekohe Vegetable Growers Association past president Bharat Jivan appreciates the support - but laments that much of the damage has already been done.
"Huge growing areas have already been lost to housing at Pukekohe over the past five or six years," says Jivan.
"Few people, including Auckland councillors, seem to grasp that only a tiny percentage of the country's farmland is suitable for growing vegetables.
"Once our best growing land is gone, it will be gone forever; the only alternative then will be vegetables imported from China and probably other low wage countries. But in my view (these are), no substitute for the quality of what is grown here, where quality standards are world class."
He says following New Zealand's free trade agreement with China, "a huge amount of frozen broccoli" is already being imported but warns that this is only the beginning.
"An application has been made to import fresh onions (from China) and other moves are underway. But my fear is that though the Ministry of Primary Industries are good at policing the potential bio-hazards, it doesn't keep eye on food quality."
Jivan and fellow growers are encouraged by a "new awareness" of food security from Auckland councillors, who have built protections for remaining Pukekohe growing areas into the Auckland Unitary Plan.
"We also appreciate the sympathetic sentiments expressed by Mayoral candidates and others running for council.
"But the pressure on our industry remains unrelenting; they need to be more proactive on the issue of food security."
Development of lifestyle blocks, housing and industrial sites claims growing land every day around provincial and rural centres, he says.
"Even here in Pukekohe, where the authorities seem to have woken up to it, our protections under the Unitary Plan will only as good as the lawyers involved. Technically those wanting to develop can still take their case to the Environment Court, and win there."
Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman says the importance of protecting south Auckland growing areas could not be over-stated.
"In spring New Zealand's (including Auckland City's) fresh, locally grown leafy greens plus spring carrots and potatoes are primarily grown in south Auckland. New Zealand needs fresh produce and to deliver it commercial vegetable growers require good soils and suitable climate.
Pukekohe, Pukekawa, Tuakau, Onewhero and Te Kohanga offer unique fertile volcanic soils and a climate that enables year-round production, particularly of leafy green vegetables plus spring carrots and potatoes.
"But this cannot be achieved in other areas of New Zealand due to climatic conditions," Chapman says
"Auckland's growth has led to a proliferation of urban housing and life-style blocks in Pukekohe; development there is threatening to exclude vegetable production entirely.
"In the Waikato, aspects of the Healthy Rivers Plan further restrict access to land to grow New Zealand's vegetables, and ultimately our consumers ability to buy Kiwi grown produce. If there is no land suitable to grow vegetables, they will have to be imported.
"Added to that, you will not know that they have been imported as New Zealand law does not require country of origin labelling for the fresh vegetables you purchase."
Jivan adds that a serious but often invisible pressure against growers is being driven by the nearness of housing to growing areas. Hence growers were increasingly subject to "reverse sensitivity".
This could involve angry phone calls from residents newly arrived in the area. They objected to noise, spraying, long working hours and so forth, not realising that all these things have always been part of country life. This had the effect of wearing down some growers, persuading some to leave the industry.
He said already new housing developments at Pukekohe - comprising the hard surfaces of house roofs, roads and driveways - were reducing the aquifer growers rely upon for continued vegetable production.
"Obviously rainfall hitting these hard surfaces is diverted into storm water system - not the ground - it doesn't find its way back into the underground aquifer.
"But this is only one of so many issues Central Government has not thought through regarding our food security.
"I think the Government is going to have to wake up - as it did with water - and realise that New Zealand does not have an endless supply of prime growing land."
"Pukekohe is the food basket of Auckland. The region enjoys rich growing soils, a local climate and north facing fields which makes it renowned for growing vegetables.
It has also been marked under Auckland's Unitary Plan as a priority satellite town for 50,000 people, 9,000 jobs over the next 30 years.
"The rural urban boundary has been retained to protect most of the best growing soils. However, a drive around the outskirts of Pukekohe already shows fertile land succumbing to new roads and housing subdivisions.
"This is not the first loss of such land. Over the last 40 years some 10,000 hectares of prime land including the former markets gardening area of Mangere has been urbanised.
We cannot stop the city from growing but in my view, future looking changes should prioratise development of land other than elite growing soils. Well designed and serviced intensive housing on arterial routes should reduce growth in urban sprawl as well as make better use of existing city infrastructure."
"First let me say that I have a Farmers Market every Saturday at my Cafe in Takanini. It is called The Takanini Farmers Market . . . I am a huge supporter of local grown food and farm to the table . . . The Unitary Plan is about building as many houses as possible in all the land that is available and now zoned for it. That is wrong and not what I want to happen to Auckland . . . I have a plan and it is about people. I have created five zoning boundary rings for intensification around Albany, Manukau, Henderson, the existing CBD and a new satellite city to be decided. First we begin by building up these existing CBD areas.
"These areas need to be turned into working cities so they can build up and keep people living closer to their work. This will reduce congestion and protect our future growth from congestion getting worse. It will also stop us from building outwards onto farm land and outer suburbs. We need to build these high density nodes that are already along the transport spine.
"Auckland is misusing the term Intensification. Intensification can only happen in a CBD area not a suburb. The true meaning is allowing people the ability to walk to work not travel long distances. So my plan is to not use up all our land. It is to go up properly in locations where people will live, work and play. We can use a tenth of the land by managing our growth and truly understanding what Smart growth really means."
"It's absolutely important we protect this fertile soil. Auckland definitely needs to boost land supply for housing and development. But for me it's all about strategic growth planning and that means putting housing and business development where they fit best, not just where there is undeveloped land.
Firstly I'd like to see a good review of the Unitary Plan so it better aligns with current infrastructure - it's currently weak. Then a central part of my policy is to power up local boards to lead and negotiate decisions like this in their own patch. The Franklin Local Board has done some great work around protecting fertile soil as part of their area plan which must be taken seriously."
Horticulture New Zealand statistics:
• Versatile land to grow horticulture is a finite resource with five per cent (about 1.4million ha) of New Zealand suitable for high-value horticultural production.
• About a sixth (165,000ha) of this potential has disappeared in the last ten years alone as a result of increased lifestyle blocks.
• At present the produce growing industry's footprint is 125,000 ha producing about $7.2 billion; employing 60,000 people and cycling cash through the New Zealand economy at a rate 20-50 times that of pastoral production.
• Most vulnerable to urban sprawl is vegetable production - though fruit production is affected as well.