By Damien O'Connor

For over 100 years, primary production has been a vital component of the New Zealand economy. In 2016, export earnings from the sector exceeded $36 billion, making it by far our largest export earner.

However, the current Government's myopic perspective and policies are failing both the sector and New Zealand's national economy. Over the past three years primary sector exports have fallen 4 per cent in value.

Labour's policy recognises that as participants in the global economy, our primary sector businesses are undergoing profound disruption from all directions.

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The scale and speed of disruption has far-reaching unintended consequences, which will require government to either step up now or step in later.

We are prepared to intervene and make the necessary changes to policy and regulation to drive further innovation, achieve greater scale in market and generate higher export returns.

We believe government must lead a pro-active, collaborative approach with the primary sector in order to ensure the sustainable utilisation of our natural environment - not only with the capacity to sustain our businesses, but to generate both economic and social wealth for the benefit of all New Zealanders.

There is urgency for a new government to inject confidence and growth into the primary sector. We must now generate ways to turn our natural assets into high-value export dollars rather than continuing an ever-expanding system of low-cost production.

Growing value relies on our ability to effectively market the uniqueness of New Zealand products within diverse global markets.

Discerning consumers are actively seeking out (and willing to pay a premium for) products with assurances about product efficacy and quality, environmental impact, labour management, water utilisation and food safety.

New Zealand is in an enviable position to capitalise on this opportunity as a reputable, trusted food-producing nation.

Labour will appoint a Primary Industry Council and a Chief Agricultural Adviser to provide a unified industry voice to government and progress the development of a pan-industry vision and strategy plan.

It must be remembered that freshwater is a precious and finite public resource. It is a taonga of paramount importance to all New Zealanders. Whether we live in town or country, we are its stewards.

New Zealanders have a birthright to swim safely in our rivers and lakes and at our beaches. I commend those farmers and other land users who strive for excellence in their environmental stewardship, while running profitable businesses.

We are committed to promoting best practice land use and the innovation that goes with it.

Dairy and other farm systems can be configured to be profitable while operating with a lower footprint on the environment.

Precision irrigation minimises losses of nutrients and pathogens to groundwater, as do practices such as stand-off areas, appropriate stocking rates, and planted riparian strips.

Along with other industries and businesses in New Zealand, farming should internalise the cost of its pollution rather than it being borne by the community at large and the environment.

In the future, irrigation schemes will have to stand on their own economic merits without taxpayer subsidies but existing commitments will be honoured, including the Waimea Community Dam project providing water for urban, industrial and irrigation purposes.

Damien O'Connor is the Labour Spokesperson for Primary Industries, Biosecurity and Food Safety.