The Essential Freshwater proposal is the Government's latest jab at farmers.
The Ministry for the Environment (MfE) is looking to make major reforms to current regulations and create a new National Environment Standard for freshwater.
Among the proposals are "interim controls" on farming intensification, increased fencing, and substantially reducing the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus in freshwater rivers and streams, to levels some have called unnecessary and outright unachievable.
New Zealanders want healthy waterways to swim in, fish and enjoy, however MfE's latest proposals are short-sighted, flawed and will severely limit our most profitable sector.
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We produce enough food to feed 40 million people. The dairy sector alone accounts for 28 per cent of New Zealand exports. We have to make money to spend money, and that's not only applicable to the New Zealand economy, but our local economies too. As Tim Mackle, chief executive of Dairy NZ, pointed out in his recent NZ Herald column "When farmers don't have confidence, they close their wallets". Retailers in our small towns feel the pinch.
Taranaki and Whanganui are made up of thriving small towns, enlivened by hard-working farmers. It is time this Government recognises and values an industry they have so far villainised and squeezed in policies like Essential Freshwater, the Zero Carbon Bill, Forestry conversion and Labour's car tax, which would penalise farmers more than most. Farmers are growing increasingly pessimistic and agriculture sector business confidence is historically low.
New Zealand farming is one of the most emission-efficient in the world and it's constantly improving due to technological advancements and the willingness of farmers to adapt, succeed and uphold our global reputation as safe and sustainable producers. That includes water quality, which has recorded major improvements in five out of eight water quality attributes from 2008 to 2017. No one has done more to clean our waterways than farmers. In fact, farmers have fenced off close to 25,000 kilometres of waterways to exclude cattle. It's one of a number of achievements made by dairy farmers and partners committed to the Sustainable Dairy Water Accord, signed in 2013.
Horizons and Taranaki regional councils in particular have made major advancements in water quality, through intensive riparian planting, fencing and sound systems for measuring the health of our freshwater rivers and streams. The blanket-wide proposed phosphorus levels don't take into account the natural levels that come from Mount Taranaki, or the many hills, valleys and natural springs that make up our landscape.
The Freshwater proposals will likely cost farmers at least $1 billion over 10 years, and our councils will be forced to create new policies and increase monitoring and mapping which will come at a price, no doubt millions. Ratepayers will take on those costs.
Public meetings have been held around the country and farmers have until the 31st of October to make submissions on the proposed changes. To make a submission or to read more on the Government's Essential Freshwater proposal, visit www.mfe.govt.nz.
Harete Hipango is MP for Whanganui.