Blame successive governments for environmental harm.
Don't blame the farmers because they have only been following the recipe prescribed by government and industry.
Ministers David Parker and Damian O'Connor have been left to clean up the mess of the economic trip successive governments have been on. The announcement of the Government's Essential Freshwater proposal has resulted in a huge push back from some farming circles.
Farmers particularly in Canterbury and the Waikato will have to reduce nitrogen, for many this is a threat to their farm businesses. Failing to meet new regulations could result in stranded assets. It's my opinion that successive Governments and Industry have led farmers up the garden path in pursuit of economic growth and should be held responsible for the situation farmers find themselves in, not the farmers.
It's beyond belief that successive Governments with full advice from their environmental agencies and prominent fresh water ecologists, ignored advice in the pursuit of economic growth. To maintain our pure NZ brand and clean green image, we now have to tidy up some serious water quality issues which might take 30-50 years.
This has resulted in not only environmental harm but also serious psychological harm to farming families and their communities.
It's well known that to grow the economy you must also consider the long-term implications for the environment and communities. This three legged stool represents the economy, environment and community.
So in the pursuit of economic growth have we broken the environmental and community legs?
In many regions around NZ the environmental and community legs have been broken.
Where there are legitimate stranded assets the Government must be held to account and support farmers financially through land use change.
From 1999 — 2008 the Helen Clark Labour Government started to pull hard on the economic lever to grow our economy supporting Fonterra's evolvement and the V3 strategy. Their main focus was based on volume and production.
More recently John Key's National government took the economic focus to a new level.
This was done in complete disregard for the impact it was going to have on our environment. Think about the land use change on the Canterbury plains with the change from sheep and cropping to dairy cows, fueled by irrigation and nutrients particularly nitrogen on stoney leaky soils.
This has resulted in contaminated waterways and aquifers and is now leading to nitrates finding their way under the Waimakariri into the pristine aquifers under Christchurch. This is being coined as environmental vandalism by some.
A similar land use change has taken place in the Upper Waikato, Wairakei district where the Government incentivised removal of plantation forestry to make room for dairy cows on leaky pumice soils.
In my opinion the John Key Government had full knowledge of the long-term environmental implications for the Waikato River. Now it's been left to the Waikato Regional Council to manage nitrogen and put a plan in place to mitigate against the nitrogen load to come, particularly from the Wairakei district.
Now the current Government has had to pull on the hand brake and reverse some of the trends of deteriorating water quality in some of rivers but also in urban and industrial parts of NZ.
The problem is the current Government has to do this at pace within their term in power which has created a lot of angst for many farmers.
The pressure on farmers to manage landscapes sustainably is not only coming from the Government but also from the market place and in the future will be part of the Farm Assurance Programme.
We as farmers have lived off the back of claiming we are 'clean and green'. We are now being asked to demonstrate it.
We need to think of the way we work through the challenges as a marathon not a sprint.
But we need to sprint the first part, understanding what the issues are within our farms our sub-catchments and addressing those issues through our Farm Environmental Plans, allowing time to transition and make change.
I believe we should be aiming at 2050 to meet targets set through community collaboration — sub-catchment groups working closely with our regional councils setting targets to aim for.
National should be supporting the key components of the Essential Freshwater proposal.
They along with the Labour Government need to admit that they got it wrong, overshooting the mark in the pursuit of economics.
This is a team effort to restore environmental health to our waterways, so it doesn't help when main stream media generates negative response to the challenges.
There are aspects of the Essential Freshwater proposal that I don't like, but I'll make my voice heard through the consultation process. I encourage all farmers around NZ to do the same.
We need to work together as a 'Team NZ' to fix the legs of the stool and keep it in balance. That includes urban and industry, taking responsibility for our own environmental footprints.
- Rick Burke is chairman of Farmers for Positive Change.