"I'm going to ban fires".

So said Hawke's Bay Regional Council chairman Rex Graham. I wonder if he has given much thought to the repercussions of that draconian statement.

I doubt it, but I would like to suggest to Mr Graham the very real concerns many ratepayers have if he is going to carry through on his proclamation.


There is a real and unacceptable potential threat from irresponsible burn-offs that can occur for a short period at certain times of the year on the plains area. However, to apply a total ban will impact unfairly on many responsible and efficient landowners who have abided by sensible regulation.

Agriculture and specifically horticulture does generate plant waste which as a past orchardist Mr Graham will acknowledge. This plant waste has to be disposed of annually.

This waste is from annual pruning of plants, trimming of shelter belts and at times discarded and removed trees/vines.

Historically, indiscriminate burning was the option but it was seriously unacceptable and the introduction of mechanical mulching dramatically reduced the need to burn. Fine for pruning waste but not so for some of the shelter waste and totally useless for discarded trees and vines.

Recently, new large chipping machines have evolved and have been reasonably effective in disposal of larger trees in large-scale removal sites. There is always a potential spanner in the works and there are a few here.

Fruit growing is, like most industries, evolving to reduce labour inputs, increase mechanisation of tasks and new planting/training systems for greater outputs and reduced costs.

With this brings more challenges and in particular some of the waste management - ie disposal of waste. Closer planting has brought narrow row widths which means smaller tractors but by design and operational constraints the mulcher is reliant on larger high-horsepower tractors to successfully mulch the prunings.

Shelter belts are normally on orchard boundaries and so are orchard tracks and driveways. Mulchers do not operate well and suffer significant wear if used on hard limestone or shingle track and driveways. This requires the use of rakes to remove the prunings for disposal and burning.


The potential of the large chippers is also comprised by the new planting and training methods because of the use of wire in the training and structure of the canopy. Any foreign matter fed into a mulcher not plant-based has the potential to cause significant and costly damage to the machine. This includes wire, nails, stones, rocks and any machinery or work equipment of a metal nature.

Furthermore, the operation of these large mulchers come with the environmental concerns because of the large-capacity high-horsepower/kilowatt, 800/597, engines required to power them. They run at very high rpms to provide the energy to chip large trees, so there is a large amount of exhaust gasses being produced with high CO2 outputs.

Also, at this stage, disposal of the mulched material does not appear to have a use.

Those are some of the issues facing the farming/horticultural sector that have been the subject of generally ill-informed criticism from many of the urban armchair experts who are either unaware or unwilling to accept that most of those they choose to condemn are by the very nature of their chosen lifestyle are very conscious of nature and the environment.

Those issues facing the farmers who use these options are just part of the overall picture because there are many others living on the plains area who will also be significantly impacted. Rural lifestyle blocks also face the potential of significant cost increases because of the no burn plan.

Many have shelter belts and large plantings of ornamental trees and plants that require annual pruning and management, which means there are also large amounts of material to dispose of. Buying or hiring a chipper/ mulcher is not an economic option and if you do not possess a suitable vehicle, transferring waste a considerable distance to a recycling depot is also very costly.


As an example, I have a short shelter belt that I am progressively removing as a source of firewood which I burn in my new compliant log fire after a 12-month period so the wood is dry. What option do I have to dispose of the not insignificant trimmings?

So where are we at? Well, maybe some responsible constructive consultation and a set of rules and acceptable management plan for the controlled use of burning of appropriate dry waste on a permit system. However it's done it needs not "I am going to," oh and "with my fellow councillors" as an afterthought.

That is not how a democratic system operates, Mr Graham.

Robin Sage is a retired grape grower and past president of HB Grapegrowers.