One of the current Hawke's Bay regional councillors who has strongly opposed the Ruataniwha Dam and, party to many comments regarding farming, has as his guiding thought when considering council matters: 'wisdom is old men planting trees under whose shade they will never sit'.

I like it very much and although not claiming to be wise I have planted some 50,000 trees on my own property and continue to plant as I near 60 so certainly won't be sitting under the shade of these latter trees.

My own guiding principal throughout my farming career has been 'live life as though you may die tomorrow but farm as though you may live forever'.

So after a career of producing quality food, planting trees, fencing off streams and protecting wetlands I have over the past few years read through these pages the myriad thoughts of others who are not farmers but who have a lot to say about those of us who are and what we do.


In frustration I've finally been roused enough to add my own perspective which I believe is pragmatic but also driven by a strong ethos of wanting to see the world a better place when I check out than how I found it.

For those who have been swayed by talk that farming is in conflict with the environment and against our way of life, let me tell you something I read in the Economist last year.

We humans will need to produce more food in the next 40 years than we did in the previous 10,000 years put together.

A startling fact isn't it? Of course driven by the exponential increase in our species numbers. It took modern humans 200,000 years to reach our first billion in 1804. When I was born in 1959 I was the three billionth, there were 6 billion in 2000 and today 7.5 billion.

At the same time, we see sprawling cities devouring prime arable land, agricultural productivity gains declining, demand for land to produce biofuels increasing and calls from urban folk to limit farming practices.

These are problems for all of us and all of us need to take responsibility. The hypocrisy of those of us with three children, a house, a bach, a boat and an annual overseas holiday preaching that the world's birth rate needs to be controlled, consumption must be reduced and farming needs to become much more self-limiting is breathtaking.

I am no expert on population control but I do know a thing or two about producing great quality food from the land.

Those of us who live here in Hawke's Bay are indeed privileged. We are all part of the same value chain. The benefits of what is produced on our farms and orchards flows through our small rural towns, our two cities and through our port. We are all interconnected.


Once the dust has settled from the elections we need to have a more rational and less emotional discussion on how we as a region can lift our game for the benefit of all who dwell here.

Food production is and will continue to be a large part of our regional economy. Our objective should not be to feed a large part of the world's burgeoning population but the wealthiest with high quality food they can trust.

The Ruataniwha Dam done properly and learning from the mistakes of the past is a tremendous opportunity for this region.

Capturing excess water to use in a region that is drought prone and more likely to become so with climate change would appear to be a no brainer.

The proposed site is placed in an area where it can capture significant rain from both the East which we have seen in recent weeks and from the West. This is an uncommon opportunity making it the most reliable irrigation in the country.

Referring back to what I've mentioned earlier, as a civilisation we do not have the luxury of using irrigated flat land in a temperate climate with high sunlight hours to graze ruminants on. That function will continue to be the domain of the dry land hill country like I farm where the only other current viable option is forestry.

Most dairying in this proposed scheme will be transitory as land use moves to highly efficient food production. Until WWII, much of the Heretaunga Plains was in dairy until Watties changed the landscape.

What folk need to be aware of is that this proposed irrigation scheme comes in after the Plan Change 6 has been enacted in our catchment. This is a game changer.

I've already completed my own Farm Environmental Management Plan. My property is an intensive sheep and beef operation and comes in well under the nitrogen limit and much of what I have already done manages my phosphorus loss but I still have work to do to be better.

We farmers in the Tuki Tuki catchment acknowledge that the rules have changed dramatically and how we once farmed is no longer accepted so are doing these plans, fencing, planting and changing land use at our own expense but this can't be done overnight.

Yes, there are bad examples just as there are bad poets (until agriculture established 10,000 years ago society didn't have the ability to sustain the arts as we fortunately do now) but under regulatory control these bad apples will either improve or exit.

Plan Change 6 for example will see a minimum flow in the Tuki Tuki at the Red Bridge increase from 3.5 to 5.2Mm3 whether the dam eventuates or not. With no dam the resulting increased irrigation bans will see greatly reduced food production impacting upon both the regional economy and the port.

Scale this up as the rest of the Hawke's Bay catchments come in under similar rules in the future and without improved water storage we really will see apple trees dying from drought.

I am chairman of the East Coast Ballance Farm Environment Awards and we see many examples every year of farmers and growers doing great work producing excellent food working sustainably within their environment and indeed improving the environment.

When we have our publicly advertised field days showcasing these examples of wise and sustainable land use, we would love to see members of the public, regional and district councillors and farming critics come along to see the good work that the majority of farmers and growers do rather than accepting all one hears and reads.

- Steve Wyn-Harris is a national rural columnist and broadcaster and the family sheep, beef and forestry farm has won several awards including environmental ones.