A market gardener welcomes moves to protect the country's best-growing soils from urban sprawl but says the devil will be in the detail of how councils apply the new framework.
In recent years tens of thousands of hectares of prime horticultural land have been lost to development, in particular in Pukekohe on the outskirts of Auckland.
There it is estimated over 31,000 more ha of Auckland's most productive land could be lost over the next 35 years, affecting not only export earnings but food prices here.
To address this growing issue the Government has developed a National Policy Statement for Highly Productive Land.
Environment Minister David Parker said councils would be required to identify, map and manage highly productive land to ensure it was available for growing vegetables, fruit, and other primary production.
It would protect that land from "inappropriate subdivision, use and development", he said.
"We need to house our people and to feed them too. Our cities and towns need to grow but not at the expense of the land that's best suited to grow our food."
Agriculture and Trade Minister Damien O'Connor said primary sector exports were expected to grow by $44 billion over the next decade, but this depended on continuing access to highly productive soils.
"Over the last 20 years, about 35,000 ha of our highly productive land has been carved up for urban or rural residential development, while 170,000 hectares of this land has been converted to lifestyle blocks.
"Once land is built on, it can no longer be used to grow food and fibre. That's why we are moving to protect our most fertile and versatile land, especially in our main food production areas like Auckland, Waikato, Hawke's Bay, Horowhenua and Canterbury."
An Auckland Council report in 2019 estimated the region's volcanic soils generated $327 million a year in produce - about 26 per cent of the national total from 3.8 per cent of land in such usage.
Pukekohe market gardener Bharat Jivan said he supported and welcomed the new policy "in principle".
"This is something we have been asking for, for a long time.
"In Pukekohe we have lost a lot of land over the years to urban sprawl. This should have happened years ago, but it is never too late.
"We need to protect what is left."
Jivan, whose family has been growing vegetables in the area for more than 60 years, said while they supported the policy's intention, there was still some concern about how councils would implement it.
"They have proven in the past they cannot be trusted to protect these soils. We have to lobby each time they develop a new plan, so we hope this new statement will better guide them."
Jivan said the problem they faced was two-fold.
The first was in zoning, where land zoned as urban increased in value "ten-fold" meaning growers were easily outbid.
The second aspect was the ability to carry out operations when they were increasingly surrounded by urban development and lifestyle blocks.
"Not all land is highly productive, so we need to protect what we have left."
Jivan said there remained some concerns about environmental limitations that could be added to land deemed highly productive.
"We want to be able to produce on the land we are seeking to protect."
Auckland Council planning committee chairman Chris Darby, who has written to the Government urging such action, said the policy statement appeared to address their concerns.
Currently, councils were unable to reject applications to develop such land.
"We don't have that ability at the moment to reject applications to protect these prime soils. This appears to give councils that direction and power."
Darby said the council had already mapped its highly-productive soils.