Opinion: Environment Minister David Parker has an interesting background in agriculture.

He oversaw the due diligence on both the science and the intellectual property for the A2 Corporation and was one of its first two employees. It's now a $9 billion dollar company.

Unfortunately, for him, he sold his start-up shares to avoid a conflict of interest when he became a politician.

Here's an interesting excerpt from an interview I did with him on my radio show last week:


JM: Are you anti-farming? Are you taking a sledge-hammer approach to water quality and nutrient issues?

DP: I've got a pretty simple view of water quality. Rivers in summer should be clean enough to swim in and put your head under without the risk of getting crook and the vast majority of New Zealanders, and the vast majority of farmers, agree with me on that.

JM: You went to Otago University about the same time as me. Did you go swimming in the Leith at the same time, David Parker? Was it swimmable?

DP: [Laughs] No not for me. I've got higher standards than that!

JM: Let me pick you up on that. You're putting these high standards on rural New Zealand. What about urban New Zealand?

DP: Well, actually, the Leith is a clean river, it's one of the urban rivers that are very good but there are plenty of urban rivers that aren't good enough.

JM: What are you going to do about that?

DP: Well it's a fair point you make. The worst are actually in Auckland where you have significant sewage overflows when they have a storm water event - so sewage flows on their beaches. They've got a plan to bring forward, in the next ten years, $900 million of expenditure and then they're going to reduce the quantity of effluent flowing on their beaches by 80-90%. So if the rural sector can do that with respect to their discharges of water then I'll be well happy.


JM: Are you going to give the rural sector ten years?

DP: I'll give them more than that. What I'm determined to do here is stop things getting worse. If they do get worse then some of the people who are already farming are going to be constrained by the additional load caused by more intensification.

JM: All this intensive horticulture, it's wonderful to talk about it, but it's going to involve more chemical sprays and more certainly more irrigation. You're anti-irrigation.

DP: I'm anti large scale irrigation schemes that rely on increased ruminant livestock intensity for their economics. I'm not against smaller irrigation schemes that are for the likes of horticultural purposes. I'm not opposed to all irrigation, I'm just opposed to irrigation that relies upon more cows, actually I don't just want to blame cows, but more intensive agriculture which leads to more nutrients.

JM: Have you done your homework on this? Because, when asked what the economic impact would be, you said the analysis of the potential economic effects had not been done. So is this a bit like throwing the baby out with the bath water? What happened to consulting with the industry?

DP: Huh! The industry has been consulted for over a decade here! In terms of cost-benefit you don't actually do an analysis on whether you should have clean rivers, that's a value judgement, and the vast majority of New Zealanders think we should have rivers clean enough to swim in. What you use cost-benefit analysis for is to look at what is the most cost effective way of getting there.

JM: In summary what's the time frame for this?

DP: I want to stop things getting worse immediately. What that effectively means is you should have to get resource consent to substantially increase the intensity of land use. So if you're going to convert land to a dairy farm somewhere in the country, you'll need resource consent and you might not get it.

JM: Can I interrupt you yet again, it's almost impossible to get one now so that's not really an argument.

DP: Well...um...actually...ah...

JM: You try getting resource consent to do a dairy conversion in Southland right now.

DP: Well that's true. Southland has that rule effectively now, so does Canterbury, so do parts of Otago. But there are parts of the country where it remains possible. We've got problems with proliferating beef lots in Hawkes Bay which are even more intensive. Hundreds of beef sitting on a paddock bereft of grass, having their feed brought to them, with the effluent either going to groundwater or to streams when you have a rain event, so these problems of intensification do need to be brought under control.

JM: David Parker, thanks for your time on The Country.

- Jamie Mackay is the host of The Country which airs on Newstalk ZB and Radio Sport, 12-1pm, weekdays.