Throwing farmers 'under the tractor' or long overdue? Mixed response to Government's water plan

The Government's plan to clean up New Zealand's water has been received with mixed results - with one side describing it as throwing farmers "under the tractor", another calling it a step towards a "holistic and balanced" approach to water. 

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Environment Minister David Parker has promised our waterways will be fixed within a generation. Source: 1 NEWS

The plan sets out a proposed overhaul to the country’s freshwater management, impacting wastewater discharge, the rules around farming practices and swimming in the summer.

Federated Farmers' environment and water spokesperson, Chris Allen, said "the Government seems to be signalling it is prepared to gamble with the viability of food production as the major export earner for New Zealand". 

Mr Allen said he was concerned by the interim controls.

"If it stops you from doing something with your own land, without appeal or any achievable recourse, then it's a ban, pure and simple," he explained. 

He said having required lowered nitrogen levels would be "very hard" on farmers to continue economically growing vegetables or farming animals. 

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The proposals are set to impact farming, wastewater, summer swimming and drinking water. Source: 1 NEWS

"The long term targets for nitrogen reduction are effectively unachievable in some parts of the country, and will end pastoral farming in these areas."

National MPs were also skeptical of the proposals, calling it "short-sighted" and a move that "will severely limit our most profitable sector". 

"Many of the changes proposed will have perverse effects on our primary sector and the wider economy," said environment spokesperson Scott Simpson. 

National's agriculture spokesperson, Todd Muller, said there was "little-to-no economic analysis" in the discussion document.

"These new proposals will be a hammer blow to what is a highly vulnerable sector and will damage our competitive advantage as a country," he said. 

However, Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor rejected this, saying New Zealand farmers have the ability to adapt. 

"We have profitable farming operations up and down this country that are achieving what we wish to see across all farms," he said.

"We won't see farms closing down. We appreciate farmers are under pressure...That's why we want to work with them through these [proposals].

"They just have to look over the fence and see where good farming practice can achieve profit, can achieve our environmental sustainability and indeed a better New Zealand for future generations."

Fonterra today tweeted: "We support the Government’s freshwater goals and will support our farmers in achieving them.

"Healthy freshwater is important to our country and integral to our strategy to create more value from our New Zealand milk."

Irrigation NZ chief executive Elizabeth Soal said she was "relieved to see that the benefits of irrigation have been recognised as an important contribution freshwater makes to the country’s well-being and resilience to climate change".

"This will put a stop to finger pointing, and is a step towards New Zealand taking a strategic and holistic approach to managing this precious resource for the benefit of all," she said. 

Ms Soal said the Government was taking a serious approach to water through encompassing minimum flows, regulations for water measuring technology, new nutrient bottom lines, water quality and timelines into the proposals. 

"There is always a fine balance between protecting our beautiful natural assets and allowing for practical ways forward which support our grass-roots communities - hopefully the outcomes of these proposals will provide for that."

Horticulture NZ's chief executive, Mike Chapman, welcomed the proposals, saying it was "high time New Zealand took greater care of freshwater". 

"However, we have some concerns, chiefly around how what is proposed would limit the ability of growers to expand in response to our increasing population and replace land lost to urban development."

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson said the proposals were a "a comprehensive approach to making sure our water is healthy, safe, swimmable and drinkable".

"Part of our Confidence and Supply agreement with Labour is to improve water quality and prioritise achieving healthy rivers, lakes and aquifers with stronger regulatory instruments, with funding for freshwater enhancement," she said.