Late last year I had the opportunity to question the Minister of Agriculture in the House, as you can see I had a lot of questions so it wasn't too surprising that he didn't answer them all then! But I was able to get a few more answers out of O'Connor using Parliamentary Written Questions.
I thought you may be interested to see his answers:
The Minister told the committee, he had "grave concerns" about the planting of radiata pine in permanent forest sinks. What, if any, actions has the Minister taken to slow or stop productive farm land being planted with pine trees for ‘carbon farming’?
Minister O'Connor: The Government is responding to the Climate Change Commission’s advice, ‘Ināia tonu nei: a low emissions future for Aotearoa’ through the Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP). The ERP is an economy-wide plan which sets out the policies and strategies for meeting our first emissions budget and is due to be published in May 2022. In its response, the Government is considering the way land use decisions are made and the role of permanent exotic forests in our transition to a climate-resilient, low emissions New Zealand.
What ‘small tweaks’ does the Minister think still need to be made to Fonterra’s capital structure recently voted on by shareholders?
Minister O'Connor: This is still under active consideration.
What, if any, evidence of reputational damage has the Minister seen related the export of live animals?
Minister O'Connor: There is a growing international consumer focus on issues including animal welfare in production systems. I understand that even throughout the farming sector there are concerns about livestock exports by sea and the effects on New Zealand’s reputation for strong animal welfare practices. I have received advice from MPI on reputational impacts in the context of livestock exports in the following documents.
The Minister said he would be seeking advice on all aspects of the climate commission's report relating to agriculture. What, if any, advice has the Minister received to date on all aspects of the Climate Change Commission’s report relating to Agriculture?
Minister O'Connor: Please refer to the attached table for advice I have received on the Climate Change Commission’s advice relating to agriculture. Please note that some titles have been withheld as they are under active consideration. The Climate Change Commission’s advice may have been mentioned briefly in a number of other briefings but was not the primary focus of that advice.
The Minister reported class exceptions for an additional 200 dairy workers and 50 vets, saying there was not enough managed isolation and quarantine for 500 workers. But we ended up with three dairy workers out of the 200. How many, if any, veterinarians were able to enter New Zealand through the border class exception the Minister announced on 10 June 2021; if not 50, why?
Minister O'Connor: I refer the member to reply 55723 (2021).
Since O'Connor referred me to the Minister for Immigration I asked Hon Kris Faafoi the question:
Minister Faafoi: I am advised that as of 11 February 2022, 14 veterinarians approved under the border class exception announced on 10 June 2021 have arrived in New Zealand. It is the responsibility of an individual and or their employer to arrange travel to New Zealand in line with current border restrictions. This includes obtaining the appropriate border exception and visa, arranging flights to New Zealand and space in Managed Isolation and Quarantine, providing a negative pre-departure COVID-19 test result, and that they are fully vaccinated.
How many, if any, dairy workers were able to enter New Zealand through the border class exception the Minister announced on 10 June 2021; if not 200, why?
Minister O'Connor: MPI does not hold data on the number of people who have entered New Zealand under the dairy farm worker class border exception. MPI’s role is to endorse applications. Immigration New Zealand is responsible for issuing visas and recording arrivals.
Follow up question to the Minister of Immigration (Hon Kris Faafoi):
Minister Faafoi: I am advised that as of 11 February 2022, 20 dairy workers approved under the border class exception announced on 10 June 2021 have arrived in New Zealand. It is the responsibility of an individual and or their employer to arrange travel to New Zealand in line with current border restrictions. This includes obtaining the appropriate border exception and visa, arranging flights to New Zealand and space in Managed Isolation and Quarantine, providing a negative pre-departure COVID-19 test result, and that they are fully vaccinated.
The Minister told the committee that the Government would offer support for irrigation in ways other than Crown Irrigation Investments. What, if any, support is the government offering, or planning to offer, to support irrigation, and how, if at all, are they being progressed?
Minister O'Connor: The Ministry for Primary Industries has recently provided funding support towards two irrigation projects and is currently providing funding support for a further four irrigation projects to a total value of is $1.952 million. The total project value of this work, including sector contributions, is $2.873 million. This funding supports irrigation projects to:
- Accelerate adoption of good fish screen practice for irrigation water takes.
- Optimise use of solar energy for irrigation channel and instream augmentation for native fish habitat improvement.
- Investigate fertigation to improve nutrient management under irrigation systems.
- Optimise deficit irrigation management practices/N-Wise irrigation.
- Help report improvements in water quality arising from tangible irrigated farmer actions.
- Identify and overcome barriers to irrigation good management practice uptake.
These projects are being funded from either the Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund or the Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change fund.
So, on the clear obligation to identify areas of significant natural areas, the Minister said that in some cases the value of farms might increase if they have indigenous vegetation. Is the Minister aware of any cases of farms which have increased in value because of indigenous vegetation; if so, where and how?
Minister O'Connor: I haven’t received any advice.
Given that that the Minister has said he has received no advice relating to farms increasing in value because of indigenous vegetation, why did he say this may happen in some cases during Estimates in July 2021?
Minister O'Connor: As I mentioned at the estimates hearing, initiatives such as the Balance Farm Environment Awards show that farmers can run successful businesses while enhancing and expanding the biodiversity on their properties.
What, if any, response has the Ministry for Primary Industries had from Māori and iwi stakeholders to greenhouse gas emission options with the He Waka Eke Noa discussion document?
Minister O'Connor: The He Waka Eke Noa industry partners have been undertaking targeted engagement with their stakeholders on agricultural emissions pricing options in the He Waka Eke Noa discussion document. This includes Federation of Māori Authorities (FOMA) engaging with Māori agribusinesses. This engagement has been fed back to the Partnership to improve the discussion document for the sector partners’ wider engagement process in February 2022.
What, if any, response has the Ministry for Primary Industries had from farmer stakeholders to greenhouse gas emission options with the He Waka Eke Noa discussion document?
Minister O'Connor: The He Waka Eke Noa industry partners have been undertaking targeted engagement with their farmer stakeholders on agricultural emissions pricing options in the He Waka Eke Noa discussion document. The responses from this engagement have been fed back to the Partnership to improve the discussion document for the sector partners’ wider engagement process in February 2022.
Besides participating in He Waka Eke Noa, what, if any, other initiatives are underway to help farmers and growers lower their gas emissions; and how, if at all, are these progressing?
Minister O'Connor: The Government is backing farmers’ on-the-ground efforts to improve land management practices by investing $37 million in integrated farm planning to make meeting environmental needs, alongside consumer, market, and business needs, easier and less time consuming. As part of this initiative, a training programme will deliver a further 100 skilled farm advisers over four years. Under Fit for a Better World, the Government is funding more than 170 farmer-led catchment groups to help improve land management practices. They are supporting more than 5,000 farmers, by increasing access to expertise and tools to improve their environmental and economic sustainability and wellbeing. The Government and industry have also invested about $200 million over the last ten years into research and development to improve productivity and reduce emissions. The Government is also developing a research and development plan to accelerate the development and availability of agricultural greenhouse gas mitigations. Part of this work includes assessing how regulatory processes for new mitigations can be streamlined. More details on initiatives to help farmers and growers lower their greenhouse gas emissions will be available when the first emissions reduction plan is published in May 2022.
How, if at all, will the outcomes and milestones for projects funded under the One Billion Trees Programme be measured and reported going forward?
Minister O'Connor: Outcomes and milestones are measured and reported through the One Billion Trees Fund contract management system, which includes monthly milestone management reports, quarterly reporting to the Programme Steering Group, and regular programme outcome reporting.
How many new, if any, rural broadband connections is the Minister for Rural Communities aware of that have been rolled out in the past 12 months?
Minister O'Connor: While this project sits with Minister Clark and the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), I closely follow its progress and advocate its importance to my colleagues. I am aware of new rural connections as part of the MBIE's Rural Broadband Initiative. 13,497 new rural connections have been established between September 2020 - September 2021. Updated numbers on new connections from Q4 of 2021 will be available at the beginning of 2022.
What, if anything, is the Ministry for Primary Industries doing to stop Covid-19 getting into meat and milk manufacturing plants?
Minister O'Connor: New Zealand Food Safety (NZFS), part of the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), has published a comprehensive set of guidelines for primary industries and food businesses to help them transition to, and operate under, the COVID-19 Protection Framework. The guidelines can be found on the MPI website at [F75]. These guidelines were developed alongside the Ministry of Health, with input from the dairy, meat and seafood sector associations and the New Zealand Food & Grocery Council. They emphasise: a) prevention of exposure of workers outside the workplace, including strongly recommending vaccination; b) control of entry to the workplace, including using QR Codes and the COVID Vaccine Pass; and c) prevention of spread within the workplace, including using physical distancing and PPE. NZFS continue to work with sector associations and businesses to incorporate the guidelines into their own COVID-19 protocols and implement control measures, to ensure workforce safety, minimise business disruption and meet market access requirements.
Which Ministries, if any, do catchment groups have to report to, how, and why?
Minister O'Connor: Catchment groups provide milestone reports to the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Ministry for the Environment to ensure the projects are on track and delivering the outcomes in their funding agreements.
Why can reporting by catchment groups to both the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Ministry for the Environment not be consolidated to a single reporting stream?
Minister O'Connor: In some instances there is single reporting. For example, where there is a shared reporting outcomes, such as employment data, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) collects this data from MPI contracted catchment groups and enters it into a Ministry for the Environment quarterly reporting document that is provided to Ministry for the Environment to collate and report to Sustainable Land Use Ministers. Therefore, no catchment group is required to report to multiple ministries for a single contract.
How, if at all, are outcomes from the Ministry for Primary Industries wellbeing initiatives for farmers and growers being measured?
Minister O'Connor: MPI helps to fund a number of initiatives that support wellbeing of farmers and growers. This ranges from Rural Support Trusts that provide support for health and wellbeing, to responding to adverse events and seeking greater understanding of stressors of disruptive events, for example during the M.bovis program. How these are evaluated and measured depends on what the policy is seeking to do and the nature of the investment.
How, if at all, is progress toward achieving the productivity, sustainability and inclusiveness targets in the Fit for a Better World roadmap being measured?
Minister O'Connor: The Fit for a Better World – 2021 Progress Update outlines how we will track progress being made against expected productivity, sustainability and inclusivity targets. The attached table refers to the indicators used to track progress.
What, if anything, is the Minister's plan to achieve the productivity, sustainability and inclusiveness targets in the Fit for a Better World road map?
Minister O'Connor: The Fit for a Better World (FFBW) Roadmap, and the Fit for a Better World – 2021 Progress Update, outline a path to achieving greater productivity, sustainability and inclusivity for New Zealand’s food and fibre sector over the next 10 years. There are 22 overall initiatives of work and multiple deliverables; highlights include: He Waka Eke Noa - Our largest partnership programme between the food and fibre sector, Government and Māori. It aims to help farmers reduce their emissions footprint and adapt to climate change. Free Trade Agreements - In 2020/21, New Zealand signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the world’s largest free trade agreement. In October 2021, New Zealand and the UK reached Agreement in Principle on the key elements of a new high quality, comprehensive and progressive free trade agreement. New Zealand is also negotiating a free trade agreement with the European Union. Investing in our future - As at 1 December 2021, we’ve partnered with industry to support 171 SFFF projects worth nearly $354.6 million to support problem solving and innovation across the sector. Opportunity Grows Here Campaign - Part of MPI’s Primary Sector Workforce programme, was launched in July 2020. The programme aims to attract 10,000 New Zealanders into jobs in the primary industries over the next four years. As at 9 December 2021, 8,771 New Zealanders have found roles in the sector. We will be releasing progress annually.
On He Waka Eke Noa, the Minister said places like England and Europe will be looking to New Zealand to see how it implements a levy, and New Zealand can show the way. What, if any, discussions and/or correspondence has the Minister of Trade and Export Growth had this year about He Waka Eke Noa and the implementation of a farm-level and/or processor-level levy for agriculture emissions?
Minister O'Connor: I have not had any formal discussions, nor have I exchanged correspondence on He Waka Eke Noa and the implementation of a farm-level and/or processor-level levy for agriculture emissions in my Trade and Export Growth portfolio. I do often discuss climate change more generally in my capacity as Minister of Trade and Export Growth.
Is the Ministry for Primary Industries developing resources to support farmers who don’t already have farm plans; if so, when, if ever, will these be made available?
Minister O'Connor: The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), in collaboration with industry and regional councils, has already developed the ‘Good Farm Planning Principles: Towards Integrated Farm Planning’ guidance document. The guidance document provides high-level principles to guide farm planning activities for key areas: employment and wellbeing, health and safety, biosecurity, animal welfare, and greenhouse gases. The guidance document is a living document that will be updated with further modules as they become available, including freshwater farm plans and biodiversity. MPI is developing further tools and resources to support farmers and growers with their integrated farm planning activities. MPI is focused on identifying the best ways to provide support to farmers and growers that benefits both their farm planning activities and their businesses.
On integrated farm plans, the Minister said funding could provide 100 additional professionals. How many, if any, additional ‘skilled farm advisers’ have been trained to provide advice on integrated farm planning?
Minister O'Connor: I am advised that the training programme for additional skilled farm advisers to provide advice on integrated farm planning will commence in 2022. The training programme is being codesigned with industry to ensure it both meets government policy objectives and industry needs.
What outcomes, if any, have been seen and/or measured as a result of the Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change Research programme; and how, if at all, have these been communicated?
Minister O'Connor: A review of 10 years of research through the Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change (SLMACC) Research programme was completed and published in 2018. The main findings showed SLMACC projects have been effective at creating high quality research, engaging with stakeholders and end-users, and growing science capacity to research climate change in New Zealand. The projects have also been effective at creating usable research that has met science needs and has been appropriate for the target audience for whom the research was ultimately intended. SLMACC research reports are published and shared with a wide range of interested parties including sector and industry bodies. The reports are made available on the Ministry for Primary Industries’ website. They can also be found shared on associated research partner and stakeholder websites.
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