Why food and fibre has a strong future
We all eat and that gives everyone a role to play in our food chain. While there are a series of environmental issues to solve, farmers and growers have made good progress over the years.
Fencing waterways, planting millions of trees in riparian strips, ensuring effluent spreading systems are efficient and don't run into our rivers, as well as measuring fertiliser needs more accurately, are all great examples of this.
As a country, water issues are at the forefront, in both rural and urban areas. Rural waterways have improved in many locations. This has taken a lot of work and those who have achieved this, usually at their own cost, deserve credit for the progress that has been made.
Our nation's water conversation has changed over the past four years, in terms of quantity and quality. Adding more cows to our landscape no longer features. We have grown cow numbers in NZ to a point where many catchments are at their limit. We are finding more precise answers to our challenges. DNA for example is playing a real role. It can now identify which animals are responsible for E.coli contamination of water.
While farmers must take responsibility for the quality of water around them, birds, wild deer, wild pigs and rodents for example are among the other species, adding to the bugs. This doesn't mean farmers are off the hook, but what it does mean is that they should not feel they bear the brunt of responsibility for our rural waterways.
Water storage is essential to our future, especially in places like Hawke's Bay and the Wairarapa. But I was surprised to be talking about it in Southland earlier this year. Home to high rainfall areas Fiordland and Milford Sound, this region overall is not normally drought-prone, but here they were in the middle of one, rethinking their water management.
As climate change effects take hold over our particularly dry areas of NZ, the conversation around sustainable water supplies in urban communities for household use, energy, environmental replenishment and recreation, has intensified. These talks cannot be about finger-pointing between rural and urban communities, but about working together to find solutions to our collective water challenges. However, blanket central government regulations for both water and land, are not going to fit across our regions. Not even within the same catchment, does one-size-fits-all.
I recently met with Thriving Southland members. This community-led group working with 27 catchment groups has data going down to a scale of just 10 square metres. Now that sort of detail cannot be driven from Wellington. It also means one prescriptive rule is not suitable, even on the same farm. It's this approach by the Government, with top-down driven regulations, which creates the greatest stress among farming communities right now.
Taking the lead
The ever-increasing developments in science and innovative technology are where the answers to many of our challenges lie. Urban readers will have heard a lot about emissions from ruminant animals and their contribution to climate change. While our farmers are among the most efficient system operators in the world and the lowest climate emitters, we have millions of ruminants, producing a lot of methane. Several promising inhibitors are emerging from research currently underway. Our genetics companies have been breeding lower methane-producing bulls for some time and each year these traits are passed on to the next crop of calves. Fonterra is working on a potential methane-reducing solution called "Kowbucha" and other European solutions are being tested for safety and effectiveness in our pasture-based farming systems.
Although technology, research and science will be the answer to most of our issues, food production at the farm and orchard level is a people-productive industry, as are our processing factories, meat works, harvesting and picking processes. Human resources are very scarce right now for the hundreds of full and part-time roles in agriculture and horticulture. Often when we talk about immigration, it's said NZ doesn't have enough housing and infrastructure to cope. In rural and provincial New Zealand, on our farms, orchards and vegetable blocks, we do all waiting to be filled with seasonal employees.
Fruit picking and vegetable harvesting are largely done by Recognised Seasonal Employee (RSE) Scheme workers. These people who are proud to come to our country from the Pacific and beyond, work for part of the year and take their wages back home to develop their own country. There are also the Northern Hemisphere/Southern Hemisphere cyclical workers who shear sheep, pregnancy scan sheep or drive combine harvesters at the peak of the cropping and silage season. These are not immigrants but are a complementary workforce, and Kiwis get to do the same in return.
This lack of workers in the past two and a half years has seen the appalling wastage of crops and food at unprecedented levels. With food scarce globally and with methane produced by food waste, we are sending ourselves backwards, economically, environmentally and socially. How does that make sense?
While we are working on these issues, there are global geopolitics playing out, and food and energy security issues stemming from the war in Ukraine. National will ensure transitions are fair, affordable and take our farming community with us to ensure environmental, social and environmental factors are considered. Food leakage across borders is not an acceptable option.
Our policies regarding agriculture, will be based on these principles:
• taking a science-based approach;
• focusing on innovation and technology;
• giving long term signals to the economy;
• considering and managing any wider economic impacts;
• ensuring New Zealand acts with international partners, not in isolation.
New Zealand's food and fibre production is world-class. National supports the sector to stay at the forefront, by applying sensible principles to policies, as we navigate our way through our environmental obligations.
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