Farm licences, food shortages and taxes

JON MORGAN - OVER THE FENCE
Last updated 05:00 11/01/2012

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OPINION: It's the time of year when columnists with nothing better to write about inflict on you their uninformed and prejudiced predictions of what the coming year is likely to bring.

My apologies, but I had intended to do exactly that.

But then an email arrived with the much better informed and unprejudiced views of someone who dishes out such advice for a living – and, as distinct from a newspaper columnist – is taken seriously.

He is Pita Alexander, a Christchurch accountant whose practice is 98 per cent farming. He is a regular speaker at farmers' meetings here and in Australia and is an inveterate writer of advice to his clients – usually couched in short, pithy sentences interspersed with touches of humour.

His recent thoughts are pretty wide-ranging and are not restricted to the year to come. They include:

It is not difficult to foresee within 20 years a "Licence to Operate a Rural Business" being required by farming couples. It is coming from urban concerns about pesticides, water quality, animal welfare, effluent, genetically modified food, nitrate fertiliser use, water rights, water shortages, livestock on roads, food traceability and the environment.

Over the last 30 years the goalposts have well and truly been moved, he says. "The customer is now the boss. We need to get behind this and merge with it rather than be confrontational, as we still have a tendency to do."

Our rural leaders must not whinge – there needs to be a "no whingeing" rule.

The problem facing an ageing group of sheep and beef farmers is how to transfer their $2 million to $3m net equity sensibly and viably to the next generation.

Water storage is the key to increasing New Zealand's food production. The Government should contribute 25-50 per cent of the cost of improving rural water storage and distribution.

The future of New Zealand sooner or later as an efficient, clean food provider will be determined by China and India.

He also sheds some light on the recent heated debate about whose taxes fund our welfare system.

His figures come from Finance Minister Bill English's office and are for the current year. They show the 160,000 households earning more than $150,000 a year are subsidising the rest of the country to the tune of $7.7 billion. This means 10 per cent of households are paying 70 per cent of taxes.

Coincidentally, the bottom 43.6 per cent of households (those earning less than $50,000) are receiving $7.7b in welfare payments, outweighing the tax they pay by almost $3b.

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He doesn't comment on this (see the above "no whingeing" rule) but I will.

The parties who in the elec-tions campaigned on inequality between rich and poor – and who employed people who defaced others' billboards – were not being honest with you.

However, he does make the point that there is a sector of society whose troubles are not of their own making and who we must willingly always help.

His comment on politicians in general is that 90 per cent of New Zealand MPs in his lifetime (he is in his 70s) "deserve very little credit for anything".

He foresees a global food crisis coming that can only be to New Zealand's benefit.

Signs of this are the rising price of food as 10 New Zealands are added to the world population each year and a huge farming land grab in Africa by several countries wanting to secure food supplies.

The world is struggling with a debt crisis and other crises to come are an energy crisis, shortage of water and the rising cost of food.

"I feel that over the next 10 to 20 years the world will need to focus much more on the rising price of food and wars about water than anything else like possible climate change," Alexander says. "The first two are partly or mostly man-made and there must be a message in that."

Typically, he leavens this seriousness with a lighter look at the Kiwi character. Pointing out that though we love to make Irish jokes, we leave ourselves open for a few of our own.

This is a country where:

A pizza can get to your house faster than an ambulance.

People order double cheeseburgers, large fries and a diet coke.

We leave cars worth thousands of dollars in the drive and lock our junk and a cheap lawnmower in the garage.

Forty-two people have been injured since 1999 from not removing all pins from new shirts.

Five have died since 1994 because they watered the Christmas tree while the fairy lights were still plugged in.

About 50 people are burnt each year ironing their clothes while still wearing them.

Yes, but it's a great idea if you're in a hurry. The only problem I've struck is in ironing the back of my shirts. My solution, and you may want to make a note of this, is to jam the iron upside down between the cushions on my sofa and to lie down on top of it.

- Wellington

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