Labour and National discuss the realities for farmers
New Zealand's two main political parties are telling farmers they need to face the realities the future will bring.
Labour spokesman for Primary Industries Damien O'Connor and Minister for the Environment Nick Smith were speaking at the Federated Farmers Southland annual meeting at Bill Richardson Transport World in Invercargill on Tuesday.
O'Connor said while farming was still at the heart of the country's economy, there was no clear vision for agriculture and its various sections, nor an idea of where the industry needed to be in the next 20 years.
There needed to be a comprehensive conversation about the issues facing farming in the future, including genetic modification/engineering and water quality, he said.
"We've done a great job in the past being the lowest cost producers. We're very proud of it but we are no longer in that space."
If Labour were to be elected in September it would set up a Labour Primary Sector council to sit down with each agricultural sector to ask its vision so government could support those visions and strategies, he said.
"At the moment we're all over the place. You don't take a long-term strategic approach and we're missing opportunities because of that."
Both parties focussed on the future facing farmers. However, National was geared towards sustaining the country's natural resources.
Smith's focus was on being practical environmentalists. Tensions between urban and rural communities had been growing as a result of water quality issues, and E. coli figures showed urban communities were, on average, higher polluted than rural communities, Smith said.
"Urban New Zealand needs to step up to the plate of better water management as much as those that are in rural communities."
The finger pointing over the water contamination in Havelock North was a classic example of how decisions around water quality needed to be made based on facts and science, rather than prejudice, he said.
In Southland, Environment Southland had a big task ahead of it to address nutrients and E. coli issues in the region, while working with the farming community. And while he acknowledged making changes to improve water quality were going to cost farmers, Smith said councils had to have conversations with their communities about the costs associated.
He also promised that agricultural emissions would not be made a part of the Emissions Trade Scheme, under a National government.
While 48 per cent of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions came from the agriculture sector, no other countries had imposed those costs on their primary producers. "We'd be shooting ourselves in the foot", he said.