Farming's blame merchants should get off the soapbox and work with farmers
OPINION: Yet another consortium has popped up to opine that farming is solely responsible for the decline in New Zealand's water quality and thus are also liable for all and every cost involved with cleaning it all up.
Usually I wouldn't pay this lot much attention as they consist of tired old dinosaurs, Fish & Game, the Environmental Defence Society and Massey University lecturer Dr Russell Death.
However, this time they have roped in the Tourism Export Council, and their argument is that agriculture is threatening our reputation as a tourist destination. So all agriculture must be sizably reduced or eliminated before the environmental damage becomes irreversible.
While intensive agriculture does have some negative impacts on our environment, most farmers and farming organisations have now recognised and accepted the science around this and have made substantial investments and improvements to remedy downstream problems.
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Where is the admission from the board of the Tourism Export Council of the damage to the environment wreaked by millions of visitors, especially the pollution from "freedom campers"?
On walks along several of our local mountain tracks, I am disgusted to find human waste, paper and glass strewn around our native bush, rivers and streams.
Where does the liability and responsibility lie for these polluting tourists? Most of the regional catchment committees that end up dealing with that kind of mess will be heavily comprised of farmers, who once again step up for the benefit of the greater community.
Fish & Game shouldn't throw stones, not until they can articulate their policies around protecting New Zealand waterways from wildfowl E. coli, and how they are protecting native fish stocks from their invasive predatory game fish.
The damage these two factors are having on the quality of our freshwater and on native species cannot be underestimated, yet Fish & Game seem to hope that if they can divert attention from these issues to elsewhere, their public perception will be untarnished.
And I guess the Massey University social experiment continues, with the hypothesis being that if we as a country can decimate around 30-40 per cent of our GDP through eliminating our world-class agricultural industry, somehow our standard of living will not only remain stable but could somehow improve. Good luck with that.
While agriculture has had impacts on our water quality over the years, the main difference between agriculture and these other players is that we in the primary production sectors acknowledge and believe we have a real part to play in pursuing solutions and improving the quality of our waterways.
And we're putting in the hard yards – and investment – to do it.
This is already being demonstrated, with 80 per cent of water in the Waikato catchment showing to be either stable or improving in some facet of measurement. Some targets that have been set through Plan Change 1 to be exceeded within the first 10 years.
Bold claims I know, but where is this level of solution and commitment from Fish & Game, Massey University and the Tourism Export Council?
All their "solutions" require other parties and sectors to suffer significant financial and social losses for questionable environmental gains all the while trying to protect their share and stakeholders from any sort of negative impact.
Maybe if more of their stakeholders lived and worked in these affected communities, and had 'skin in the game', their arguments would carry more weight with me.
But it's easy to make these lofty pronouncements from the middle of Auckland or Wellington, where ironically the water pollution is some of the worst in the country.
So I invite these organisations to get on board with our agricultural representatives to take ownership of the issues and become part of the solutions.
The issues are everybody's problems, and the only way we will address them is through a unified approach that has a win-win outcome for all.
- Andrew McGiven is Waikato Federated Farmers president.
A previous version called the Tourism Export Council, Tourism New Zealand. This has since been corrected.