OPINION: Last week I sat in at Federated Farmers' National Council meeting in Wellington, where all the top executives come together to solve the world's problems. I found it a thoroughly rewarding experience and always come away from these things with a lot to think about.
It was an opportunity to get an update on issues affecting farmers at the farmgate and overseas, as well as hearing a raft of politicians give their views of the industry and where their parties see the values going forward. We got a feel for what they stand for and we in turn were able to make sense of it all from an industry perspective.
Green Party co-leader Russel Norman spoke about water being the pinnacle of all our problems and setting a bottom-line/safety-net of water quality. While I agree with him and he is not far off the National Policy Statement in wanting to set limits, Norman still remains a selective idealist rather than a realist. It worried me when he talked about water quality needing to be at a level that is swimmable. What an unhinged statement: would he like to go down to Christchurch and other cities where the rivers are rancid and tell these ratepayers about their backyard?
We are not the only ones who are part of the solution, yet it is deathly quiet in the cities when it comes to conversations around sewage plants and infrastructure upgrades. The quicker this is addressed the better. Then we can get on to setting true community values once everyone is in the picture.
Labour leader David Cunliffe was in good spirits and talked of adding value to our industry by having a realistic exchange rate, good capital flows, and better infrastructure. On the other hand, he is going to increase the minimum wage and introduce the capital-gains tax, all of which increase pressure on business owners. If businesses have struggled to survive pre-Labour government, how on earth are they going to survive post?
At face value, the ideas and ideals of Labour paint a picture of a country wanting to work together, but they lack sensible business logic because they advocate for the working class and struggle to create an environment for jobs to be created and businesses to succeed, which is where the opportunities for the working class come from. In my view, they are selling an unrealistic dream.
We had an enlightening and refreshing presentation from Department of Conservation director-general Lou Sanson. He spoke of how musterers would plant poplars outside their hut for firewood. The old DOC policy was to cut them down, but he sees this as part of the heritage of high-country New Zealand and feels they deserve to stay. I found he was more open and understanding of the rural culture, approaching things with a bit more sensitivity.
Another area he touched on was the Tukituki catchment in Hawke's Bay. Sanson said he was troubled by some people who are trying to compare the river quality standard from 1000 years ago to today as a realistic goal. I was encouraged to hear that he felt this was not a realistic approach, as we have evolved the landscape and now it is about working forwards, not backwards.
While we were knuckling down with all these issues, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright released her report, Water quality in New Zealand: Land use and nutrient pollution. While we agree with the report, it looks at the very worst outcomes and refrained from touching on many of the positives, such as the National Objectives Framework for freshwater management, which was released for consultation only two weeks ago. This report is a great start to getting things right, but I would love to see the good work and progress being acknowledged more.
We all have an impact on the environment and, as farmers, we need to do the right thing.
* James Houghton is Federated Farmers Waikato provincial president.
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