OPINION: In recent weeks there has been considerable debate over the Horizons Regional Council One Plan that imposes resource consent restrictions for market gardening, vegetable farming, cropping and dairy farming in the region's priority water catchments. These consents include detailed nutrient management plans and nitrogen caps to reduce the amount of nitrogen entering waterways and require stringent limits to be met.
Primary Industries Minister David Carter cited a Government report that said farming profits could drop by as much as 43 per cent as a result. That figure was hotly disputed as inaccurate by economists Gareth Morgan and Susan Guthrie (A new low in the fight for freshwater management, November 26). Sadly, they were wrong, almost certainly in the case of vegetable growers.
The Tararua Growers Association knows that the One Plan will have a devastating effect not only on our businesses but the whole economy of the region.
Our problem is a simple one. We grow our vegetables across a large number of many different blocks, some of us use 30 to 50 different blocks of land (different blocks each year) and with resource consent charges likely to cost between $600 and $1000 for each block used, grower costs will be catastrophically prohibitive.
Vegetable growers rotate their crops and have done for thousands of years. Rotation makes growing sustainable. Different crops require different levels of nutrients. To meet market demand, growers vary the rotation. Often they have no choice because of supermarket requirements.
Problems in measuring the rotation, and fertiliser in drainage (a requirement of the resource consent) mean growing many crops, especially leafy green vegetables such as spinach, lettuce, celery or silverbeet, will become unsustainable and uneconomic. Growers in other regions don't face these costs and will benefit from our disadvantage.
To remain competitive many growers raise up to three different vegetable crops a year but the One Plan renders this kind of intensive market gardening impossible. These growers will be forced to shift to less intensive agriculture or be forced out of business, reducing vegetable supply as the land use is swapped to activities like grazing sheep or cattle.
Reduce the supply of vegetables and, as most economists can tell you, the price of vegetables will go up. Unlike other forms of farming, horticulture is labour intensive.
For example, the most significant gardening business in Horowhenua is Woodhaven Gardens, which operates across 650 acres and employs more than 100 people, most fulltime. There are about 200 growers in the Horizons region, employing thousands of people and if many of those growers go out of business because of the One Plan, the effect on jobs will be considerable.
We agree everyone needs to do what they can to clean up waterways and areas such as Lake Horowhenua. However, the One Plan targets the few and ignores the many when it comes to the root causes of water management problems.
For 50 years Levin's sewage entered local lakes and the town's Queen St drain is still the main source of phosphorus entering the lake from surface water. Run-off from industry, urban areas, residential subdivisions and roads has been ignored by the council in the One Plan. More than half the land use in the region, including extensive beef and sheep farming, is not covered by the plan at all.
Vegetable growers are being made environmental scapegoats without any real evidence that we are actually responsible for the problems we are blamed for.
Horticulture accounts for only 2.5 per cent of land use in the Lake Horowhenua catchment but, aside from dairying, intensive beef and sheep farming and cropping, the One Plan leaves out almost every other potential cause of water management issues in the region.
There is no single cause of poor water quality, it is a problem that needs to be addressed by all of us.
Growers and Horticulture NZ have long been working on tools to measure and maintain industry standards for the use of nutrients such as nitrogen and we have been working hard on issues like phosphorus and soil retention.
We have established a sound code of practice so that we produce safe, dependable, high-quality food at reasonable prices for Kiwis.
There is no doubt that growers are already doing their best to become "sustainable", to care for their land and protect local waterways and lakes. After all, we live here, many of us for more than five generations, and we are as affected as anyone else by their deterioration. However, imposing the One Plan's rigid, uniform, and extremely harsh system of nutrient levels required, irrespective of the individual nature and circumstances of the growers' farms, is agricultural suicide for most of us.
The Horizons One Plan does not just hurt vegetable growers, inevitably it will hurt consumers and push up the price of food. It will hurt workers and cost their jobs, it will damage rural service industries and have a domino effect on an already fragile country town economy.
The Horizons council and its councillors need apply a better sense of balance to the One Plan and take into account the social and economic damage it will do if it does not actively co-operate with groups such as the Tararua Growers Association and Horticulture NZ to ensure a realistic, sensible and viable management scheme for our region.
Terry Olsen is a Horowhenua potato grower and chairman of the Tararua Growers Association.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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