Farmers reluctant on land compo

Taranaki registered valuer Ranald Gordon
Taranaki registered valuer Ranald Gordon

Government compensation for land lost when stream banks are fenced would fairly recognise farmers' contribution to the greater good, says Taranaki registered valuer Ranald Gordon.

He is a keen fisherman who fully supports riparian fencing and planting, the Clean Streams Accord and Fonterra initiatives to protect streams.

Riparian fencing and planting which comply with Fonterra and Taranaki Regional Council (TRC) requirements have been completed on his own dairy farm near Stratford.

But he says fencing streams for the public good stops farmers generating income from land for which they have paid fair value, on which they hold title and on which they pay rates.

He is concerned that further riparian encroachment, including planting on already fenced high- value land adjoining streams and drains, will result in productivity and revenue losses.

Taranaki-King Country MP Shane Ardern rejects Gordon's comments as a campaign farmers can't win, and the TRC says riparian management is not a land grab.

Director of resource management Fred McLay says farmers should regard riparian management as a protection of their licence to operate.

"In no way is it a land grab where farmers should be expected to be compensated," he said.

Stressing his view is personal and not that of his employer, Parininihi ki Waitotara, Gordon argues that creating a benefit to the community brings an obligation for compensation to be considered.

"If everyone gets the benefit out of improvements to the environment, then everyone should contribute to that improvement," he said.

"If someone in New Plymouth had five metres sliced off their section for the northern outlet upgrade, any farmer would support their claim for compensation.

"It's a matter of equity. Why should one sector pay for the benefit the whole community is receiving?

"I find it a little strange that there has been no noise about this."

He said a precedent for compensation existed in the creation of esplanade reserves.

Landowners also received compensation in other instances when their land was used for the public good.

Under the Public Works Act, owners of land taken for roading were compensated.

Farmers with pipeline easements on their farms received 50 per cent compensation of the land value under the Crown Minerals Act and usually had restricted use of the land. "Compensation is paid for the diminution of the land right," Gordon said.

Taranaki Federated Farmers dairy chairman Derek Gibson said he would be surprised if farmers wanted compensation for land fenced to protect streams. "Farmers accept that it's a good thing to do, that it's for the greater good."

Although owners of high- altitude farms might lose large areas when they fenced streams, he asked how compensation would be calculated.

"Where would you start compensation and where would you stop? Farmers fence streams for the greater good of the environment and it often allows them to farm in a more environmentally friendly way.

"Any short-term losses are balanced by the good that is done to the environment. We're doing it so we can be farming in 30 or 40 years' time. We're farming for the future."

McLay said farmers who failed to plant the stream banks would be subject to regulation.

"Put simply, the annual cost of the programme for many farmers equates to the likely annual compliance cost, so there is a win- win to get the work done early and avoid any issues with the regulatory approach," he said.

Former New Zealand Institute of Valuers president John Larmer, of New Plymouth, said farmers benefited from riparian planting because it improved the state of waterways, provided more shelter for stock and generally enhanced the value of farms.

Ardern, who chairs the primary production select committee, says calling for compensation is not a campaign farmers can win. Although he agrees Gordon has a point, he says there are issues of greater concern to farmers.

Scientific evidence showed riparian fencing and planting benefited the environment, provided shelter for stock and improved farm biodiversity and aesthetics.

The Labour Party's proposals to introduce an emissions trading tax and to restrict water and nitrate use would have a far greater impact on farming businesses than a lack of compensation for riparian fencing.

He said New Zealand traded on its clean, green image and sustainable farming.

"So what's a reasonable price to pay for that?"

Farmers did not want environmental degradation and were prepared to pay to stop it, as shown by Fonterra's commitment to the Clean Streams Accord.

In the 1990s, he paid TRC to prepare a riparian plan for his Te Kiri dairy farm. Today, farmers were not charged for plans.

He spent the weekends of his early parliamentary career building fences and planting about 7ha of land beside the streams on his 200ha farm - a task he resented after working 100-hour weeks in Parliament.

"But I knew I had to do it."

Already the TRC provided plants for riparian planting at cost and he suggested that help with the labour for fencing and planting would be of more value than compensation for land loss.

Regional council figures show that nearly 2400 riparian plans cover 95 per cent of Taranaki dairy farms and most of the ring plain and coastal terraces.

As of June 30 this year, nearly 9500km of stream banks were fenced and nearly 6000km - or 60 per cent - of stream banks were protected by vegetation.

The council expects 93 per cent of stream banks will be fenced by June 30 2017, leaving 384km unfenced.

Taranaki Daily News