Compo claim doesn't hold water

Last updated 11:01 08/12/2012

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OPINION: Ranald Gordon is a highly respected Taranaki land valuer who, among other things, specialises in rural property valuations and land compensation issues.

So what he says, and the opinions he expresses, carries a considerable amount of weight.

But he has got things way wrong this week with his suggestion that farmers should be compensated by the Government for the loss of the land they fence off and plant with vegetation to help protect the quality of the water in the streams that run through their properties.

Mr Gordon agrees that riparian fencing and planting is a good thing, but he argues that it also 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 further argues that improving the quality of Taranaki's fresh water via the riparian planting creates a benefit to the community, which in turn brings an obligation for compensation to be considered.

The volume of planting is significant and increasing. As of June this year almost 9500 kilometres of stream banks in Taranaki were fenced and nearly 6000km of stream banks protected by vegetation.

But while on the face of things Mr Gordon's sentiments are noble, they are also fraught. For instance it could be argued that the region's riparian planting initiative, which is administered by the Taranaki Regional Council, has had to be introduced because it was the impact of farming that denuded the landscape of streamside vegetation in the first place.

It could also be argued that fully vegetated riparian margins are necessary these days to help trap increasing amounts of fertiliser and stock effluent runoff from paddocks, which is a direct result of the far greater stock numbers the average Taranaki farm is now carrying.

Not only that, but ever since the riparian scheme was introduced it has been proven time and again that it has benefited the farmers themselves because it has prevented stock losses in waterways, provided more shelter for animals, improved farm biodiversity, and enhanced the cash value of individual farm properties.

And here's one other important fact - all Taranaki's ratepayers are already subsidising the riparian planting effort anyway. This is happening via the TRC using rates income to help fund a riparian plant nursery which sells the plants to farmers at cost. Not only that, but the TRC is also preparing individual farm riparian plans for free, which is a cost again met from rates.

It was not surprising, therefore, that Ranald Gordon's suggestion gained little traction in Taranaki. Fellow valuers, the TRC, and Federated Farmers have all backed off faster than a farmer stepping away from an electric fence on a wet day, agreeing that the riparian scheme assists farmers in a global business setting in which the importance of environmental care is becoming increasingly acknowledged.

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