Farmer hits out at both National and Labour water policies as bad for farming
National's water policy is as much a threat to his business as Labour's, a Canterbury farmer who uses irrigation water says.
John Ridgen, a sixth generation farmer with a mixed arable and sheep and beef finishing property near Darfield, said he would be "lost" without being able to use water from the Central Plains Water (CPW) scheme.
He acknowledged Labour had been "cunning" in not revealing a royalty rate, although Federated Farmers has calculated a cost for farming, based on a 10c per litre charge. It says it would mean $600 billion for sheep and beef food production alone.
However, Labour's environment spokesman David Parker dismissed this and told RNZ the cost to farming and horticulture would not go above $500 million.
Ridgen said it was a case of a "plague on both their houses" because National's water quality standards recently announced for Lake Ellesmere would be crippling.
"To achieve them would pretty much stop all farming between the Waimakariri and the Rangitata Rivers, so National are just as bad."
Ridgen uses 1.3 billion litres of water a year since he joined the CPW scheme two years ago. He has to pay $200,000 a year for that, consisting of a $185,000 to the scheme itself and $15,000 a year for monitoring and other costs.
His 800 hectare farm (400 ha home property, 400 ha leased) is between 50-60 per cent arable and the remainder a finishing business. It supports four workers and him and his family.
Ridgen said if water charges or other constraints became too onerous, he would possibly have to convert to dairy, but that would create more pollution and defeat the purpose of any change to try and clean up water.
Meanwhile farming and horticulture leaders have all weighed in against the Labour Party's water policy. Federated Farmers challenged Labour to come up with numbers to support the policy or else voters were "sailing blind into the election".
Federated Farmers water spokesman Chris Allen said if the principle was to charge large commercial users, that had to apply to Manapouri also because the scheme diverted Southland's freshwater that after generating electricity goes straight to the sea.
Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman said the policy would mean extra costs on growers of fruit and vegetables and make healthy food more expensive.
HortNZ did not support a blanket tax without considering New Zealand's overall water priorities, which included water for drinking, sanitation and food production.
Massey University's Dr James Lockhart said there were already ways to to make New Zealand's waterways cleaner, without punishing specific sectors and damaging property rights.
Regional and local councils had the power to enforce stricter controls over pollution, although he conceded some of them were failing in their duty.
There was also an issue over the different costs facing businesses which invested in storage schemes, and those which took directly from artesian supplies or surface water.
"So, if a business has its own harvesting and storage, does it pay the same royalty as a business that takes artesian ground water or surface water? At that point some fundamental property rights are being removed from those who have invested in their own systems."
DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle suggested a Water Roundtable could be set up to look at the question.
He said Labour's proposal to introduce a water royalty for commercial water users would be difficult and require extensive consultation.
"Within a farming business, just like any business, commercial water rates already apply. Our farmers also pay for access to irrigation, and access to water on their land through council consents. Water royalties could potentially duplicate these costs," Mackle said.
NZ First leader Winston Peters described the policy as badly conceived.
"One large vegetable grower has applied a single cent of water tax per litre of water, and has come up with an eye-watering 300 per cent increase in supermarket prices."
"The grower is questioning who Labour thinks will foot the bill because from his perspective, it will mean a $25m annual tax bill," Peters said.
*Audio courtesy of Radio NZ