One Plan to be changed amid fears of farm closures and $15 cabbages

A cabbage might cost $15 if Horowhenua growers are forced out of the horticulture industry.
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A cabbage might cost $15 if Horowhenua growers are forced out of the horticulture industry.

Horowhenua's reputation as the fruit and vegetable bowl of the lower North Island is in grave danger, with intensive crop farmers unlikely to be able to get resource consents unless changes are made.

There are fears 30 per cent of produce could be taken out of the New Zealand food chain, and cabbages could rise to as much as $15 each in the worst-case scenario.

Furthermore,  most farmers across Tararua, Whanganui, Horowhenua and Ruapehu will be in the same consent boat, with the cost of compliance likely to put many out of business.

Farm worker Taane Vili out working in the Garden of York's cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage fields near Levin. Will ...
ROBERT KITCHIN/STUFF

Farm worker Taane Vili out working in the Garden of York's cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage fields near Levin. Will such enterprises be able to carry on?

On top of that, Horizons Regional Council has engaged a Crown solicitor to see if it should be prosecuting the growing number of unconsented farmers.

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The revelations have forced the council to look at changing its resource management blueprint, which has been bogged down by legal challenges and court hearings.

The council's strategy and policy committee unanimously voted on Wednesday  to investigate options for changing its One Plan, which sets the rules for the use of resources within Horizons' boundaries.

Council strategy and policy group manager Dr Nic Peet effectively told the committee only 5 per cent of farms would have had big issues getting consents under the original One Plan. But court decisions  meant the plan got to a point where anywhere between 50 and 90 per cent of farms would be unable to get consent  because of nitrogen leaching targets.

While all areas had issues, Horowhenua would be one of the hardest hit, Peet said.

The waterways were already heavily polluted and horticulture  produced high levels of nitrate, he said.

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"In my view, it would be virtually impossible for [Horowhenua horticulturalists] to obtain consent. We would essentially be saying that land use would be over."

Councillor and former regional Federated Farmers president Gordon McKellar​ said the complexity and cost of consent applications, which some experts thought could cost $40,000 per farm, made applying for them "economic suicide".

"The whole Horowhenua area is key for winter vegetables.

"We would be taking [food] off the table throughout the lower North Island and pricing them up out of the reach of consumers."

Cr Bruce Rollinson​ said wiping out horticulture in the Horizons area could take 30 per cent of New Zealand's produce off the table and bump prices so high people may be paying $15 for a single cabbage.

"It is a very serious problem in terms of food security across New Zealand."

Another big  problem brought up at the meeting was the number of farms operating without resource consents, technically breaching the Resource Management Act, since the One Plan came into being.

​Peet said Ben Vanderkolk, the Crown solicitor for Palmerston North who was present at the meeting, had been engaged to see if the council should be prosecuting unconsented farmers. 

"We can choose how to do enforcement, and we have established processes around it, but I don't want to sit here and say how this will all go," Peet said.

A vote at a full council meeting is needed before council staff can start looking at plan change options.

 - Stuff

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