National leader Judith Collins unveils agriculture policy

Amelia Wade, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 24 Sep 2020, 3:38pm
Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

National leader Judith Collins unveils agriculture policy

Amelia Wade, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 24 Sep 2020, 3:38pm

The National Party has nine recently-passed water regulations in its crosshairs which it says have caused "significant concern" in farming communities.

It is also pledging - if elected - to make seven changes to the Zero Carbon Act, create a fast-tracked Primary Sector Visa and allow skilled workers and Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers to enter New Zealand.

National leader Judith Collins and agriculture spokesman David Bennett unveiled their party's primary industries policy at a stud farm in Gisborne this morning.

Bennett said Labour "took farmers for granted".

"Now as we face an economic crisis we are seeing just how foolish Labour's treatment of farmers was," Bennett said.

National said Labour sent "a strong and clear message to farmers" that their contribution wasn't valued which led to agricultural sector confidence falling to record lows.

"We face the steepest economic contraction in 160 years, and it is our primary industries keeping the economy afloat. This pandemic shows why we cannot take our world-leading primary sector for granted."

Bennett said there would be a demand for more sustainability in farming practices but farmers were "up for this challenge".

National's 11-page policy document mentions sustainability 11 times.

Included in its promises to the sector are to:

• Create a fast-tracked Primary Sector Visa
• Repeal or review the nine new water regulations Labour introduced in August
• Promote water storage options
• Review the treatment of forestry in the Emissions Trading Scheme
• Remove the exemption that streamlines the process for forestry applications in the Overseas Investment Office test
• Remove the review process around introducing agriculture into the Emissions Trading Scheme in 2022
• Pass seven changes to the Zero Carbon Bill, including a review of the methane target
• Pursue an active free trade agenda to open up new markets for New Zealand's food and fibre products.
• Enforce stronger penalties for biosecurity offences.

National's agriculture spokesman David Bennett. Photo / Supplied
National's agriculture spokesman David Bennett. Photo / Supplied

National said there were nine rules which were passed by the Government in the last days of Parliament sitting which it would review or repeal. They include:

• Standards for intensive winter grazing which it said were particularly onerous for regions like Southland where there are extended periods of time, up to 100 days, of no grass growth during the winter.
• The cap on nitrogen fertiliser use for dairy farms which it says is "unscientific and arbitrary".
• The bottom line for nitrogen in waterways which it says are unachievable in many cases and would lead to a loss of productive capacity
• Slope and fencing rules for sheep and beef farmers to fence waterways up to a gradient of 10 degrees, which it says is "a major new cost".
• The land-use rules which it says constrain the ability of farmers to undertake land-use change.
• Certified and audited Freshwater Farm
• Change the rules on winter pads and standoff pads and instead have a case-by-case appraisal rather than a blanket ruling.
• Removal of stock from natural wetlands which it says are "particularly onerous" with a 0.05 land area definition. Instead, it would tighten up this rule to make it only captured true wetlands, "not just wet paddocks".
• Electronic measuring and reporting on water usage.

National said it recognises "in some cases, there is a need for water meters" but it wanted to work with regional authorities around where and when water meters are required.

As well, it would make seven changes to the Zero Carbon Act which commits to achieve net-zero long-lived greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and a 24 to 47 per cent decrease in short-lived methane emissions.

Among the changes it would make are reviewing the methane target, include reference to greenhouse gas mitigation not threatening food production, review the use of forestry offsets and separate emissions budgets for biogenic methane.

This comes after Collins got choked up at a public meeting yesterday, when asked about the mental health of people in rural New Zealand.

"It makes me emotional," Collins said.

"Every farmer and every farmer's family needs to know it is valuable work. I don't think farmers are going to listen to people coming along and telling them to feel better.

"I will always stand up for farmers and their families. That is gold, frankly. Nobody does a better job than farmers."

Collins has also accused Labour leader Jacinda Ardern of not caring about the horticultural sector, as it struggled to find workers.