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Call a halt to housing eating away at our food production potential - Feds

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

While the Ministry for the Environment Our Land 2021 report identifies some challenges in front of us, it also includes plenty of positives, Federated Farmers says.

"The fact that 49% of New Zealand remains native land cover is something to be proud of, especially as we get ready for the release of the National Policy Statement Indigenous Biodiversity," Feds environment spokesperson Chris Allen says.

Our Land 2021, released today, also notes no decline in soil quality from 1994-2018, "and that’s worth acknowledging given the big jump in food production and value from a declining area in farmland. Farmers rely upon good soils, and we’re positive about soil quality improvements to come through good management practices. Federated Farmers would encourage the Ministry for the Environment to use a more current and wider soil data base to determine current soil health across New Zealand, as the data used in this instance seems too small to give an accurate picture.

"While the report indicates New Zealand’s soil profile overall is not improving, we’re at least holding even while farm good management practice begin to bear fruit for our land, out our waterways and emissions," Chris says. However, the report also sends a strong message to central and local government that urban and lifestyle block expansion is eating away at our primary production potential.

Export earnings from our land-based primary industries shot up 91% from $23 billion in 2010 to $44 billion in 2019. The MfE report notes the government wants those earnings to grow by another $44 billion in the next decade to support post-covid economic recovery.

"That’s a hairy and audacious goal when you consider today’s report also shows that since 2002 nearly 1.9 million hectares has gone out of agriculture and horticulture production.

"Even more tellingly, of our most highly production land (flat, best soils, etc), the amount lost to urban sprawl and lifestyle blocks jumped 54% from 69,920 hectares in 2002 to 107,444 hectares in 2019," Chris said.

"Any encroachment of residential living onto productive farmland not only means a loss of that farming land, it also has consequences for those farmers who remain. They face higher land values and consequently higher rates, along with increased council rules and restrictions that fall upon them due to increased amenity expectations of those new urban residents."

Between 2012 and 2017, cattle (dairy/beef) numbers flat-lined at 10.1 million, and sheep numbers further declined from 31 million to 27 million. Fertiliser inputs, including nitrogen, have also been plateauing over the last few years.

"New Zealand’s farmers have again and again proven adept at driving up production from less land and from management and genetic improvements but there comes a time when your run up against limits of nature and efficiency," Chris said. "The sector is being hammered with all sorts of new regulations and costs, and some farmers are at the end of their financial and mental wellbeing tethers."

Another important point highlighted by Our Land 2021 is the changing climate and increasing incidence of droughts. Between 2007 and 2017 it is estimated that drought driven by climate change cost New Zealanders $720 million in insured damages and economic losses. Previous national reports have highlighted that annual rainfall was less than average in 9 of the 14 years from 2000-2014, and droughts in 2008, 2013, 2015, 2016 took a significant toll on agricultural production.

"Contrary to perceptions, Our Land 2021 highlights that only about 5% of our agricultural land is irrigated, most of it in Canterbury. The other 95% is dependent on increasingly unreliable rainfall," Chris said.

"It really does add to the case for increased investment in community water security that Federated Farmers has been pushing for some time now."

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