Cities contributing to water pollution

David Clark, arable farmer of Ashburton, says he’s saddened to hear and read the hatred and vitriol that been brought into this election campaign.

“I am very concerned at the rift between urban and rural and the disconnection between food production and our population,” says David, who feels so strongly he’s written down his thoughts, some of which are reproduced here:

“I live in a district whose main town has virtually the lowest unemployment in New Zealand. We have a vibrant, multi-cultural community that offers a wide range of employment opportunities and a very high level of community facilities. This is much transformed town that come out of the 80s with its tail firmly between its legs.

Ashburton is a town that has been transformed in the past 25 years by the development of irrigation, both in arable and dairying land uses. This district grows over half of the world’s carrot and radish seeds along with a wide variety of other crops exported worldwide. We produce eight per cent of the national dairy production.

I am an arable farmer using irrigation to grow seed crops that are exported worldwide, and grain and vegetable crops for domestic food consumption as well as finishing lambs for New Zealand butchers and export.

We first put irrigation on in 1998 and then in 2011 installed pivots to achieve more efficient water use and lower leaching than the older irrigators we had originally operated, at a cost of well over $1 million. We did that voluntarily because it increased our production, reduced our water use and significantly reduced our environmental footprint, however we could only justify that expenditure because our business was bankable.

Profit reinvested

Our business proudly supports local firms for the provision of goods and services and, like our fellow farmers, most of the gross income is spent in the local community and profit, if any, is largely reinvested in our business via local firms.

I attended a public meeting to hear Labour water spokesperson David Parker present his proposal for a tax on irrigation water. His presentation was headed ‘How did we get to this?’ and showed a series of photos from around New Zealand of environmental degradation caused by agriculture. The photos showed practices that are unacceptable for sure, no argument about that, but a selective portrayal of the worst of the worst in my view.

Urban waterway

At not one point did I hear any positive comment of the actions of the farming community in New Zealand. But interestingly, none of the photos depicted anything in Mid-Canterbury, had nothing to do with arable agriculture and only one shot of Coe’s Ford after three years of drought had any connection to irrigation. There was only one photo of a degraded urban waterway and that was one that Federated Farmers had provided to Mr Parker earlier in the day and challenged him to display.

The purpose of the meeting and continuation of his presentation was to explain the Labour Party’s intention to impose a tax on irrigation in New Zealand with the intent of using the money raised to repair environmental damage.

I listened to the proposal and wondered why, if using a public resource for private profit was so villainous, would a food producer using irrigation be taxed, but a soft drink company abstracting water from the Auckland Municipal supply be exempt?

Environmental footprint

I accept that farming has an environmental footprint; no doubt. I also accept that practices need to, and will, change. In my view, technology and regulation will go hand-in-hand to solve those problems. Interestingly the three key policies that David Parker said he would implement are already in place by way of the Canterbury Land and Water Plan and he congratulated the national government-appointed commissioners at ECan on introducing a robust water management framework.

We regularly swim with our children in the river that bounds our farm; in fact I would happily drink it. I, along with thousands of others, enjoy recreation in Lake Hood which is fed by the Ashburton River.

But the media and the Left would portray our rivers as dangerously polluted and degraded.

In comparison, I cannot swim in the Avon or Heathcote, nor the Christchurch Estuary which are subjected to storm water flows, overflows from the sewer network, seepage from broken sewers and heavy metals and petroleum contamination, which at times are several hundred times safe levels.

Ruataniwha Dam

We hear much of the risks of the Ruataniwha Dam, but overlook the reality that the Hawke’s Bay’s two cities pump their sewerage out in the bay. Invercargill City is currently arguing in the courts to renew its consent to discharge sewerage into four waterways, including a lagoon.

I grew up in South Auckland and enjoyed swimming at the most magnificent beaches during summer. The situation now is that one million cubic metres of sewerage and wastewater pours into the harbour every year, regularly requiring the beaches to be closed to swimmers.

Yet the Left are silent on urban water quality issues – best not scare the voters with any suggestion they may need to fund the upgrade of their own effluent disposal system. It is far more politically expedient to poke the borax at farmers. We all have a footprint on this planet – poor water quality has many causes and we are all responsible for the many solutions. Taxing only one group is not that solution.

Across New Zealand we are covering much of our elite food producing soils with the ongoing march of urban sprawl, permanently removing this land from production. Surely mankind cannot have more of a footprint that covering food-producing soil with concrete.

The caretaker

In our world we are challenged to produce food at the lowest price in the world. We do so by employing world-leading technology to be some of the most efficient producers on the planet. If we are not, the manufacturers and supermarkets will turn and import the ingredients quickity-split.

Our family has proudly farmed continuously in various parts of New Zealand for 140 years; I am but a caretaker and would hope that at least one of my children might take our family forward as food producers. It is in our very best interests to ensure that this property is in better condition for the next generation than when I began my stewardship.


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