Farmers care deeply about the environment, the welfare of their animals and the legacy they will leave for the next generation of farmers. Farmers have their hands in the soil. They don’t work in an office. They work out among the elements, rain or shine, on their land. They understand the challenges of our topography, our climate, and how they can best work with nature to produce food and fibre. For generations they have wanted to, and do contribute to the success of New Zealand and its economic and social wellbeing. This explains why New Zealand’s on-farm productivity has only ever increased. Farms are truly sustainable in their very operation for they have always allowed future generations to meet their own needs.
Resource Management Act
Farmers continue to support the ethos of section 5 of the Resource Management Act (RMA). That is, sustainable management that allows people and communities to get on with their lives and for the economy to grow while managing any adverse effects of those activities on the environment. New Zealand has many stunning landscape backdrops, as a result landowners continue to be highly vulnerable to the demands of some in the wider community to protect these backdrops from farming and development. The arguments and stance around landscape can often be highly subjective. To this end, a large component of the reforms that are urgently required, and fundamental to farmers’ issues with the RMA, is addressing the changing nature of landscapes as well as the scope and scale of compensation for landowners if land use is unduly restricted under the RMA. The impact and balance of protecting large tracts of private land through the implementation of section 6 (matters of national importance) such as biodiversity and landscape, remains a real challenge for farmers. Placing restrictions on these areas, driven by the desire to protect and enhance, can too easily be expressed through a submission process and then manifested in a decision on a plan, with no consideration of the actual management costs nor the opportunity costs faced by the landowner. There an urgent need for this balance to be redressed through both legislative and policy changes, including inserting property rights as a matter to be weighed against other matters of national importance.
Some councils continue to undertake major plan changes that identify particular areas of farmland, or have large material effects on the way farming activities are managed, without first consulting with affected landowners at a farm scale level. This is of particular concern in respect to implementing landscape and biodiversity rules. There is a growing tide of willingness on behalf of councils and central government to undertake collaborative approaches to developing policy in partnership with external stakeholders. This is leading to some very robust policy frameworks that recognise the practicality of implementing any changes on-farm.
Recent amendments to the RMA have seen some improvements to consenting processes for larger projects and major infrastructure. That said, the ‘little guy’ is still picking up the pieces and the costs. Time and time again our members tell us of delays and additional costs associated with small scale consents. Compliance action has been inconsistent, with proof of environmental effects and the unwillingness of some councils to adopt environmental restorative justice, preferring Environment Court action. This continues to be an issue in some parts of the country, in particular with regulation and enforcement governing farm dairy effluent