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Mallarad: Farming, the environment and opportunity

21 November 2007 Speech Notes

Embargoed until:12.15pm

Farming, the environment and seizing opportunities

Environment Minister Trevor Mallard's speech to the National Council of Federated Farmers, Te Papa, Wellington

Thank you for the invitation to address you this afternoon – I hope that it will be the first of many opportunities to meet with you in my new role as Minister for the Environment.

Primary industries, such as agriculture, are critically important contributors to the New Zealand economy – you are the backbone, and you play a crucial role as stewards of large areas of our rural environment.

I know that many of your members are very serious about looking after New Zealand’s environment – you know it's good for farming since the environment is your most important resource, and I am sure you also know that it is good for our clean green image, for our tourism sector and for our national identity.

I will talk about this a bit more later, but looking after our environment in a sustainable way also has huge economic potential as the world gets to grips with responding to the challenges of climate change, and as consumers the world over seek out and demand to buy food, products and services that are environmentally sustainable and climate friendly.

I would like to share some observations about what the farming sector can do to build on this ethos and how we – the farming sector and the Labour-led government can work constructively together to improve environmental outcomes.

Firstly though, let me touch on the Resource Management Act and its obvious connections to sustainability in New Zealand. I see that Federated Farmers yesterday released its ‘Six Pack Fix’ - a booklet outlining six suggestions on how the Act might be improved.

It is good to see that Federated Farmers supports the Act's aims in promoting sustainable management. But can I suggest that your proposed changes largely ignore the benefits to farming of maintaining New Zealand's 'clean green image' and the role that the Resource Management Act plays in this.

We can not ignore the fact that our primary and tourism sectors account for some 80 per cent of our foreign exchange and these industries account directly or indirectly for about one third of our GDP. Our clean green image is a particularly important driver of the value of our primary industries exports in the international marketplace.

Secondly, I'm pleased to note that many of the solutions you have proposed appear to be focused more on the way that the Act is implemented rather than on legislative change itself.

We know the RMA can be better implemented and we are already working on this. There are also opportunities for your members to affect change through active participation in the future development of national policy statements, national environmental standards, regional policy statements and plans and district plans.

These documents will set the agenda for future decision making. It is important that the farming sector makes sure it is there at the table when these RMA policies are being considered and drafted.

I'd really encourage you to make submissions, but if you can get actively involved in policy as it is being developed you are likely to have more influence.

A good example of Federated Farmers engaging early with government is your contribution to developing a proposed National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management. Work on this is underway and I understand Federated Farmers is chairing the Primary Sector Reference Group which has developed a set of overarching principles for inclusion in the policy statement.

Federated Farmers has also contributed to two proposed water-related national environmental standards through participating in working groups. One of the proposed standards focuses on measuring water takes, and the other on ecological flows and water levels.

Your opportunities to have input continues as a large number of regional policy statements and plans will be coming up for review over the next few years. As with national instruments, this will provide your members with an opportunity to influence land use policy.

The trick is to engage early and meaningfully with elected representatives and council staff.

As I mentioned earlier, the Labour-led government is working hard to ensure the Resource Management Act is well implemented and understood and we've initiated a substantial best practice programme for RMA practitioners, local body councillors and others working in the RMA area.

The award winning Quality Planning website, which is a dedicated website for RMA practitioners, is receiving a lot of interest and attracting up to 30,000 visits a month.

More than 900 local authority councillors and independent commissioners have completed the Making Good Decisions RMA Training Programme.

Through the Targeted Assistance Programme eight local authorities have, or are, receiving assistance to review and improve performance in RMA consent processing and other RMA practice. All this should lead to improvements in the implementation of the Act and provide the correct balance between sustainable management and addressing your concerns.

Let me move on to another issue that is important to the farming sector and to the rest of New Zealand – fresh water.

Clearly, our fresh water resources play a vital role in driving the primary sector economy.

Impacts on the quality and availability of this resource affect the bottom line, and this is true for other sectors of the economy as well.

Our government’s aim is to ensure our freshwater resources can meet social and cultural needs, as well as the economic and environmental needs of future generations. This means not just thinking about the present.

The evidence I am seeing about water quality and also the multitude of demands on water shows that we need to do a lot of work.

In light of this I’d like to pose a couple of questions and start some constructive discussion around one objective being considered for improving freshwater management.

Too many of New Zealand’s lakes and rivers are unsuitable for drinking and even swimming because of poor water quality.

Clearly this has to change and the real issues that we need to face are the standards to be applied and the timeframe in which those standards have to be met.

Is it too much to ask that riverwater that used to be drinkable is returned to that state in the medium term, and should we settle for getting that riverwater that used to be suitable for swimming, back to that state?

Is it sensible to do this by 2025 which is about a generation from now?

I’d also like to mention opportunities in the Climate Change Package for Agriculture.

As many of you will be aware my colleague, the Hon David Parker, recently announced New Zealand’s climate change solutions, and Dr Cullen discussed the proposed emissions trading scheme with you in more detail yesterday.

As you know, agriculture will come into the emissions trading scheme on 1 January 2013 and will be allocated 90 per cent of its 2005 levels of emissions. This allocation will be phased out by 2025 and from that point there will no longer be any free allocation of emission units. That means that the sector needs to have regard to what it’s emitting from now on.

Leading up to 2013 the government expects those involved in agriculture will start reducing emissions before the trading scheme applies.

To achieve reductions, the sector can roll out existing technology such as nutrient management plans, nitrification inhibitors and improved energy efficiency.

Rather than dwell on possible downsides, let us emphasise that the agriculture sector will benefit from this roll out in several ways as it begins to reduce emissions.

For example, nutrient budgets and management plans will reduce costs and improve water quality.

Importantly this will help the sector to be better positioned to compete in international markets where our environmental and climate change performance now counts.

It is also important, however, to consider the wider implications of climate change policy, and the potential upsides for farmers, and land-owners in general.

The Labour-led government is pushing for broad participation in international climate change agreements, to ensure that over time your competitors face similar costs, thereby maintaining a level playing field.

Securing international agreements is very important for New Zealand for a couple of reasons.

It will create world wide demand for emission reducing technologies - technologies that New Zealand is already starting to develop.

Furthermore, in pushing for broad participation by countries internationally, the demand for all possible mitigation opportunities will only increase.

Take for example the increased demand for biofuels in the United States, which in 2006 resulted in more than a third of the total US maize crop being processed for biofuels (nearly 50 percent increase on 2005), and a near doubling in the price of maize.

As you will all know, maize is a key component of feedstock for non-pastoral farming, and while it is impossible to determine precisely how much affect the increased price has had on agricultural commodity prices, it is fair to say that some of the recent $2 billion increase to the dairy farmers payout was due to the increased demand for biofuels in the US.

It is also fair to say that the demand for land-based mitigation opportunities, such as growing biofuels, avoiding deforestation, and promoting afforestation will only increase globally, thereby increasing the prices of land-based commodities such as meat, wool, timber, and dairy products.

By working together, we can ensure that New Zealand is well placed to take full advantage of this shift in international markets.

In conclusion, I want to acknowledge the contribution that the farming sector makes to New Zealand, both economically and for land stewardship. I know you are making efforts to ensure the resources from which you derive your livelihood are not compromised.

Achieving better environmental outcomes involves thinking carefully and strategically about how to become more effective stewards of the land, and how to seize the growing economic opportunities that will flow from actions to stop climate change and from the demands from international consumers.

In many ways, it's up to you – as individual farmers and at an industry level about where you want to be in this process. But can I underline that the Labour-led government is keen to work with you collaboratively and constructively on how we can meet the challenges and rise to the many opportunities that true sustainability and carbon neutrality offers New Zealand.

ends


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