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Irrigation industry pushes pollution subsidy

May 28, 2014 – Media release for immediate release

Irrigation industry pushes pollution subsidy – Fish & Game NZ

Fish & Game says Irrigation NZ’s scaremongering about nitrogen leaching limits should be seen for what it is – a push for a pollution subsidy.

The irrigation industry already reaps massive taxpayer-funded hand outs for infrastructure development and free water, says Fish & Game chief executive Bryce Johnson, now the sector is telling the public they are going to have to suck up the social, financial and environmental costs of more pollution in their waterways.

“That’s a slap in the face to the 93% of Kiwis who, we know from research, want our waterways to be safe for swimming, fishing and food gathering.

“Irrigation NZ is claiming that to have an economy based on intensive agriculture, which goes hand-in-hand with irrigation development, we have to have toxic rivers and unsafe drinking water. This is the reality in parts of Canterbury – the most heavily irrigated region in the country – and Southland. It’s almost like they’re saying, ‘What’s a little pollution between friends if it makes us rich’.

“I seriously wonder whether Fonterra and Dairy NZ subscribe to Irrigation NZ’s extreme stance calling for Kiwis to accept more pollution in their rivers and drinking water supplies. Perhaps they could tell us?

“The fact is, Irrigation NZ’s ‘either/or’ argument is a myth. We can have a healthy economy and a healthy environment. All the evidence, and the reality on the ground, is that farmers can be profitable and productive while significantly reducing their environmental impact. In some instances they can reduce their nitrogen leaching by up to 40% or more with no or little impact on their profitability.*

“Heading in this direction is New Zealand’s only strategic future.”

It should be noted that the same silly arguments as those being touted by Irrigation NZ were thrown around in the wake of the Horizons Regional Council One Plan ruling, none of which came to fruition, Mr Johnson points out.

Regardless of the Board of Inquiry’s (BOI) draft ruling on nitrogen limits, the economics around the proposed Ruataniwha dam and water supply to farmers have been dodgy from the outset.

“Agriculture industry experts have crunched the numbers and these clearly show a negative return on investment to farmers. This will be compounded by the recently forecast reduced dairy pay-out. Little wonder no one wants to buy in,” says Mr Johnson.

“But it begs the question: Why are Irrigation NZ and others trying so hard to ram this project through with no reference to environmental limits when all it will do is burden farmers with more debt? If farmers aren’t going to benefit, and the Tukituki River will certainly suffer, whose interests are the pro-dam lobby really serving?”

Mr Johnson says it is good that Irrigation NZ has pointed out the poor state of water quality in some regions in New Zealand, noting that it is a legacy of unconstrained agriculture and exactly what the BOI limits were set to address.


*Following are just a few examples of research into profitability impact associated with nitrogen leaching reductions:

1. A report by Dairy NZ (Cost benefit and Economic Impact Analysis of the Horizons One Plan, A report prepared for Dairy NZ and Horizons Regional Council by Nimmo Bell, October 2013) into the economic impacts of the One Plan farming rules, which essentially represents a worse-case scenario, concluded that farmers could on average reduce their leaching by 20% and increase profitability by 2%.

2. Scott Farm in the Waikato leaching 50% less than the regional average while maintaining profitability.

3. Lincoln university dairy farm 20% reduction in N leaching while maintaining profitability.

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