Written By: - Date published: 1:09 pm, September 20th, 2017 - 98 comments
Categories: Economy, Environment, farming - Tags: federated farmers, granny herald, hubbard, nz herald, rural intensification, urban intensification
The organisation Federated Farmers continued their fear campaign today in a Herald editorial. Their anonymous spokesman made their demand that “Farmers should know they are still appreciated“.
Of course, in the Federated Farmers usual style, their unsophisticated propaganda managed to avoid actually discussing the underlying issues, the similarities between the urban and the rural landscapes, and the differences in the responses of the people living and working in them.
Both rural and urban landscapes have had a massive intensification of creatures living there over the last decades. This has increased the drain on resources like water and the amounts of crap and other waste made by these creatures, human and cow. Ultimately both were caused by policy decisions made by our government, overseas governments and the background of a steadily increasing world population of creatures.
In farming, since I last started worked in the industry 40 years ago, animal sizes have increased dramatically as more dairy and beef has replaced sheep and a lot of cropping. The intensive farming techniques have extended into regions of the country that were climatically off limits by the use of irrigation, the use of feed pads and supplementary feeds, and a host of other techniques. This has had the effect in those areas of simultaneously consuming vast amounts of fresh clean water available especially during dry periods, and increasing the leaching of both the waste from farming practices and the existing soil minerals.
Consequently over the last few decades we have seen falling water volumes in aquifers and waterways and the water quality in both has been getting progressively worse. But this isn’t a new problem, it is just a more intense problem across the whole rural sector.
Something that anonymous FF spokeman in the Herald editorial reluctantly pointed out in their demands for more respect.
It is true that environmentalists have convinced the great majority of urban dwellers that the country’s waterways are seriously polluted and dairy farming is the principal culprit.
Farmers do not deny it but they would like some recognition of the efforts many of them are making.
Dairy farms have agreed to fence off 98 per cent of their land adjoining waterways.
I’d add that of even more significance was that all of the milking sheds and even feed lots now treat to one degree or another treat their runoff waste before discharging it. When the farmers actually fence off the waterways it will alleviate more of the issue. However they are a long way from that at present. It won’t actually stop most of leaching of leached pollutants into the ground water or the waterways, but it’d help.
It will give a better chance of reducing to accretion rate to closer to something that natural water filtering systems can deal with and start to reduce the downstream costs, both to other farmers and to the towns and urban areas who have to live with the leachates. Speaking as someone who trained in earth sciences and had an opportunity to analyse ground water samples from the Waikato 40 years ago, what is currently in progress doesn’t have a shit show of actually preventing the pollution problems from farms or to clean up the accumulated crap that showed up in my samples that long ago.
However after that rare burst of candour, the anonymous FF spokesman at the Herald proceeded to demonstrate where what I consider to be the major issue with the “rural-urban” divide lies (my italics).
All farmers – not just those in the dairy industry – have a part to play in helping revive our rural rivers.
And urban dwellers, too, need to recognise they also have an impact on waterways.
No-one should doubt the impact we are all having on rivers and streams.
You hardly need to convince urban or provincial town dwellers and businesses of that.
Unlike farmers we already pay monthly charges to deal with waste and to minimise their impact on natural resources. We have done so for generations.
They are called water bills, sewerage bills, and through our organisations like councils and council organisations we pay considerably for having and growing the infrastructure to deal with it. They are pretty steep charges that suck into our available incomes and profits. They are used to ensure that the use of natural resources and the resulting waste of all of the creatures, humans and pets, in the cities and towns is minimised. Somehow unlike the farmers grumbling in Morrinsville or Federated Farmers we do this with far less wailing and gnashing of teeth, and we definitely don’t demand the respect of others for doing it like the current whinging from some farmers calls for.
Over the last 18 years that I have owned my apartment in central Auckland, these particular costs have tripled as the city has been steadily improving its practices. It has dealt with a far higher degree of intensification than farming, and much of it has been demanded by increasing environmental standards from the government.
Most towns and cities across New Zealand could say the same. Regardless of rising or falling populations or the vagaries of business we pay for a better environment because we don’t want to live in squalor and disease. Unlike many farmers we mostly can’t just export the problem downstream.
That even this expense hasn’t been enough in many urban areas because of the forced population growth. We’re not only having to pay for what we are doing now, we’re also having to pay for the capital works to future inhabitants and businesses. The resident population in just central Auckland has increased at least five fold in the same 18 years. This puts a great strain on the existing and even upgraded infrastructure.
Having a National party in government who seem to often act as Federated Farmers legislated body hasn’t helped. Both seem to like getting freebies from other people paying for their messes. The National government by screwing up Auckland governance and then dumping 40 thousand extra migrants into Auckland for the last 5 years without paying for them hasn’t helped Auckland – see Mike Lee on the subject. Such abrupt changes in policy just make forward planning considerably more difficult. At least the farmers usually get considerable warning of future policy changes.
Yet the struggle of urban areas and towns to control their use of resources and waste appears to be a topic that the pontificating anonymous Federated Farmers spokesman at the Herald is blithely unaware of. Instead like all terrorist groups trading on fear they prefer to make up some lost in the past fantasy to justify their blatant denigration for other people. FFS: those signs at Morrinsville like “Pretty Communist” are so 1950s that it was like looking at someone having a long drop over a river.
If farmers had spent, even proportionally, the kind of money that the residents and businesses of Auckland and every urban and town has over the last 30 years on improving their water usage and waste systems, then they would deserve the respect. But under the warding influence of Federated Farmers trying to beat up a rural vote to prevent real change, they don’t even come close.
We mainly hear the whining of Federated Farmers and their acolytes wanting to rest on their very limited laurels, and to not continue the struggle to minimise the costs of intensification on future generations. We get their government targeting rural standards that accept dangerous levels of leaching and water contamination, and where numbers point to real problems, they just stop measuring it.
It is worth re-reading John McCrone’s piece from Stuff “NZ Irrigation and its guilty secrets” where he looked at both sides of irrigation in the Canterbury irrigation schemes. For me the long-term problem is in the corruption of the basic science and is highlighted in these segments.
But as with the freshwater NPS, good science at the bottom has a way of becoming diluted by economic expediency as soon as it rises up the chain. Jenkins gives the example of nitrate limits agreed for North Canterbury’s Hurunui catchment.
“The current [gross nitrate] load is about 693 tonnes per year. The science advice ticked that it should stay at 693. The zone committee draft recommendation was it should be 693. Dairy NZ lobbied the ECan commissioners and it was raised to 832. Then it went to RMA hearing processes where it was raised again to 963.”
Massey University ecologist Dr Mike Joy is even more blunt in his view that the “farming within limits” talk is largely government spin.
Joy says the new national freshwater standards are so loose that pretty much every river in the country already meets the required targets. However the NPS is achieving this by tricks like measuring rivers against gross toxicity levels rather than ecosystem health levels.
So nitrate limits have been set at 6.9mg/l, which is where fish die by poisoning. But Joy says algal mats flourish at just 0.5mg/l. And algal mats cause wild swings in dissolved oxygen as they switch from blooming growth during the day to dormant respiration at night.
And even more of an issue long-term:-
Joy says he can cite any number of cynical ploys like this. Cadmium build up in soils, a consequence of long-term superphosphate use, is an issue that vanished overnight when farmland was made exempt from national contamination classification.
But there is a philosophical and generational difference along with the lying billshit is neatly summed up in this:-
But Kiwis seem happy to just live with such problems, because the official line from the NPS is the country’s rivers and lakes are “stable or improving”, says Joy. “It really is a failure of democracy.”
The reply from the irrigators is that New Zealand water is clean in that it has not got the same kind of chemical and industrial pollution of a lot of other countries. Nitrogen and phosphorous may knock over native wildlife and turn water holes soupy green, but they are not directly harming people.
However Joy says he thinks it is simply that New Zealanders do not realise how far the degradation of their waterways has gone, not that they don’t care.
So the water debate feels far from settled. It could just be that New Zealand is also extreme in its polarisation of views – the gap between the hard green lobby and the old settler conviction that New Zealand is an empty country begging to be made productive.
So the question is if we want the waterways and aquifers to have a excessive biological industry taint that requires all water gets costly treatment for biological and heavy metal contamination before humans and animals can drink or swim in it?
This is a downstream issue for most cities and towns in NZ. Just think of the processing plant that Auckland or Hamilton require to decontaminate water taken from the Waikato river. With water and waste contamination, the costs spread far downstream of the polluting point
Really do we want to repeat the mistakes made by other societies?
Drivel like the Herald editorial completely misses the point, instead making calls to past deeds while ignoring misdeeds of farming. It simply doesn’t help to whinge like this:-
But farming remains one of this country’s essential industries – and as such farmers doing the right thing deserve to remain high in New Zealand’s esteem.
Respect and esteem is something that has to be earned and anyone with any knowledge following the way that Federated Farmers and National have been fiddling the standards and doing little (while trying to look like they are doing a lot) are quite aware of it.
Besides there are a number of industries in NZ that can truly point to their value to the NZ economy and are way faster growing with much less limited environmental impacts. The revenue from just the top 200 companies in my tech sector has jumped from being little two decades ago to nearly $9.4 billion dollars last year, almost entirely in exports. It also employs nearly as many people as the entire farming sector. The same applies to tourism with its $12 billion (see “Tourism roars past dairy as NZ’s biggest export earner“), and it employs even more.
In my view, the key difference with these urbanites and town dwellers and these growing employers industries compared to some of the dinosaurs like Federated Farmers is that we are keenly aware of the costs of degrading our environment and are willing to pay for keeping it clean. Apparently Federated Farmers and their political party National would prefer to stall and fudge the numbers while not doing very much or paying much.
It simply doesn’t engender much respect from me, nor I suspect from many urban dwellers and businesses faced with increasing water, sewerage and infrastructural bills from council to deal with our intensification and to clean up where we live.
Farming could do with getting some more people into organisations like Federated Farmers who actually understand the issues of urban and town environments and who stop trying to trade on the past and present economic glories that hare resulting in a ecological wasteland around industrial farming. We share this land, rural, provincial and urban NZ. And we share with millions of offshore visitors each year. Farmers don’t own the country. While there are some smart and aware farmers out there. It doesn’t appear that many of them get into their organisations like Federated Farmers or the National party. Perhaps they should try.
Anyway, enough of my ranting. Enjoy Jim Hubbard’s take on the water irrigation debate.