21 Aug 2023

Industry bodies welcome legislative protection for fruit and vegetable growing areas

2:20 pm on 21 August 2023
Lettuce crops being grown in market gardens in Pukekohe.

Lettuce crops being grown in market gardens in Pukekohe. Photo: RNZ/ Brad White

Horticulture industry body Hort NZ says one of the new acts replacing the RMA will do a far better job at protecting New Zealand's fruit and vegetable growing areas.

The Natural and Built Environment Bill, which passed its third reading last week, sets out a national planning framework which provides national direction for the rules and policies that support environmental protection and natural resource management.

Hort NZ's Michelle Sands said this national policy must enable the supply of fresh fruit and vegetables. In other words, it requires councils to specifically think about the impact land use rules will have on vegetable and fruit production.

"And that's really important because at the moment in the RMA we have a number of policies and rules that prevent vegetable growing in particular from being able to be undertaken because they don't provide a rule framework that supports crop rotation and don't provide a framework that enables vegetable growers to produce more vegetables," she said.

Crop rotation is when different crops are planted in the same area over successive years which helps manage pests and disease, and soil management.

Sands said the RMA did not currently put a practical lens on what food production requirements were, and did not protect New Zealand's food security.

"What tends to happen in policy and rules is that 80:20 rule, where you design something that works for most activities - and most activities are pastoral activities," she said.

"So if you have an activity that is a bit different, sometimes you end up with unintended consequences when those rules are applied to a different activity ...

"It's really just about saying, actually we're geographically isolated, we need a supply of fresh fruit and vegetables so we need to make sure that our rules framework doesn't have unintended consequences for these activities and that we are enabling that supply through the way that we manage our natural resources," she said.

Sands said it had been too easy for councils to set up rules that were easy to administer and that had become the focus, rather than considering the best use of the land.

Instead of simple administrative systems that worked well for pastoral farming being applied to vegetable growing, Sands said efforts should be made to think of an administrative system that worked for vegetable growing.

It was all about the council's "mind-set" she said, "because growers can and should manage their environmental impacts".

Vegetables NZ also welcomed the change in regulation and said increasing growers' ability to grow and expand would improve food security.

However, Federated Farmers said the legislation would strip local communities of their decision-making ability.

National is promising to repeal the RMA replacement bills if elected.

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