2 Sep 2017

Farmers reject Greens' farming-pollution policy

4:16 pm on 2 September 2017

Federated Farmers has slammed a Green Party plan to put a levy on nitrate pollution from dairy farming, saying it would actually cost the environment.

Federated Farmers vice president Andrew Hoggard

Federated Farmers vice president Andrew Hoggard Photo: Radio NZ / Jemma Brackebush

Federated Farmers vice president Andrew Hoggard said the idea was "unfair", "full of holes" and likely to actually cost the environment.

"They also come from other types of farming and they also come from urban sewage treatment plants. So if we're going to be fair about this than you've got to tax all of those, not just tax one sector of society.

Green Party leader James Shaw today announced the policy to pay more than $136 million for farmers to move to more sustainable practices.

However, the plan was to support the fund by charging farmers who continued to pollute soil and water through a nitrate pollution levy.

Mr Shaw said there was already a model for measuring nitrate pollution, and it would cost the average dairy farm "no more than 5 percent of their pre-tax profits".

Mr Hoggard said DairyNZ and others already offered research and expertise, and no government fund would be able to give better advice.

"Farmers are actually doing a hell of a lot in this space already, we're already doing quite a bit of work on this and if we're just going to be taxed for it, it's going to take away money which we would otherwise have spent on the environment and quite frankly I think they'd probably end up spending most of the revenue they get on policing it."

He said by his calculations it would cost his farm $12,000 a year, which could be spent on solutions.

Mr Hoggard also said the 'Overseer' model used to measure nitrate pollution had a margin of error around 30 percent.

"So I would put it back to everyone else, how would they feel if the IRD just took a 30 percent plus or minus guess-timate of their income to work out their income tax.

"I see this as actually having more environmental harm than any benefit."

Main parties weigh in

Bill English speaks after hearing Peter Dunne would step down after the election.

Bill English Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

National leader Bill English said regional councils were already setting nutrient limits and that was the best way to proceed

Mr English said trading nutrient levels has proven to be the best way to get decisions made about retiring land, reducing stocking rates or changing land use.

"New Zealand is world-leading in nutrient tradeability which has been shown to be effective. The Taupō catchment is a good example of that.

"We don't believe a levy of that nature is going to help those decisions."

Mr English said those decisions have to be made by regional councils because they have to be made catchment by catchments.

"In some catchments it's not an issue in others, it is.

"Working with the farmers and the businesses and enabling them to make the decisions which work best within the limits is the right thing to do."

Mr English said a levy would have to go through a bureaucracy and be rechannelled according to what officials thought was a good idea to tell farmers how to run their farms.

He said the systems that had been tried, tested and shown to work were those that should be used rather than yet another new tax.

The Labour Party leader, Jacinda Ardern, says Labour would not try to reduce dairy herd numbers but it would look at restricting large scale intensification of dairy farming.

Jacinda Ardern hit the campaign trail again at Auckland University.

Jacinda Ardern hit the campaign trail again at Auckland University. Photo: RNZ / Craig McCulloch

She said charging for nitrate pollution was not part of Labour's plan, but she agreed continued rapid expansion of dairying would have a negative effect on the environment.

"We do need to take a view that when people make future decisions around large-scale conversion and large-scale intensification, that we need to ask the question around whether that is going to [do] damage, and we have looked at putting in place a process around that."

Jacinda Ardern said some councils were already making those kinds of decisions now, but Labour would consider a National Policy Statement on water, which would set out a national approach.

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