23 Sep 2020

Jacinda Ardern, Labour Party promise to help farmers with compliance costs and environmental transition

12:35 pm on 23 September 2020

Labour is promising at least $50 million to help farmers with planning to transition to environmentally-friendly practices and cope with growing compliance requirements.

Watch the announcement here:

The strategy is called integrated farm planning and it aims to create individualised farm plans that reduce costs and generate greater returns.

Labour describes it as "a single framework for farmers and growers to use for key parts of their operation, including environmental management such as freshwater and climate mitigation, labour, biosecurity, animal welfare, and health and safety".

It's a response to the sector saying it is "grappling with a growing number of compliance and that there is currently no universal system across central government, councils and industry to fulfil compliance requirements", Labour says.

In addition, it says integrated farm planning is "vital" in helping to achieve a "clean, green, carbon neutral New Zealand".

Integrated farm plans are intended to replace the "overlapping and wide ranging reporting, auditing and consents that are currently required" and minimise the need for consents.

"Over time we hope all on-property government reporting requirements will be done through integrated farm plans."

Party leader Jacinda Ardern is in Waikato with agriculture spokesperson Damien O'Connor to announce the policy.

Jacinda Ardern feeds a calf at the Green Valley Dairy Company, Mangatawhiri. 23 September

Jacinda Ardern feeds a calf at the Green Valley Dairy Company, Mangatawhiri. Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

Ardern says agriculture is the backbone of New Zealand's export market.

"New Zealand's farmers and growers are creative, innovative and always look to improve their practices. A single farm plan will help them to capture all of their compliance requirements in one place, achieve their economic goals and support the transition to a clean, green carbon neutral New Zealand.

"Our primary sector is world-renowned for its trusted, healthy and safe food and fibre and has proved resilient through Covid-19. The sector is already in recovery with record export prices, helping us to grow our way out of the economic crisis of the global pandemic."

She says New Zealand needs to show that we are operating sustainably and have regenerative farming practices.

"That is happening. Now our job is to support the community with some of the new asks that exist and just strip away some of the red tape and make it as easy as possible."

O'Connor says Labour "will be working with farmers, with regional councils and with officials ... to make sure we have practical and implementable plans, to help them develop a farm plan that will reduce their requirements to have resource consents in many places."

"I look forward to ... working out where we will spend that money on a day-to-day basis.

It does not show that fresh water reforms were too onerous, he says.

O'Connor says farmers have great methods for sharing information and knowledge, and the government wanted to support that.

He says many farmers already have plans in place.

"We have been working for two years within MPI to develop a template that takes the best practice from those farm plans around the country that most farmers can look at, digest and implement.

"We want farmers to get more for what they do, not just do more."

It can cost farmers and growers between $5000 and $10,000 per property for a plan, he says.

"We will create a cost-sharing agreement with industry that will ensure every farmer and grower pays less for their compliance," O'Connor says.

"Cohesive national farm plans that adopt a whole of farm approach will ensure that we stay ahead of the curve internationally when it comes to good farming practice.

"One of the first farm plan templates to be rolled out will seek to replace the consent process for intensive winter grazing. Working with the regional councils and the industry we will design a template that makes applying for intensive winter grazing consent much easier or, over time, supersedes the need for the consent process."

It says farm planning will aim to achieve three main goals:

  • A comprehensive national planning framework that adopts a 'whole farm' approach, which farmers and growers can use to fulfil their requirements
  • Online tools and wider assistance for farmer and growers through extension services
  • Improved levels of digital data exchange across the sector

Labour says it intends to build on the initial $50m funding, which it is calling a "kick-starter".

Ardern rejects the idea that Labour doesn't support farmers and rejects the idea that farmers are not looking after the environment.

She also addressed National's claims after last night's debate that she said "farming was a world of the past".

"That is absolutely not what I said. I said Judith Collins' view of the challenge around climate change were views of the past and actually the farming community, leaders I have been working with are very much focused on how can we drive further value from what we do and make sure we are competitive in our export markets.

"My view is she was presenting an old view of farming."

Collins 'unimpressed'

National Party leader Judith Collins is unimpressed by Labour's pledge to help farmers streamline their compliance costs.

She was in her home town of Matamata today and says what farmers need is a government that supports them and lets them get on with their job.

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Judith Collins in Matamata Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"This makes me quite emotional because I look at it and think every farmer and every farmer's family needs to know that that is valuable work. That's the best thing we can do. I can tell you what - I don't think farmers are going to listen to people coming along and telling them to feel better

"I'm sick to death of listening to giving away money constantly. Actually you know what, farmers just need a government that backs them and doesn't bag them every five minutes. I mean obviously this is the latest ploy from the government after the massive failure last night."

Collins also claims Ardern committed a "massive failure" during the debate last night in saying that farmers are "old style thinking", but it was in fact the concept of dirty dairying raised by Collins herself that Ardern had said was "the view of a world that has passed".

Regardless, Collins repeated her claim that National would back farmers and not bag them, but would give no detail on her party's agricultural policy. When asked about the issues farmers were facing, she raised freshwater, reintroducing 90-day trials for employees, and rural broadband as part of National's tech policy.

She also said foreign agricultural workers needed to be allowed to enter the country, for example to harvest strawberries.

"We need to be able to bring these people in who are used to doing it, the alternative is to get other people - New Zealanders who are currently unemployed - to do that."

"Telling people they can wait till next February or something is not going to be any good because as we know the strawberry season ends about Christmas time ... the government has done nothing to bring anything through and I think you're going to have a very serious issue."

Federated Farmers weighs in

Federated Farmers is welcoming Labour's integrated farm plan promise.

But its environment spokesperson Chris Allen said there's still a lot to do to make sure the plans are fit for purpose, how they'll be rolled out, and what they'll require of farmers.

"But if the core aims are to reduce compliance, duplication, paperwork and cost, and arrive at a system that works for the environment, for animal welfare, for farm and grower profitability and to help us with traceability and provenance to sell our produce to the world, then we're on board."

However, he said changes to new freshwater regulations are needed.

"The regulations need to be amended so they replace other impractical rules, for example blunt national rules around stock exclusion. Ultimately farm plans should also be used to set and meet catchment-specific environmental targets," Allen said.

"What's needed are regulations which support rather than hamper good farmer decision making and stewardship."

Horticulture New Zealand also gave Labour's proposal a tick.