Red meat sector leaders get behind primary sector’s commitment to swimmable rivers

The Ngaruroro Rover, Hawke's Bay. Photo Alphapix.

Red meat sector leaders were among a seven-strong group from the primary sector committing themselves to an ambitious goal of working to make New Zealand’s rivers swimmable for their children and grand-children.

The Farming Leaders’ Pledge was signed earlier this week by the leaders, who together represent over 80 percent of this country’s farmed land. According to Federated Farmers president and West Coast dairy farmer Katie Milne the intent behind the pledge is clear.

Katie Milne. Photo Alphapix.

“Many of our rivers are not in the condition we all want them to be. We are doing this because we want our kids and their kids to be able to swim in the same rivers that we did as children. And by swim we mean swim. It’s as simple as that.

“We’re standing up and saying we haven’t always got this right. More work is required and we will play our part. While there has been progress on farm in the past 10 years, we know there is more to be done, and that it must be done fast, and together.

“Today isn’t about laying out the detail on the huge amount of work going on already on farms up and down the country and how these efforts will need to increase.

“It’s about us as farming leaders signalling our commitment to making New Zealand’s rivers swimmable and doing everything we can to achieve that.”

Milne, says the group understands much of the work needed will be challenging for the farming sector.

“We haven’t put a timeline on our commitment. Each community will need to decide that for themselves. This goal will be difficult to meet and we don’t have all the answers today on how it’s going to be achieved”, she says.

“We know we have work to do. We know it will be challenging for farmers. We know the answers are complex and we don’t have them all now. This commitment is simply the right thing to do in playing our part to give back to future generations what we enjoyed as kids.”

Farming Leaders Group pledge on swimmable rivers. From left to right are: Michael Spaans, Bruce Willis, Katie Milne, Mike Peterson, Carolyn Mortland, John Loughlin and James Parsons at the Ngaruroro River, Hawke’s Bay. Photo alphapix.

The Farming Leaders Group is an informal grouping of seven New Zealand pastoral farming leaders that was established in May 2017 to work on issues of importance to the sector. Standing together with Milne are four from the red meat sector – Mike Petersen (sheep and beef farmer and NZ agricultural trade envoy),  James Parsons (sheep and beef farmer and Beef + Lamb NZ chair), John Loughlin (Meat Industry Association chair) and Bruce Wills (sheep and beef farmer and Ravensdown director). They join Michael Spaans (dairy farmer and Dairy NZ Chair) and John Wilson (dairy farmer and Fonterra chair).

The move has been welcomed by the Minister for Primary Industries, Nathan Guy, and Minister for the Environment, Dr Nick Smith.

According to Guy, it shows the real commitment farmers have to tackling these long-term issues.

“Farmers are closer to the land to the land than nearly anyone else, and they care deeply about leaving a good legacy for their children,” he says.

“Most of New Zealand’s rivers are in a good state but there are a number that need work, and this will take concerted effort by all New Zealanders – including farmers, urban areas, and local and central Government.

Guy noted estimations showing farmers have spent over $1 billion of their own money towards environmental measures on farm, with around 98 percent of dairy waterways fenced off and welcomed the high-level commitment.

“It builds on the goodwill and work of the Land and Water Forum and provides the leadership to help implement the ambitious new regulations passed this month on improving water quality for swimming,” said Smith.

The new National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management was announced on 9 August and introduces a new requirement for rivers to be suitable for swimming. It sets a timetable of 90 percent of rivers and lakes to be swimmable by 2040, establishing a system for monitoring and reporting and requires each of the 16 Regional Councils to set regional targets by 2018.

“The Government has put in place a robust plan for improving swimmability of our rivers and funding to assist in the cost of achieving it. This pledge will help drive the next steps of finalising national stock exclusion rules and the work towards delivering Good Management Practices for the different farming sectors.

“The challenge New Zealand has on improving freshwater quality is not just for farmers. Urban New Zealand will also need to commit to improving stormwater and wastewater systems to achieve the Government’s goals.”

The move was also welcomed by the Labour Party and more cautiously by the Greens, who said a plan to back it up is needed. They have pointed to consideration of the Freshwater Rescue Plan as a starting point, which includes a reduction in dairy cow numbers and withdrawing subsidies for irrigation schemes.

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