OPINION: It's clear that the Ministry for Environment is underestimating the importance of properly consulting farmers on the Essential Freshwater proposals.
As National's spokesman for agriculture, forestry, biosecurity and food safety, I have a duty to represent rural communities and our productive primary sector in Parliament.
National is the party for primary industries, and we’re committed to ensuring growth and stability in what is essentially the backbone of our economy.
We produce enough food to feed about 40 million people around the globe and our farmers are the most efficient producers of beef, lamb and dairy products in the world. Our reputation as a safe producer of food, underpinned by sustainable farming practices, is paramount to international consumers. Our forestry sector is also a consistently strong performer and delivers its own healthy contribution to our export receipts.
The primary sector is facing significant challenges with pressures on our historic land use flexibility, and our traditional competitive cost base having to contend with costs rising from emissions, the environment, our use of water and water quality.
The constant advances inside and outside the farm gate need to be celebrated, and farmers deserve policy direction that gives them time to absorb, adjust and build on our world class performance, rather than excessive regulations and taxation by the Government, which shows it does not understand our rural sector.
My family has been in the kiwifruit industry 45 years, and I held management roles in Zespri and Fonterra before being elected to Parliament. Working in export companies has taught me the power of close market relationships and the scale of effort all our rural families make year on year to create valued products for the world.
The coalition Government has pushed agriculture well down the pecking order and this needs to change. Despite strong forecasts we’re seeing agribusiness confidence at all time lows, and this is directly related to the Government seeing our primary industries as a lifestyle to be constrained and a business model to be taxed.
Government minister Julie-Anne Genter recently said our hospitals should not be serving our home grown meat and dairy because it’s bad for the environment. And our national museum Te Papa has an exhibition suggesting that three meat- and dairy free meals per week would be a sensible way for kids to contribute to a low emissions climate.
Our national debate needs to move from condemnation to celebration of our primary sector.
We are among the world’s best producers of food and fibre, and we must continue to change in step with market and consumer expectations. We have huge strategic advantages in this country, rainfall in particular, so let’s act to enhance these advantages rather than find ways to constrain them.
New Zealand’s primary sector should be booming, but the lack of support and generally regressive attitude from the coalition Government is preventing this.
My ambition as National’s new spokesman for the primary industries is to advocate strongly for the primary sector, as I passionately believe it is a huge part of who we are as a country today, and what we will become over the next 20 years.
• Todd Muller is the National Party spokesman for primary industries and forestry.