New rules mean nowhere to go for vege growers

Climate change and housing sprawl are the two biggest problems for the country's food basket.

Urban expansion is swallowing fertile soils in Pukekohe, while more frequent heavy rain events are causing vegetables to rot, resulting in soaring prices at the supermarket.

Growers say they need to be able to plant elsewhere, but red tape is preventing them from expanding south into Waikato.

Earlier on Monday, Horticulture New Zealand's Mike Chapman told The AM Show the climate is to blame.

"That was a very wet cold winter, then we had that very dry period just before Christmas - it just hasn't been a great growing time at all," he explained.

But it's not just the weather thwarting growers - they say urban sprawl is the biggest threat to high value soil in the Pukekohe region.

Pukekohe Growers Association president Brent Wilcox says it's getting desperate.

"We've got urban encroachment from Auckland city taking over land for housing, so we've got little room to expand and move to, except to move to the Waikato region."

But moving to the Waikato isn't simple due to the regional council's new water quality proposals.

Anyone with property bigger than two hectares must register with the council, and estimate the amount of nitrogen leaching from the property.

If landowners want to make more intensive use of their soil, they'll need a resource consent.

Mr Wilcox says "the ability of growers to be able to change and start using pastoral land for growing vegetables will be restricted".

The rule will apply until 2026, for transitions from woody vegetation such as forestry to farming, livestock grazing to dairy farming, arable cropping to dairy - and any land use to commercial vegetable production.

The only other way to change land use without having to get a consent is by proving the new land use will be less polluting.

Mr Wilcox understands the need for the water quality plan, but hopes the rules can be flexible to accomodate growers.

Unless there are legal appeals, the new rules will be in place later this year.