Election 2023: How National's agriculture policy has gone down

The National Party is promising to cut red tape for farmers if it's elected.

It's outlined its 19-point plan called Getting Back to Farming and includes a two-for-one deal.

For every new regulation local and central Government want to bring in, they have to scrap two existing ones – a review body to advise on regulations would be set up.

The party would also double RSE workers, scrap the requirement to pay migrant workers the median wage of $30 an hour, and ban foreign investors from buying farms to turn into carbon farming.

There are also some more controversial ideas like the return of live animal exports, amending proposed drinking standards and deferring winter grazing rules.

But the policy has infuriated environmentalists, saying National's ideas are lazy, bad for our waterways and a grab bag of one-liners.

At Donald's dairy farm on Wednesday morning, there were some cows - and some National politicians. 

"I have to say it, but Labour has been waging a war on farmers by burying them in a heap of red tape," said leader Christopher Luxon.

National plans to remove red tape. 

"A two-for-one rule. For every new regulation, two must be removed," said agriculture spokesperson Todd McClay.

But Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said it's a "ridiculous proposal". 

"I'm not sure who came up with that," he said. 

National's feedbag for farmers also comes with redefining wetlands and amending stock exclusion rules - that's fencing waterways.

They'd push back blanket incoming winter grazing rules that restrict stock feeding on small areas, rules that were brought in because some farmers were caught putting animal welfare at risk.

"The catchment-by-catchment approach is better," said McClay. "So where we're standing today, the rules would be different because this is clay soil and actually in winter would probably be muddier than up north where we're going where the soil is free draining."

Federated Farmers national president Andrew Hoggard is pleased.

"At a high level, reasonably happy with what we've seen here. It's been issues that we've been concerned about for a number of years now."

But O'Connor said: "The reason we had to put in place clear guidelines when we came into Government is because the previous National Government didn't have the courage to give clear guidelines to farmers."

National would also like to see the return of live animal exports, a controversial industry which was worth about $340 million to New Zealand - 0.2 percent of our primary sector exports.

But it was banned after a livestock ship sank in 2020, killing 41 crew members - including Kiwis - and about 6000 animals.

Here National's actually proposing more red tape.

"I can assure New Zealanders that these animals are treated to the absolute highest level of welfare standards that we can expect," said National animal welfare spokesperson Nicola Grigg.

Greenpeace spokesperson Christine Rose said there no way of making live animal exports by sea "humane" and there "is no way of controlling what happens to those animals when they get to the end destination".

Greenpeace and the Green Party are worried about what the take two-for-one rule deal would do to waterway regulations.

"What National's proposing is a rollback of environmental regulation that will mean more water pollution and more climate pollution," said Greens environment spokesperson Eugenie Sage.

But Luxon said New Zealand "doesn't need more rules". 

"New Zealand needs better regulation based on fewer rules."

Sage called it a "grab bag of one-liners".

"It just shows why National shouldn't be in Government."

The Agriculture Minister said the Government's actually been regulating farmers for their own survival because international markets are increasingly wanting sustainable supply chains. 

"If National was to ever get in power and implement these policies, it would set us back," said O'Connor. 

Luxon said National's going to "continue to support our farmers and the sector and we're also going to continue to protect the environment".

An environment that has now become an election battleground.

Amelia Wade Analysis

National's policy package was not a pitch to climate warriors but to the rural vote who feel they've been buried by change and paperwork.

National also says the pathway out of a recession is to grow our biggest export sector - agriculture.

Environmentalists argue growing New Zealand's biggest polluting industry instead of making them more sustainable takes us backwards.

Today was also a 'but wait there's more' from the blue team. It's also still to announce its plan on how to tax farmers for their animals' emissions, easily the most contentious farming policy.