Opinion: What's the future for rural New Zealand?

  • 29/11/2018

By Mike Chapman

OPINION: My job takes me around the country, talking to people who are the backbone of New Zealand. They are worried and feel deserted by urban New Zealand. 

If you are a grower who feeds New Zealanders by producing fresh, healthy, locally grown vegetables or fruit, you can be forgiven for thinking about trading the tractor in and doing something else, perhaps turning your land into houses. This is because many growers of our five-plus a day domestic food supply aren't making enough money to sustain their growing operations. 

For those who grow in the Auckland region, there is also the additional fuel tax. Sure, after three months you can get what you paid for your pumps and tractors that aren't used on the road at all, but that is a complicated system and many growers haven't got the time to make these claims. 

So they have lost valuable operating capital with no compensation for those three months. Somehow you've got to pay your workers, your taxes and rates. 

Figures from NZTA show that in the first three months of the fuel tax $1 million was collected from these growers, but only half of that has been paid back. This is a tax that was never intended for off-road use and should not be paid by growers and farmers at all.

A surprising amount of our fruit and vegetables are imported. Many people think that we should rely on imports. As climate change takes effect around the world, drying up areas that currently grow fruit and vegetables, and the world population grows, relying on imports to feed New Zealand will first, result in higher prices and second, we will end up with no supply. 

New Zealand needs to be able to feed itself and, we can. But to do this, we need to address a series of critical rural survival issues.

We need to preserve our high-quality land for growing fresh fruit and vegetables. We need regional councils to provide for growing fruit and vegetables and to reserve the best suited land, instead of planting houses on that land. Water needs to be allocated as you can't grow fruit and vegetables without water. There needs to be sensible allocations for nutrients. 

We need to recognise that between new urban developments and lifestyle blocks there needs to be buffer zones so that growers can actually grow their vegetables and fruit without complaints from the houses next door.  

We need to develop a national policy, in addition to mandatory protections under the Resource Management Act, so that our growers can feed New Zealand. We need to have access along with all of New Zealand's businesses to workers.  

But above all else, we need to recognise that growing fruit and vegetables to feed New Zealand is no easy task. We therefore need to ensure we are paying growers sufficient money to keep them on the land, meeting all the regulatory and other requirements. 

It's time for us to focus on what is important, to ensure that we can feed ourselves and to make the changes that are necessary to achieve this. We are working to achieve this, but we need your support to make it all happen. 

Mike Chapman is CEO of Horticulture New Zealand.