Opposition slams Government's plan for primary sector

Todd Muller said the Government had created a "huge amount of stress" for farming families.
Todd Muller said the Government had created a "huge amount of stress" for farming families. Photo credit: Getty

Todd Muller has slammed a new plan by the Government to boost primary sector exports by $44 billion over the coming decade.

National's leader - formerly the party's spokesperson for agriculture - accused the Government of neglecting the dairy, sheep and beef sectors in the plan, which Muller called the "main drivers" of the primary sector.

"This clumsy and incompetent Government has created a huge amount of stress for farming families with their inability to get the policy settings around the Emissions Trading Scheme correct, creating perverse incentives for turning productive farmland into pine plantations, and by threatening huge costs and unattainable targets through the Essential Freshwater proposals" Muller said on Tuesday.

"While it's good to finally see the Government wake up to the benefits of free trade agreements and research and development, they should also be focused on capitalising on our existing competitive advantage and encouraging our existing industries to grow."

The Fit for a Better World plan outlines the Government's roadmap for placing the primary industries at the heart of the country's post-COVID-19 economic recovery.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the plan is an attempt to spell out practical ways for the sector to "fetch more value, create more jobs and bolster our green reputation in a global pandemic environment".

The Government is seeking to lift export earnings by $10 billion per annum by 2030, to bring in a cumulative total of $44 billion in the coming decade.

As well as its economic objectives, the plan also included sustainability and inclusiveness goals, aimed at getting more Kiwis from "all walks of life" into the primary sector.

National's agriculture spokesperson David Bennett said the plan was misguided.

"Farmers will shudder at the document's multiple suggestions that the entire sector needs 'transformation'. No one will deny the need for progress and evolution, but we should acknowledge that we currently are the most productive and sustainable food and fibre producers in the world and build on this," Bennett said.

"Goals like doubling New Zealand's ag exports are unrealistic when other goals such as lowering biogenic methane 24-47 per cent from 2017 levels will require major production reductions, and are estimated to cost the economy $5-$12 billion."

The plan was welcomed by Irrigation New Zealand, which said it was "greatly encouraged" the Government had recognised the need for water storage in the country.

"The strategy identifies what our sector has been championing for some time: that access to water provides for land-use flexibility which can also contribute to lower emissions; supports community resilience; and assists in climate change preparedness," said Elizabeth Soal, IrrigationNZ's chief executive.

"The Fit for a Better World strategy also identifies potential growth in horticulture - which is largely reliant on accessible water - and Māori agribusiness. These are both areas that will benefit significantly from further access to reliable, stored water.

"However, it is unclear what funding will look like to enable this part of the Government's new strategy, or what mechanisms and departments will be responsible for leading the 'focused development' of water storage," Soal said.

Horticulture New Zealand also called the plan encouraging, though expressed some reservations. 

"We are encouraged to see that the proposal identifies a key opportunity to accelerate the horticulture industry's development, which fits perfectly with our own work," says Barry O'Neil, president of HortNZ.

"That said, we realise that growers and horticulture's governance groups have not been part of the Primary Sector Council's work on developing Fit for a Better World. As a result, over the next few months, we will be discussing with them the approach to implementation the horticulture industry can jointly take with Government."