Green Party plan seeks to encourage farmers to make 'climate-friendly' transition

Green Party co-leader James Shaw.
Green Party co-leader James Shaw. Photo credit: Getty

The Green Party on Saturday announced its plan for the food and farming sector ahead of the upcoming general election.

The plan would place a levy on the use of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilisers, phase in stronger limits in the National Environmental Standard for Freshwater Management to progressively reduce nitrogen pollution and ban the importation and use of PKE as supplementary feed. 

The party said it would also directly support farmers and growers to transition to more climate-friendly practices through a $297 million fund. Co-leader James Shaw said the money would go towards grants, loans and other resources to support the transition to low-emissions farming.

The plan also promised to overhaul the certification and labelling for sustainably-grown and organic products and extend country-of-origin labelling, in a bid to encourage Kiwis to buy ethically and New Zealand made products.

The efforts to encourage people to buy local would also be extended to food, with funding going towards urban food gardens and community agriculture.

"We will overhaul how we label our food so farmers can get a premium for producing healthy, sustainable food," Shaw said.

"With clear new rules, all of us will be able to see when our food has been sustainably produced and make the best choices for our families whether we buy at farmers’ markets or supermarkets."

The party also promised to work with tangata whenua and within a te Tiriti o Waitangi framework to establish a resource rental on commercial use of water.

In order to "ensure use is diverse and sustainable" the party said it would change the rules around forestry and strengthen land use rules to protect high quality soils and farmland.

Among other things, the plan proposed "reorienting the One Billion Trees programme to have a much strong focus on indigenous trees and resilient ecosystems", overhauling the National Environmental Standard for Plantation Forestry to encourage more diverse plantings, and "ensure that agricultural greenhouse gas emissions pricing recognises the value of smaller-scale, on-farm forestry". The party also said it would review recent changes to overseas investment rules that have encouraged foreign direct investment in pine plantation forestry.

The proposals come as farmers have shown overt criticism of many recently implemented environmental regulations. 

Amendments to the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), which were passed in June, were met with heavy criticism by many in the farming sector.

With New Zealand's goal to be carbon neutral by 2050, the ETS effectively turned carbon into a currency. People receive credits for planting trees which can then be sold to companies to offset their emissions.

Shaw, as Minister for Climate Change, said the legislation was a "significant milestone" for the country in its bid to reduce climate-polluting emissions.  

But many fear it incentivises the acceleration of productive farmland being converted to pines planted for carbon credits and say it could suck the life out of rural communities.

Freshwater regulations have also caused a stir. Last month farmers in Southland said they would boycott some of the new rules around winter grazing, forcing the Government to make a number of adjustments.