NZ Election 2020: National's plan to repeal Government's 'unscientific' rules and 'unrealistic' aspirations in agriculture

The National Party has revealed its plan to repeal rules it deems "unscientific" such as a cap on synthetic fertiliser and "unrealistic" aspirations like the One Billion Trees programme, if elected.

National's agriculture policy includes tweaks to the Government's plan to tax farmers on agriculture emissions, changing the Zero Carbon Act, repealing new water regulations and allowing more space for seasonal workers in managed isolation. 

Agriculture is responsible for around 60 percent of New Zealand's goods exports and is known as the backbone of the economy, and leader Judith Collins thinks farmers are being treated unfairly by the Government. 

"Farmers have enough on their plate with weather, interest rates, and international markets, they shouldn't have to contend with a Government who doesn't understand their sector and restricts their growth," she said on Thursday. 

"When we form the next Government, our pledge is to ensure that our agricultural policy focuses on allowing farmers the opportunity to farm their way to better outcomes, rather than being regulated into oblivion."

National wants to put a stop to what it calls the Government's "unscientific and arbitrary" synthetic nitrogen fertiliser cap. Dairy farmers are required to report annually to councils the quantity of nitrogen applied per hectare as synthetic fertiliser. 

The rule was announced in May as part of the Government's $700m commitment to cleaning up waterways, which also included controls on higher-risk farm practices such as winter grazing and forcing farmers to develop farm environment plans. 

National says farmers mostly support the farm plan idea, and Labour has promised to put $50m towards helping farmers develop them. But the National Party is not a fan of the fertiliser cap or the rules around winter grazing. 

"Labour's unscientific and arbitrary fertiliser cap would result in a significant number of dairy farmers having to reduce production when we can least afford it," the policy says. 

National also believes the Government's proposed bottom line requirement for nitrogen in waterways is excessive, and achieving it would require "major reductions" in production.

The Government introduced a cap on synthetic nitrogen-fertilizers of 190kg N/ha/year for all pastoral farms in New Zealand, and will also require dairy farmers to report annually to councils on the weight of nitrogen applied per hectare.

National leader Judith Collins says farmers "have enough on their plate".
National leader Judith Collins says farmers "have enough on their plate". Photo credit: Getty

The Government is also requiring resource consent for winter grazing, which Fish and Game says is damaging not only rivers and streams, but also farmers' reputations.

"The main source of nitrates contamination in water comes from intensive dairy farms that use large amounts of fertiliser and from dairy cow urine," the non-profit organisation says. 

National thinks the resource consent requirement is "arbitrary" and "unworkable". 

The Government has since made adjustments to its original winter grazing rules after farmers said they were "entirely unworkable" and threatened to ignore them.  

New Zealand First took credit for the changes, with agriculture spokesperson and Otago sheep and beef farmer Mark Patterson describing the original rules as "unpractical". 

But New Zealand First hasn't come out unscathed in National's agriculture policy, with its One Billion Trees programme described as "unrealistic". 

National wants to remove the streamlined process for forestry applications in the Overseas Investment Office, a contentious policy which has seen Forestry Minister Shane Jones face-off with farmers over productive land being used to plant trees for carbon credits.  

"While this may be the easiest way to offset carbon emissions in the short-term, it doesn't take into account the long-term need to transition the economy off fossil fuels," National's policy says. 

"The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has recommended taking forestry out of the emissions trading scheme and establishing a separate sustainable land use scheme. National is interested in exploring this idea."

On the emissions trade scheme (ETS), National plans to tweak the Government's arrangement with farmers to start taxing agriculture emissions by 2025. 

Farmers have been given time to develop ways to measure and price emissions at the farm-level, to be separate from the ETS. But if they can't figure something out by the time a review comes around in 2022, agriculture could be included in the ETS. 

That wouldn't happen under National. 

"National does not support this clause - it creates needless uncertainty and signals Labour aren't 100 percent committed to the farmer-led programme," the policy says. 

National plans to support agriculture by establishing a fast-tracked visa for primary sector workers. It would allow any space not used in managed isolation for skilled visa holders, and employers would have to pay for the accommodation. 

The Government has already announced exceptions for border entry for a limited number of veterinarians, deep sea fishing crew, as well as agricultural and horticultural machinery operators. 

If elected, Labour would create a 10 percent quota in managed isolation facilities for critical workers. 

National's agriculture policy also includes:

  • making changes to the Zero Carbon Act which has already been outlined 
  • increasing infringement fines from $400 per person to $1000 if a passenger has brought a biosecurity risk item to New Zealand
  • Giving biosecurity officials the same powers as immigration officials to deport any visitor if they have knowingly concealed biosecurity risk items.