Groundswell protest: Farmers says ute tax a 'real kick in the guts' for rural communities

Farmers say the Government's 'ute tax' is the "straw that's broken the camel's back" as frustration boils over in rural communities around the country.

Thousands of farmers are expected to take to the streets in more than 50 towns and cities on Friday in Groundswell's Howl of Protest.

Organiser Bryce McKenzie says farmers are hoping to send a strong message to the Government they've had enough of a "barrage of regulations" that "aren't fit for purpose".

Groundswell NZ was formed last year after farmers in Southland took to their tractors to protest newly introduced freshwater regulations. 

Since then the group has grown in strength and has spoken out about other regulations such as those concerning significant natural areas and indigenous biodiversity.

McKenzie says farmers are already doing their part to protest the environment, and a number of rules imposed by the Government in recent months are not only impractical but also won't make a difference to improving the situation.

"We know what it takes to get clean water and you don't get it through regulations and you don't get it through unworkable regulations," he told The AM Show on Friday.

"Some of us are third-generation farmers...if we were ruining the land that we were on surely we wouldn't be able to farm it still. So it's in our interest to actually look after that farmland for the next generation."

The Government says the regulations are crucial to stop further degradation of the nation's freshwater resources and for the country to achieve its goal of having net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

But McKenzie says the ever-increasing number of rules is leading to stress and anxiety for rural communities.

"We've had enough of just a constant barrage of regulations, and these regulations aren't fit for purpose."

He says the latest move by the Government to impose a so-called 'ute tax' on high-emitting vehicles is "the straw that's broken the camel's back".

The new rules around vehicles were announced last month as part of the Clean Car Package, in a bid to encourage the uptake of electric vehicles (EVs).

People who buy new EVs will be eligible to receive a rebate or discount of up to $8625, with the rebate to be funded by a fee on purchases of new high-emitting vehicles, such as utes.

But farmers and tradespeople say the scheme isn't fair as no electric options exist for the vehicles they need for their work.

"We don't have any option, it does the heavy lifting on farms and for tradespeople," McKenzie says.

"For us it's just a real kick in the guts just when we're down anyway, and that's really what's finished people off - they've just had enough."

McKenzie says he hopes Friday's protests will send a strong message to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Government. 

"She shows a lot of care and compassion in some areas. We would like a little bit shown to the farming and rural community for what they're going through - because we don't see much of it," he says.

He says if the protest is successful farmers will "feel that we've been listened to and what we've been saying has been taken on board and something's done about it".

Minister for the Environment David Parker told The AM Show he respected the right of farmers to voice their concerns but said he wouldn't be attending the protest.

"No, I am not going," he said

"I think everyone has a right to express their opinion. It is a country of free speech. I do note that farmers are doing very well, export prices are high, interest rates are low, profits are high."

Parker defended the need for the regulations and said the Government had worked with farmers to change a number of details concerning some of the more unpopular freshwater rules, such as those around intensive winter grazing.

"There is a generation for these changes to take place over and the rules are actually set by regional councils. Are we going to back away from our commitment to have rivers that are swimmable? No."