Survey's criticism of farming rejected

Bryce Johnson.
Bryce Johnson.
A survey criticising the impact of intensive agricultural expansion on the environment has been labelled by farming groups emotive, unethical, oversimplified and ''just plain wrong''.

Fish and Game New Zealand yesterday released an independent survey, Farming and the Environment.

Its chief executive, Bryce Johnson, said while the organisation's primary interests related to the habitat of trout and salmon and freshwater angling and game bird hunting, the survey showed the focus on expanding primary sector growth, ''whatever the costs'', had put the economy on a collision course with the environment and public opinion.

''It also exposes that a very clear risk of losing support exists for political parties which introduce policies promoting economic growth without guaranteed safeguards to protect the environment.''

In the survey, 67% said they were prepared to see large-scale irrigation schemes proceed to help the growth of intensive dairy farming, but only if ''scientific evidence proves that measures are in place to ensure downstream waterways will not be adversely affected'', he said.

It also showed 70% believed expansion of dairy farming had made the quality of water in New Zealand streams, lakes and rivers worse than it was 20 years ago and that those who polluted those waterways should pay to fix the problems.

Federated Farmers chief executive Connor English said the survey oversimplified the issue and ignored the many changes and investments farmers had made to protect their environments.

''These emotive comments ... are not helpful.''

Water storage projects such as the Opuha Dam in South Canterbury had been good for fish, the community and the economy, he said.

The Government and local government were also making inroads on water quality issues, which were not just the responsibility of farmers but all water users.

''We need informed decisions based on objective science, not surveys based on perceptions.''

DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle said dairy farmers had boosted environmental investment by 61% this financial year to $11 million.

It was not surprising the survey painted a negative picture of public attitudes to dairy farming.

Mr Mackle did not see the survey as ''particularly rigorous or important''.

''They are playing politics in an election year and dairy farmers are the convenient football to kick around,'' he said.

The industry was already acting on concerns about dairy's impact in a range of ways.

''Farmers have certainly recognised the need to lift their game in investing in industry actions above and beyond their usual on-farm investments ... Farmers are certainly paying their fair share.''

New Zealand Fertiliser Quality Council chairman Anders Crofoot said the survey ignored the ''hundreds of millions'' farmers were spending on run-off mitigation, fencing waterways and nutrient management.

''It is just another example of Fish and Game popping up at the end of the trout fishing season and pushing an anti-farming stance that is bordering on obsessional.''

The Farming and the Environment Survey of 3134 respondents aged 18 and over was commissioned by Fish and Game and conducted independently by Horizon Research Ltd, with a margin of error of plus or minus 1.8%.


The findings
These include. -

• 89% of New Zealanders link their Kiwi identity to their natural environment.

• 37% say the economy is too heavily dependent on dairying.

• 31% say the growth of dairying and intensification has gone too far.

• 57% say all waterways should be safe.

• 89% say those who pollute waterways should be made accountable for their restoration.

• 73% say dairy companies should take responsibility for the environmental performance of their contracted suppliers.

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