Farmers criticise Pastoral Lands Bill

Mt Nicholas Station, a working high-country farm. PHOTO: STEFAN HAWORTH
Mt Nicholas Station, a working high-country farm. PHOTO: STEFAN HAWORTH
A high country farmer says proposed laws are part of Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage’s crusade to get farming out of the New Zealand high country.

Ms Sage’s Crown Pastoral Land Reform Bill will go to a select committee in the coming weeks.

It aims to end tenure review, a voluntary process that gives pastoral lessees an opportunity to buy some of their leasehold land. The rest of the land returns to Crown ownership, usually for conservation purposes.

Public consultation on management of the South Island high country was launched last year, following the announcement the Government was scrapping tenure review.

Mt Nicholas Station manager Kate Cocks said many farmers were very disappointed with the Bill and that it started with the assumption there were lots of environmental issues in the high country.

" I know a lot of farmers find it very frustrating because the New Zealand high country is frequently held up as being a beacon of sustainable farming and international marketing of New Zealand," she said.

Since changes were mooted in the past 18 months, farmers have worked with Land Information New Zealand to get something in place that was workable, she said.

"The key is, I really think high-country farmers and the Government want the same thing: you want the land looked after and to be there in perpetuity for everyone to enjoy."

Many farmers get an unfair reputation for disrespecting the land and environment, she said.

"I think that’s something that farmers are very focused on, is making sure we are farming sustainably."

"Essentially, this reality has come down to one minister’s crusade to get farming out of the high country. Which is probably a bit blunt but that’s how it feels."

High Country Accord Trust chairman Philip Todhunter said the Bill was poorly drafted and placed limitations on day-to-day farming activities.

"Under the Bill as it stands, we’d need to apply for consent to fence off a wetland or waterway and then another consent to put in a new stock water trough so our livestock can have a drink."

The proposed Bill was completely at odds with the Government’s recent statements that "farmers, growers and producers will play a critical role in New Zealand’s economic recovery", Mr Todhunter said.

Ms Sage denied the idea that she was out to get farming out of the high country.

"By ending tenure review the Bill will stop the privatisation process which has seen former Crown pastoral land once used for farming subdivided and sold for lifestyle blocks and similar development."

The Bill provides for improved management of over 160 remaining Crown-owned pastoral leases.

"I recognise and value the role high country farmers play in New Zealand’s economy and the economic recovery ... this Bill is intended to help safeguard that reputation and encourage sustainable pastoral farming."

hugh.collins@odt.co.nz

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