More effort needed to meet water goals

New Zealand's plentiful supply of water is not being used effectively, an industry report says. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
New Zealand's plentiful supply of water is not being used effectively, an industry report says. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
KPMG launched its annual Agribusiness Agenda at the National Fieldays at Mystery Creek yesterday, which features the latest insights relevant to the agribusiness sector. Agribusiness reporter Sally Rae takes a look at some of the issues identified by primary sector leaders.

The agrifood sector needs to ''move with velocity'' to deliver on the community's desire for swimmable rivers and lakes, an industry report says.

KPMG's latest Agribusiness Agenda said many commitments had been made by organisations but they were piecemeal and had gaps.

A collective view of commitments made should be developed, projects developed to address gaps identified and a more ambitious timetable adopted.

It had become more difficult to hold a balanced conversation on water, due to the entrenched positions people held, the report said.

The benefits to the community that came from making water available - and the chance to unlock a diversity of higher value land uses - had become ''lost in the noise''.

The industry faced a significant challenge re-establishing its voice in relation to the responsible management of water.

''As one contributor suggested, the industry needs to convince the community that water does not have any impact on pollution; it is bad farming practices that cause pollution,'' the report said.

The Government had indicated it would no longer provide seed funding to irrigation projects, making it even more challenging to utilise water effectively.

There was a plentiful supply of water in New Zealand but it was not used effectively. The industry needed to refocus on doing what was right and ensuring the country's inherent water resources were used as responsibly as possible.

The central role that water and the environment played in the election debate last year increased the focus on how aspects of the country's natural environment were used daily.

Through the coalition agreements, the new Government had placed the transition to a low-carbon, environmentally sensitive country at the centre of its agenda.

The environmental challenge facing the country had many dimensions. But it was too often simplified by mainstream media to a position that the primary sector was largely responsible for environmental decline across the country, and needed to take ownership in fixing the issue, the report said.

However, the pollution that closed many Auckland beaches over the summer was raised in conversations as highlighting it was not an ''us or them'' issue, but one that needed whole-of-community responses.

Economic opportunities associated with more intensive production systems had resulted in some farmers seeking to extract more from their land than it was capable of giving.

Those farmers had impacted ecosystems and caused environmental degradation. The actions of the minority had resulted in all farmers being placed under increasing scrutiny.

The perception that farmers could no longer be trusted as guardians of the land was leading the industry towards tighter regulation, more one-size-fits-all remediation, and increasing requirements to capture and report data.

That was an undesirable path that would see much invested in managing perceptions, and significantly less in fundamentally enhancing ecosystems for the benefit of current and future generations.

The key message from conversations was clear - it was ''not OK'' to pollute the environment in any way, and there needed to be significant consequences for those that continued to do so.

It was also apparent the industry recognised restoring the environment to meet the expectations of the wider community could not be done alone. It was going to require partnerships.

Partnerships could evolve by the government and community providing financial support to retire marginally productive land, returning it towards native planting, for instance, or through the community setting rules that provided the time and scope to allow farmers, growers and producers to transition their farming systems to a lower-carbon operating model.

There were many projects around the country where land owners, farmers, community groups, industry and government agencies had come together with a goal of improving environmental outcomes.

Such collaboration would require a mindset change for many farmers who had spent decades seeking to maximise production and yield.

That new focus would mean aligning their systems and deploying data-rich technology to enable them to work in balance with the capacity of their ecosystem.

Comments

''...water does not have any impact on pollution; it is bad farming practices that cause pollution,''
Good irrigation is defined as 80% efficient, therefore 20% is not used by the plant and carries pollutants to rivers/groundwater. If there are lots of intensive farms in an area all losing 20% of their water you will have an environmental problem.
"a few poor farmers ruining it for the majority" is not the true case, it's too many good farmers with too many cows ruining it for all. Not to mention the bad farmers on top of that.
However, remember that these farmers all set up shop legally and not with the intention of ruining the water. it's just a case of a thousand cuts. They will need time to spread the cost of fixing this up but shouldn't be subsidised to do this by the taxpayer. It is a business cost. The Auckland council won't be subsidised by the NZ taxpayer to fix its wastewater issues and neither will a factory for adding more filters to its smoke stacks. Fair's fair.