Groundswell NZ is a volunteer group of farmers and rural professionals advocating for our Grass Roots farmers and rural communities. They recently took to the streets in the biggest protest since Bastion Point and converged on all the main centers nationwide in a convey of tractors – pushed to the limit with the number of regulations and perceived unworkable legislation that they feel is out of touch with what is happening within the actual industry.
The mainstream media seemed to ignore the scope of the protest with limited coverage, and the political response bordered on a snub with “no comment” the only response from the Prime Minister.
Farmer David Clark made the following observations about the farming industry, who seem to bear the brunt of flak in relation to the country’s carbon emissions and water quality.
“New Zealand’s farmers are already one of, if not the most efficient producers of food in the world from a carbon perspective. We have the second-best water quality in the OECD and produce some of the highest quality grain, seed and horticultural products in the world. Why don’t we talk of these successes?
“Can we do even better? You betcha we can, and we are on a path of constant improvement.
“New Zealand farmers receive one of the highest unsubsidised farm-gate milk prices in the world, our beef and lamb are at almost record prices as are our horticultural products. We simply can’t produce enough to meet with the demand for the food we grow.
“It is these food products that are keeping the lights on in this country.”
The original idea behind Groundswell was to organize “A Howl of a Protest”, a tractor protest about the National Policy on Freshwater, but with overwhelming national support it has grown to encompass:
seeking a halt to, and rewrite of, unworkable regulations – freshwater, indigenous biodiversity, climate change and the Crown Pastoral Land Reform bill (new regulation affecting high country farmers);
a stronger advocacy voice on behalf of farmers and rural communities;
seeking solutions to environmental issues that are tailored to regional/district differences;
supporting the hundreds of grassroots initiatives, like Catchment and Landcare groups, QEII covenants, and biodiversity and conservation trusts.
Farmers and growers were joined by industry support people, tradesmen, contractors and councils in the unprecedented nationwide demonstration.
Together with their families, and with a sense of absolute urgency, they issued a position statement and made the following requests to Government as a stake in the ground:
The National Policy Statement on Freshwater must be scrapped. Setting and attaining freshwater guidelines should be the jurisdiction of catchment groups, in association with regional councils. The Pomahaka catchment group is proof this approach works.
Big-stick regulations for Significant Natural Areas such as wetlands and landscapes must be abandoned or re-written immediately, with funding redirected to proven systems like the QEII National Trust. More than 180,000 hectares of private land has already been placed in protection by landowners in partnership with the trust. This approach works. Voluntarily placing land in trust gives landowners a sense of pride; they will look after it well. Being forced into it means the opposite. We see the proposed Government regulations regarding significant natural areas as a land grab. Private property rights must be protected.
The National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity should be scrapped. This policy punishes the landowners who have already been proactive in conservation, turns biodiversity into a liability, and wastes millions of dollars on tick-box significance assessments. Councils should be able to work with and support the many landowner initiatives such as landcare & catchment groups and the QEII National Trust. It is essential to protect landowners’ private property rights.
Seasonal rural workers from overseas should be prioritised through MIQ: we urgently need rural contractors, horticulturalists, dairy farmers and fruit-pickers. The rural sector is doing the heavy-lifting for the NZ economy, now more than ever, and the mental strain on farmers and growers, of continuous long hours and product loss, is becoming unbearable.
The Government must stop calling these workers ‘unskilled labour’ and instead refer to them as skilled manual labourers. That’s what they are. These people harvest kiwifruit and apples expertly, with no bruising, allowing the fruit to be exported into high-value markets with certainty. Just because people do not tick the box for degrees does not mean they are not critical to the NZ export machine.
The NZ Emissions Trading Scheme is seeing large areas of farmland incentivised into pines and a significant cost-burden borne by the world’s most emissions-efficient farmers. The unworkable elements of climate-change policy which are crucifying farmers and growers must be withdrawn.
High country legislation – the Crown Pastoral Land Reform Bill – is another big-stick layer of regulation being applied to our high-country farmers, over and above existing council regulations. This unnecessary burden must be lifted. We do not know a single high-country farmer who is not passionate about his environment.
The ‘Ute tax’, or the Government’s Clean Car Package rebate scheme, must be scrapped as soon as possible. There is no electric alternative to the ute – a vehicle which is essential to New Zealand’s economic heavy-lifters: farmers, horticulturalists, industry support people and tradesmen. If there is no alternative, the policy is clearly unworkable and merely another financial burden.
Groundswell is well underway on planning the next steps and encourages New Zealanders to get in behind them in support. They can be found at https://www.groundswellnz.co.nz, or on social media.
Farmer David Clark sums it up.
“Farmers like me have had a gutsful of being vilified to suit a political agenda. We have had a gutsful of being slapped and that is why farmers took the very unusual step of taking to the streets.”