Doctor and activist

NZ Environmental Law Disappoints

The Conversation has an article about how NZ rivers are degraded and a package to improve them has been disappointing as it did not take expert advice.

The Conversation only takes articles from academics and the author admits he was one of the expert panel whose advice was ignored. He does not write of other issues such as why the advice was ignored. I can help here.

I was a NZ farmer for 5 years. Our farm was not quite big enough to sustain a family. We were riverside on a flood plain on the Taieri River south of Dunedin, and flooded regularly. We grazed beef and cattle and grew fodder crops for them as it was the cheapest way to feed them over winter. The legislation as it was allowed the inspectorate to measure the levels of nutrients in the river upstream and downstream of your farm, and if there was a difference to charge or fine you.

If it rained soon after you fertilised, you would be gone. This made farmers very nervous. It was believed that if you did not fertilise your yield declined. The government had had advisers, but no advice was offered on what the change in crop yields might be at certain nutrient levels. It is not possible to fertilise without some of it running off. The agriculture advice Department was made self-funding, so only the richer farmers could afford the advice. Private ‘consultants’ abounded and would do free soil tests and find deficiencies.

One year we were marginally short in Magnesium, so I asked if could put on Magnesium. Sure thing! But it was only one constituent of a fertiliser that was mainly phosphate and nitrogen and so you had to have the lot or not at all. The ‘consultants’ survived by commissions on the fertiliser and there was no other advice available in practice. Some would have been very helpful.

Much of the river pollution was from feed lots, where animals were very concentrated to be fattened before slaughter. These were often foreign owned, and could and should have been made to treat their faecal waste but they were treated the same as everyone else.

Farming is a very competitive business as it is in a perfect market and also subject to fluctuations due to floods, weather, foreign markets, or corporate wrangling that may change the price of abattoirs or the cost of inputs without warning. Given the lack of a more intelligent approach from the government as a whole, farmers and their rural MPs were highly distrustful of the new regulations, so politically this outcome is not unexpected.

If people want to be green, which is good, they have to go about it with some thought, consideration and help. We gave up after 5 years and came back to Australia.

Arthur Chesterfield-Evans

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