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Farmers question Bridges

Kuranui College pupils Caelum Greaves and Aimee Clouston debate with National Party leader Simon Bridges and Wairarapa MP Alastair Scott. PHOTO/CATHERINE ROSSITER-STEAD

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More than 200 people from the farming industry turned out to hear from National Party leader Simon Bridges, during an event at the Carterton Events Centre on Thursday afternoon.

‘Farming Matters’ event chairman David Holmes said it was a good opportunity for Bridges to hear directly from those in rural communities.

“Farming is at a crossroads at the moment and it’s important that the people in charge of the country understand what’s going on.”

Wairere Station sheep breeder Derek Daniell opened the discussion and touched on a range of issues faced by the industry, including New Zealand’s dependence on oil, the growth of the tourism industry, the loss of assets to foreign buyers and forestry subsidies.

“The issue for Wairarapa,” he said, “is that rural communities are going to disappear.”

Bridges seemed to agree with a lot of the points raised by Daniell and described his presentation as “very hard hitting”.

“What concerns me is that we have a growing population which is increasingly disconnected from [farming’s contribution to exports],” the opposition leader said.

“A lot of New Zealanders like our life [now] but maybe not so much how we’ve got here.”

At the forefront of many farmers’ minds was Wairarapa Federated Farmers president William Beetham’s question about whether National would support bringing farmers into the Emissions Trading Scheme.

“I don’t support agriculture coming into the ETS at this moment,” Bridges said.

He said he believed in “human-induced climate change” but advocated for an independent science-based climate commission to oversee policy.

“Climate change is real, but that doesn’t mean we should be crazy in our response to it.”

Bridges also took a similar question from Wainuioru sheep and beef farmer James Cates, who asked whether National supported the Government’s one billion trees project.

“It’s PR and spin which is wasting a lot of your money.”

South Wairarapa dairy farmer Leo Vollebregt also put forward a question about National’s stance on water storage research and infrastructure, which Bridges agreed was a “massive issue”.

He acknowledged the issue didn’t relate to farming alone, and water quality was important in ubran areas too.

“The dirtiest creek in New Zealand isn’t on a farm, it’s near Henderson where I grew up.”

Bridges said he supported research and the development of infrastructure for water storage, as well as better irrigation schemes as part of the party’s approach to climate change.

“If you believe climate change is happening, there’s only one way to deal with it and that’s water storage.”

Bridges gave a less confident response to a question from independent economic development adviser Tina Nixon, who was a strong voice against the closure of Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre.

She asked what the future of vocational training centres and polytechnics would be under a National-led government.

Bridges said he was open to adopting what the community thought was the appropriate action.

Bridges’ visit to Wairarapa included a businesswomen’s breakfast followed by a tour of Wairarapa Hospital and Lansdowne Park Lifestyle Village, a meeting with forestry industry leaders at JNL, and visits to Kuranui College and JR Orchards in Greytown.

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