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Shots fired over rural policy

The first salvo of Election 2023 talking points was exchanged by Wairarapa’s candidates yesterday in response to the release of National’s agriculture policy.

Titled ‘Getting Back to Farming’, the 19-point package is framed as rolling back Labour’s “war on farming” by way of “cutting red tape”, and includes: The promise that for every new agriculture regulation, two existing regulations will be cut; replacing nationwide “one-size-fits-all rules with local decision-making”; doubling the Recognised Seasonal Employers [RSE] worker cap from 19,000 to 38,000; and banning foreign farm-to-forest conversions for carbon farming.

Not surprisingly, National candidate Mike Butterick was bullish about the policy, telling the Times-Age, “my phones been going non-stop all day with support from Wairarapa farmers and agricultural support businesses – the National Party has been listening and get it”.

Butterick said there’ll be “relief” from farmers who’ve been “ignored and … inundated with rushed regulations that … are clearly detrimental to their ability to continue to run their family farms”.

What the sector needs instead, Butterick said, is “clear and sensible regulation that’s fit for purpose”.

And what the country needs, he continued, is “export income more than we ever have, given the dire current deficit” in order to pay for services provided by the likes of “teachers, nurses and police”.

Dismissing National’s announcement as just “a grab bag of one-liners”, and the two-for-one regulation promise as “random ideological nonsense”, Green Party candidate Celia Wade-Brown fired back that the policies “will not support a thriving sustainable farming sector that is good for farmers” – or for rural communities or “our drinking water and rivers”.

Arguing that what’s required is “a shift away from agricultural intensification and intensive dairying”, Wade-Brown said farmers need to be supported to – among other things – change their on-farm practices to implement regenerative techniques, reduce synthetic fertiliser use, and reduce herd sizes.

Wade-Brown also noted that agriculture is the country’s largest greenhouse gas producer, and that climate change will particularly impact farmer and rural communities via increased rainfall, droughts, and storms, while lack of climate action will put export receipts at risk due to overseas markets “beginning to demand carbon-friendly standards”.

Sitting MP and Labour candidate Kieran McAnulty echoed Wade-Brown’s point, noting that “export growth depends on our sustainability credentials” and the investment government has already made in working with the rural sector to “shift the dial on sustainability” – including $1 billion to primary industries in Budget ’22.

McAnulty also said National’s ban on carbon farming conversions is a solution in search of a problem.

“The conversion of farms to carbon forestry is a genuine concern for our region,” he said. This is why I have led a piece of work to give local communities a say in where and to what extent it can happen.

“But National are not being upfront with farmers – making it look like they’re doing something when in reality it won’t make much difference at all.”

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