Bridge over troubled waters
New Zealand is our beautiful home and country. We are fortunate to live and farm with a mild climate, fertile soils, generous sunshine and rainfall. Our rural industries produce significant volumes of quality food – much more than our own population needs
Last month New Zealand held its triennial general election. There was no clear winner on the night – under the MMP system (as opposed to the first-passed-the-post system) – deals need to done with two or more parties to determine who will ultimately form the government. As I write this month’s column there is still no certainty as to which combination it may be. Two or three combinations of possibilities pivoting around the two main parties could lead our country for the next three years. Will it be Labour with Greens and NZ First, or National with NZ First or, at very long odds, National and the Greens? Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, has had a significant influence on the outcome of the election. I note that it has as many seats (voters) as the combination of all of the South Island and all the Wellington seats. So influencing Auckland voters is an important tool in any political party’s tactics.
This years’ election has been, in my opinion, a particularly nasty one. I have never witnessed such intense personal and collective attacks on sections of our community by a wide range of groups and individuals. I have been saddened by not only the loss of confidence in our rural communities and industries, but also the emotive hatred that has emphasised a growing gap between our urban cousins and the rural sector. What used to be seen as a growing distance or divide has grown into a huge gulf. It hasn’t helped with policies promoted by a number of the political parties and their NGO supporters. Proposed environmental rules, new taxes and targeted measures to throw many of us who live in rural areas under the financial bus have incensed a large number of country voters.
WHY HAS THIS HAPPENED?
There is no doubt that all New Zealanders want cleaner water. I enjoy swimming in our local river over the summer months like everyone else. As an orchardist, I need potable water for all of our production systems. Substandard water is not an option for irrigation in any crop I grow. We need clean water for every activity from hand washing and drinking to frost fighting and fruit packing. Why would anyone not want clean water?
Our urban cousins feel we have made a poor job of what we do and feel we have neglected parts of our pristine rural areas, especially our rivers and streams. This situation has been growing for some time. It is promulgated by green NGOs and reinforced time and time again. Ironically Auckland has the worst water quality in our country. This fact seems to be completely overlooked by Aucklanders and the green NGOs. When will they clean up their own backyard and make the City of Sails’ beaches swimmable again? Both sides have work to do so why don’t we just admit it and get on to fix it… together?
Our rural leaders need to stand up and address the issues that have been raised. In my view we have not been good enough in “telling our stories” about why we do the things we do, but also there have to be changes in some of our practices. How can we do things better? Each of us has a role to play in doing the right thing for the environment, not just water quality. Soil degradation, nutrient leaching, carbon loss, wasting energy, lack of recycling and the like are all issues we need to look at individually and collectively.
All rural industries have to do their bit, not only to rethink practices but also to relink urban with rural. At Horticulture New Zealand we have started an Instagram page to share growers’ stories, photos and recipes (see #GrowersOfNZ). For those of you who follow social media, posting and reposting all things horticulture is now a must do – every little bit counts.
Our on farm practices are leading the rural industries in good agricultural practice (GAP). Horticulture has approximately 90% of its growers in registered GAP schemes. This includes the likes of NZGAP and Global GAP. Third party auditors independently verify these schemes, giving credibility to those who doubt the performance of our growers.
No matter where all of this leads we must reconnect urban and rural after the latest battering. We each have a role to play.