The Press

NZ dairy farms use as much water as 58.2 million people


‘‘Less than 7 per cent of all pastoral and horticultu­ral land will be faced with a water royalty.’’ Dr Alison Dewes, farm consultant

Dairy farms in New Zealand use water equivalent to the combined population­s of London, New York, Tokyo, Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro, experts say.

Almost all of it is used by about 2000 farms, as the vast majority are not irrigated.

It comes as farmers protested against a perceived targeting of rural communitie­s ahead of the election.

Agricultur­al economist Peter Fraser and farm consultant Dr Alison Dewes said claims of farmers being burdened with huge costs from a water tax were overblown.

Steven Joyce has claimed some farms would pay $50,000 to $100,000 for a water tax. Bill English has cited the $50,000 figure.

Fraser and Dewes, using Dairy NZ figures, said there were 12,000 dairy herds in New Zealand consuming 4.8 billion cubic metres of water.

An average person – based on figures from Wellington, although water use varies nationwide – uses about 80 cubic metres of water, meaning dairy farms alone use the equivalent of about 58.2 million people.

Almost all of the water is used by about 2000 farms, primarily in drier areas such as Canterbury and Otago.

‘‘We’ve had this huge gold rush to go and convert dry areas to these hugely water-intensive uses,’’ Fraser said. ‘‘There’s an issue here with how we’ve gone and used our land. Why have we gone and put these incredibly waterhungr­y uses such as dairy farming in such water-scarce areas? ‘‘It’s because the water’s free.’’ The average cost of a water tax on an irrigated dairy farm would be between $10,000 and $15,000, their analysis found.

It echoed an analysis by RNZ and Auckland University’s Public Policy Institute, which determined the cost to an average irrigated dairy farm would be $13,800. Dairy NZ has disputed that figure.

Fraser said some ‘‘mega-farms’’ would pay up to $50,000, but it would mean they were each using water equivalent to 31,000 people. ‘‘That’s a hell of a lot of water. We’ve just got to put into perspectiv­e how much water some of these mega farms are actually using.’’

He said he would prefer the money drawn from a water tax to be paid into the Superfund, rather than specifical­ly for a river cleanup fund, but believed it opened up a debate that needed to happen.

He also said a water tax should apply to everyone, including domestic users. ‘‘It would be $1.60 per person a year, so let’s suck it up.’’

Dewes said the figures quoted by English and Joyce were far beyond what would apply to the average farm, and showed they did not understand dairy farming systems. To get to a figure of $50,000 – let alone $100,000 – a farm would have to be enormous or diversifie­d into wet rice farming.

‘‘The fact is less than 7 per cent of all pastoral and horticultu­ral land will be faced with a water royalty,’’ she said.

‘‘It would be more helpful if the National Party focused on developing sound policies that help farmers transition to high-value, resource-efficient land uses with lower water, nitrogen and carbon footprints than pollute the media with scurrilous sound bites.’’

Industry group Irrigation NZ produced its own analysis yesterday, stating the cost to an average irrigated Canterbury farm would be between $24,000 and $29,000.

‘‘When this additional cost is put in context of the profit generated by a family farming business, it will create a significan­t impact, particular­ly for sheep and beef, arable and vegetable farmers who have reasonably tight operating margins,’’ chief executive Andrew Curtis said.

Jacinda Ardern says a rural-urban divide doesn’t exist but Kiwi farmers seem to have a different feeling.

Five days out from the election, the Labour leader was fielding mud being thrown at her from her hometown.

Ardern frequently draws on her experience of growing up in the small town of Morrinsvil­le in Waikato. The story of her upbringing reads almost like a Kiwi cliche.

Yesterday, she again mentioned her upbringing in Morrinsvil­le, and a stint living in the small, rural Bay of Plenty town of Murupara. But that connection to rural New Zealand wasn’t enough to get worried farmers onside.

While Ardern was campaignin­g in Whanganui, as many as 600 farmers gathered in Morrinsvil­le to protest Labour’s proposed water tax. Only three farms in Morrinsvil­le would be affected by the tax, she said, adding that about 2000 dairy farms across the country would be taxed.

Waikato Federated Farmers president Andrew McGiven told those at the rally the country was too small to have a rural-urban divide but said that rift did exist.

When asked whether she had played a part in creating the split between the two communitie­s, Ardern said she didn’t believe a divide existed.

‘‘I’ve been re-iterating throughout this campaign that I believe New Zealanders are united behind the issues that we need to tackle – united behind cleaning up our rivers, united about ending homelessne­ss, united around having better health services ...

‘‘My focus has also been about talking about my background, where I’ve grown up, the fact that I know there are environmen­talists and they want to see us clean up our rivers.’’

Ardern said she didn’t take the location of the rally too personally.

‘‘Having grown up in Morrinsvil­le, I’ve always known that there are people who take a different view when it comes to politics than I do, and that still continues. But I also know I do have some hometown support too.’’

Meanwhile, National leader Bill English said Labour and the Green Party had ‘‘targeted the rural community because they believe there’s urban votes in it’’.

Labour should give credit to the farming and horticultu­ral communitie­s, the local councils, and the regional councils for the intensive work done to lift the water quality, English said.

‘‘Labour and the Greens have carried on as if no-one has done anything. And that’s what, I think, these communitie­s are taking offence at because they’ve all worked hard and invested millions.’’

Like Ardern, English has frequently referred to his Southland upbringing on the campaign trail.

Just over a week earlier, he visited Whanganui as part of his provincial push. He spent the morning in Whanganui before making his way up through South Taranaki, stopping in the dairy farming areas of Hawera, Opunake, and Oakura before arriving in New Plymouth.

The prime minister also sought common ground with the constituen­ts by talking about his rural experience, and his respect for their hard work on the land.

And yesterday, he sent out an email, asking Kiwis to party vote National. Attached to the email was a picture of him wearing an oilskin jacket.

During their day of campaignin­g in Whanganui, Labour’s team didn’t leave the city. Ardern told a crowd of 300 people she wanted to help improve the healthcare, education opportunit­ies and roading in the provinces. Perspectiv­e A7

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 ?? PHOTOS: KATRINA TANIRAU/STUFF ?? Jacinda Ardern says there isn’t a divide but her campaign has focused on urban centres, while Bill English has spent time with farmers.
PHOTOS: KATRINA TANIRAU/STUFF Jacinda Ardern says there isn’t a divide but her campaign has focused on urban centres, while Bill English has spent time with farmers.

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