The PM reminds summit of state funding on tap to help farmers meet the demands of govt’s environmental agenda

The PM’s farmer and grower audience would have been heartened when she said the election success of Labour in rural New Zealand was a huge honour, but with it came huge responsibility and huge opportunities.  They would have been braced, too, for her promotion – and defence – of the government’s  environmental agenda.

The vote represented both an endorsement of the direction the government is heading and a requirement to work more closely with rural communities, Jacinda Ardern told the Primary Industries Summit.

I have made it very clear to our all our MPs, as well as those in provincial seats, that the primary sector is a key partner and stakeholder for this Government, and I want to see ideas permeate up from the grass roots as well as our engagement at a leadership level.

She then articulated three key objectives for the Government –

  • continuing to keep New Zealanders safe from Covid,
  • accelerating our economic recovery, and
  • laying the foundations for the future.

And she insisted (hurrah!):

Primary industries are at the heart of each objective.

The speech is one of three new posts on the Beehive website since Point of Order last checked on what ministers are up to.

The others deal with:

  • An announcement that three more projects have been approved for consideration under fast-track consenting legislation.  They are the Dominion Road mixed use commercial and residential development in Auckland, the Ohinewai Foam Factory in Huntly and The Vines Subdivision in Richmond.
  • The opening of a four-home papakāinga in Waiōhiki, the first project to be completed under the ‘Hastings Place Based’ initiative (a Government, Hastings District Council, iwi and provider partnership).

But back to the PM’s speech and her efforts to mollify apprehensive delegates at the Primary Industries Summit where – inevitably –  she broached the matter of the new national directions on freshwater which came into effect in September.

The nature of financial assistance available from the government perhaps served as a sop:

As we get further into implementation of this package, if some aspects are found to be impractical on the ground, or unclear, Ministers will receive that advice with the view to making the regulations workable. That’s in everyone’s best interest. And I thank everyone who is working with us to achieve what I believed to be a common goal.

That’s why we’re also providing financial assistance for the implementation of the new clean water standards through a $700 million fund that will create jobs in riparian and wetland planting, removing sediments and other initiatives to prevent farm run off entering waterways.

The direction is ambitious, but we believe it’s achievable. Many in the food and fibres sector are already well on their way and operate at best practice, and most I have met take great pride in taking care of their land, water and animals. We have work to do, but let’s keep talking.

Next on the agenda was the Primary Sector Council and its “vision” of the way forward for primary production in the coming decades.  There was an environmental edge to this, too.

It focuses on rapidly moving to a low carbon emissions society, restoring the health of our water, reversing the decline in biodiversity and, at the same time, producing high-quality, trusted and healthy food, drinks and fibres.

Ardern bandied a big number that calls for closer study.  How was it calculated?

She said the Primary Sector Council’s industry-specific and cross-cutting initiatives “together will add $44 billion in exports to the food and fibre sectors over the next 10 years”.

This is an opportunity for us to get alongside industry and invest significantly.

Oh, and there’s more state funding (from taxpayers) on tap:

To that end, we’ve boosted the Ministry for Primary Industries’ flagship funding programme, the Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund, by bringing forward more than $80 million to provide immediate co-investment.

In addition to that, there are significant parts of the roadmap that the Government is already backing:

  • improving freshwater quality through riparian planting and supporting farmer catchment groups on-the-ground;
  • reducing agricultural emissions;
  • water storage projects;
  • providing support for exporters;
  • the One Billion Trees scheme, to get the right tree in the right place at the right time;
  • developing new high value horticultural crops;
  • helping build better support tools to provide meaningful data to farmer;
  • fighting pests like wilding pines and wallabies to limit production loss; and:
  • helping the sector train more Kiwis to get jobs on orchards, farms, in pack houses and elsewhere.

In Budget 2020 we invested more than $1.1 billion in the Jobs for Nature programme which will improve freshwater, improve biosecurity and enhance biodiversity on public and private land. This programme will provide up to 11,000 jobs and economic support for people and communities across Aotearoa, while ensuring environmental benefits.

We also invested $111.2 million through Budget 2020 to provide support for rural and fishing communities, ensure the supply of food to New Zealanders and address animal welfare issues, address market access issues for horticulture, and attract New Zealanders to employment opportunities in the food and fibre sectors.

Did anyone in the audience have a calculator to tot up the numbers and the cost to taxpayers ?

And did anyone ask about the implications for our reputation as a country which eschews the subsidisation of agriculture?

Having tackled the environmental stuff, Ardern got down to business and trade, noting the benefits of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which was signed last week. Our food and fibres sector will benefit greatly from this deal, she said, particularly from the elimination of tariffs on some meat products into Indonesia.

Next step is to deliver on the EU FTA.

Ardern also mentioned He Waka Eke Noa, “a world-first partnership between the food and fibres sector, government, and Māori”.

World first? No doubt – but in which other country could such a partnership be established?

The environmental thrust is important with this programme, too.

It will help farmers reduce their on-farm emissions and adapt to climate change while contributing to New Zealand reaching our domestic targets for long-lived gases and biogenic methane.  It’s a work programme I’m absolutely convinced will only enhance our trade opportunities in the long run.

The thing that all these initiatives have in common is that they demonstrate how the industry and government are working together to overcome problems and build a renewed food and fibres sector that is fit for a better world. It’s a sector I know we all hope will go from strength to strength including by attracting kiwis to work in the industry.

The “Fit for a Better World” roadmap came next in the list of programmes Ardern highlighted in her speech.   It identifies the goal of employing 10 per cent more New Zealanders from all walks of life in the food and fibres sector by 2030, and 10,000 more New Zealanders in the food and fibres sector workforce over the next four years.

The most important asset that any business has is its people. By helping more people into jobs and providing excellent and safe workplaces, while also upskilling New Zealanders at all stages of their careers, we will build a prosperous future together.

Achieving this goal is vital to our success. It will ensure that our businesses can remain operational in the absence of overseas visitors, it will provide meaningful employment to those that have lost their jobs due to COVID-19, it will support our rural communities, and it will build the resilience of our food and fibres sector.

By taking care of our people and our environment while lifting our sights to growth through value rather than volume, the food and fibres sector would be at the forefront of what would be an export-led recovery, Ardern concluded.

She was confident the farmers and growers shared this vision and was excited about the work she knew farmers would deliver.

Alas, we weren’t there for questions from the floor.

Latest from the Beehive

24 NOVEMBER 2020

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Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today about the significant contribution the food and fibres sector makes to New Zealand and how this Government is supporting that effort.

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