Federated farmers: Lessons for tourism, forestry

By Kim Rielly

Shane Jones wants a billion trees planted, so we have to do it right.
Shane Jones wants a billion trees planted, so we have to do it right.

Generations of New Zealanders have lived by the 'Go big or go home' attitude.

In 1908 the government passed an Act that authorised large-scale drainage of wetlands. That was followed by the provision of government incentives to make sure any soggy land was cleared and 'put to better use.'

In later decades, successive governments encouraged the felling of native forests to make way for further sheep and beef farming, which, let's be fair, did hugely help with our bounce back from both world wars, and provided lavish subsidies to boost livestock numbers and to keep fertiliser cheap.

"What the government and markets encourage one day may be something that very soon we're all pouring resources into trying to find solutions to fix."

After the '80s, the sudden removal of subsidies forced farmers to be more productive and efficient, and encouraged them to chase the highest-value land use.

Dairy turned from being farming's poor cousin to a boom industry. Mass conversions followed, with dairy literally providing the butter to our bread.

During that time, towns and suburbs expanded on to fertile soils, with expanding suburbia pushing horticulture and farming further out from local markets and away from the urban consciousness.

But isn't hindsight great? We now know New Zealand has suffered extreme loss of biodiversity, and some of our best soils are lost to lifestyle blocks and suburban sprawl.

It is today's farmers and land-owners who are tasked with turning this around.

Today's farming practices are very different from those many of us grew up with. We know not every dairy conversion has been in 'the right place,' and if we're honest, the same can probably be said for some irrigation.

So what can tourism and forestry learn from all of this? Do we need a bit more foresight when it comes to envisaging how we want to be in 20 years, or 50 years?

Shane Jones wants a billion trees planted. Right tree, right place, is crucial to this. We need to learn from the massive damage caused by forestry slash in Gisborne and elsewhere; we need to make sure forestry isn't put on to our most productive soils.

The primary industries are frequently told that tourism is New Zealand's current 'boom.'

But while our economy reaps the rewards, the dark side of that can also be seen in the regions. We are not just doing 'tourism,' we are supercharging it, and it's putting a big strain on our local infrastructure, and consequently ratepayers.

Freedom camping and its associated issues are well known — too many of our farmers have to deal with litter, human waste, trespassers, blocked gates and more. We are also changing and expanding some of most beautiful places to entice the tourist dollar.

Our next 'boom' industries can learn from the lessons those of us in the farming sectors have been through. What the government and markets encourage one day may be something that very soon we're all pouring resources into trying to find solutions to fix.

- Northland Age

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