The Budget is an opportunity for the Government to launch a pesticide reduction strategy that multiplies the Environmental Protection Authority’s (EPA) and the Ministry for Primary Industries’ capacity to reassess pesticides and other toxins. The Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines (ACVM) Amendment Bill currently in front of Parliament will, in line with the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), allow a doubling in data protection for new compounds to 10 years, with an intended increase in new pesticide registrations, but an increased loss of transparency about what is in them. Under National there have been 1100 new compounds registered in the seven years until September 2015 with just 239 being cancelled or expired.
New Zealand is awash with pesticides but the EPA has too few resources to reassess more than about two pesticides a year and relies on industry data for its decision making. A Pesticides Reduction Strategy with a supportive Budget allocation to the cash strapped EPA, can help protect community and environmental health, and improve Aotearoa New Zealand’s clean green image and 100% Pure tourism brand. Tourists do not like the sight of heavy handed road and park side herbicide spray burn, or seeing fields of animals grazing on the herbicide yellowed pastures. High value organic agriculture and horticulture production is without chemical herbicides. There are alternatives to chemical herbicides that can be used for vegetation control in food production.
Organic Growth Strategy and Organic Advisory Service
Soon after it became government, National chose not to continue the Green Party initiated Organic Advisory Programme (OAP). Organic is the fastest growing food category internationally and typically returns high price premiums in export markets and New Zealand farmers would quickly benefit if the programme was to be reinstated. In two years of operation the previous advisory programme included 150 farm consultations of which two thirds began transition to certified organic certification, as well as knowledge extension field days.
Progressive countries have organic production strategies with targets for organic transition, supported by extension services and government procurement policies. Organic food in schools and hospitals would help grow the domestic organic sector, while organic transition support for dairy and sheep and beef farmers would help farmers get out of the current financial crisis that many find themselves in. Organic transition in dairy farming also means less nitrate leaching and climate change pollution. Farmers in nutrient red zones could become more profitable while significantly reducing their environmental impact.
Organic whole milk powder is priced at over $14,000 / tonne, yet Fonterra is limiting its organic premium milk pick up to just part of the North Island. A government organic strategy and supportive advisory programme could mean a major switch to highest value organic production for our primary production exports from all parts of New Zealand.