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Give it the sniff test (2 comments)

May 30, 2015

Organisational outcomes are driven by organisational culture. When the culture turns sour, so do the outcomes. And to understand the culture, one needs to observe over time and connect the dots.

Take the present situation with the Ruataniwha dam.

1. First come murmurs of HBRC staff disaffection, amplified by staff departures.

2. Then a sham — as judged by the environmental community — public consultation and ‘stakeholder’ process around the proposal and the overall plan for managing the Tukituki catchment.

3. Then complaints of uncooperative/dissenting consultants being bullied.

4. Then setbacks for HBRC/HBRIC as the BOI and the High Court endorse a tougher environmental approach.

5. And in that process, the Board of Inquiry publicly chides HBRC’s outside experts for changing their advice from one forum to the next on how to manage nutrient problems (in the case of the Tukituki, reversing positions they had taken elsewhere).

6. Then just weeks ago, a rebuke to the Regional Council from the Environment Court, which in ruling against the HBRC regarding its soft stance on protecting aquifer water, said:

“…it is a function of every regional council to control the use of land to maintain and enhance the quality of water in water bodies – ie including water in aquifers, and to control the discharges of contaminants into water (again, including water in aquifers). This function is not an option – it is something a regional council is required to do, whether it be difficult or easy.”

And finishing off with: “To not aspire to and attempt to at least maintain the quality of water abdicates the functions of a regional council …”

7. Then, during a recent public meeting, a complaint by a HBRC job applicant that he had been rejected explicitly because of his views on the dam.

8. Then, the performance by HBRIC’s chairman Andy Pearce, at last week’s Regional Council meeting, who in effect dared HBRC to enforce the land use consents that will be required by the new Board of Inquiry-established rules to control excessive nutrient leaching into the Tukituki catchment, while claiming — on the other hand — that farmers who purchased water from the dam would be exempt from such requirements.

His implied sales message to CHB farmers: To escape the environmental rules, buy dam water. In short, your water user agreement is a a license to pollute. Wink!

Or, put as a threat to dam-resistant CHB farmers: Buy dam water, or suffer the environmental rules.

9. And finally, at the same Regional Council meeting, HBRIC was given carte blanche, by 5-4 vote (need I list the votes?) to borrow roughly $10 million dollars, to pay its way, including its continued advocacy of the dam (and any other investment), without any further approval from your elected Regional Council. What would be the collateral for such borrowing? HBRIC’s only asset: shares of Napier Port.

[Video coverage of the HBRC meeting discussion of these two items is here and here.]

That’s what this $600 million investment — $300m to build the dam and its delivery system, $300m in on-farm infrastructure to use the water (on top of their millions in water purchase costs) — has come down to.

Produced by a souring organisational culture that has attempted — pretty successfully — to stifle all challenge.

How does it all smell to you?

Is this the deal you want for Hawke’s Bay?

If not, don’t just hold your nose … speak out!

Tom Belford




Big money in plastic bottles, says Steven Joyce (no comments yet)

May 16, 2015

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce was in Hawke’s Bay last week, breathlessly announcing that a new co-location of offices for  our region’s economic development bureaucrats would unlease the area’s business potential. “All lagging Hawke’s Bay has needed to unlock its economic potential was a single water cooler or coffee machine around which the region’s umpteen economic development officers could congregate at tea break to agree on strategies,” he announced at the ribbon-cutting. Adding as an afterthought: “Oh, that and a $600 million dam investment and a bit of oil & gas development.”

At least that’s how HB Today covered the story.

But BayBuzz got the true scoop in this private interview with Minister Joyce.

“I’m really here to sell plastic … plastic bottles to be precise,” he confided.

“When the bottling of aquifer water really takes off,” he gushed, “there will be billions to be made in manufacturing plastic water bottles.

“Yes, you can sell the water. And I urge everyone living on top of the Heretaunga aquifer to get a water consent tomorrow. If you don’t grab one, foreign investors will. The Regional Council’s giving them out like there’s no tomorrow and — can you believe this — the water is free. Gushing out water consents is like printing money. Pretty soon with all its drilling derricks the Heretaunga Plains should look like Oklahoma oil country. If you can’t afford a well, then sell your tap water.”

“All you need is bottles.”

Now Joyce was getting really pumped up.

“And that’s where the big profit is. Forget the water; the real money and mark-up is in the bottles … you have to think about the entire value chain. If I lived in Hawke’s Bay I’d invest in manufacturing PLA bottles … PLA is polymerised lactic acid. And if manufacturing isn’t your forte, just grow the corn the PLA comes from. Hell, anyone can grow corn in their back yard! The corn-growers won’t make as much money as the bottle-makers, but hey, that’s the sad story of farming.”

“But what happens if we run out of aquifer water?” asked BayBuzz. “Won’t that dry up the market for polymerised lactic acid?”

Fenton water bottling“Put a cork in it!” retorted Joyce. “Your own Regional Council says that the Heretaunga aquifer has unlimited quantities of water, all of it simply washing out to sea. In two or three years the Regional Council will release research proving that.”

Asked if it wouldn’t be prudent to wait for the research before investing heavily in cornfields and plastic extruding machines, Joyce replied: “I’m confident your council’s science will suit the occasion. Anyway, once you make the investment in bottling plants, there’s no turning back … just like that dam of yours. The key is to first get the bottles made and the concrete poured. And if there’s an unexpected hiccup with the science, your councils can always institute water bans for lawn watering, showering and tooth brushing. In fact I heard a radio commercial urging water conservation and saying “our water is precious” on my way into town from the airport. That’s a nice touch … start building the guilt, just in case.”

So there you’ve heard it. Straight from the Uber Minister.

Think about the entire value chain coming to Hawke’s Bay …

More council staff to process consents. More corn crops. More fertiliser for the corn. More lawyers and accountants for farmers. More polymerised lactic acid processing facilities. More plastic bottle manufacturing. More work for creative agencies designing bottle labels. More paper for the labels, and logging to produce the paper. More trucks to carry the logs and then the containers of bottles to the Port. The value chain extends further and further. More stevedores for the Port. More beer for the stevedores, who ‘replenish’ the aquifer … a virtuous cycle. The velocity of money is mouth-watering.

All because of limitless free water and plastic bottles from corn.

Who says God isn’t smiling on Hawke’s Bay?

Tom Belford

P.S. I ran Joyce’s strategy past the region’s expert in bottling, Tim Noble-Ustinoff. He operates the plant that bottles virtually every drop of Hawke’s Bay wine. Tim agrees that the real value of just about every product is in the packaging. But he emphasizes that high-end coloured water (i.e., wine as opposed to cranberry juice) is packaged in glass bottles, not plastic, hence the premium price that wine commands over pure water (and cranberry juice). “I wouldn’t say winemakers don’t contribute anything,” says Tim, “but everyone knows that above all else the high-end connoisseur demands a glass bottle with a flash label. If you want to make big money off water, it’s gotta be in a glass bottle. Has Minister Joyce never heard of Perrier or Pellegrino?”


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Build the dam now, suffer the consequences later (3 comments)

May 3, 2015

The Tukituki Board of Inquiry issued a draft decision on Friday aimed at resolving the final form of Plan Change 6, which sets the environmental regulatory regime for the Tukituki catchment, including the proposed Ruataniwha dam, if it proceeds.

In a victory for environmentalists, the BoI affirmed that the DIN limits (regulating nitrogen in the waterways), strongly opposed by HBRIC and the Regional Council, would in fact stand. Most importantly, the BoI made clear that the dam scheme and individual farmers using scheme water would need to operate such that the DIN limits would be met by 2030.

To that end, a monitoring, reporting and review requirement was added as a condition to the consents earlier granted. If this monitoring indicates the DIN limit is being exceeded, then HBRIC must identify specific actions that will be taken by irrigator-landowners to ensure compliance.

In short, farmers using dam water must meet the new DIN limits within fifteen years. The Regional Council is also required to review the nitrogen leaching limits in Plan Change 6 to ensure that the DIN limit is on a trajectory to being met.

With the DIN limit firmly in place, HBRIC must now argue, reversing its position when the BoI originally proposed the DIN limit, that the dam consents with these conditions are now indeed ‘workable’.

HBRIC must now convince CHB farmers that they needn’t worry about meeting DIN limits in the far away future, and can therefore feel secure entering long term water purchase agreements.

HBRIC chief Andrew Newman began the renewed water sales campaign on that note in the weekend HB Today, commenting that 2030 was “a long, long way from now. We believe farming practices and technology will improve substantially over that period of time in relation to nutrient management.”

In other words, sell 35-year water contracts and pour the concrete now, and hope for the best in terms of meeting environmental requirements in the future. Effectively, to reassure the public and to sell its water contracts, HBRIC must convince farmers that a rescue party will arrive before 2030.

In contrast, dam advocate and Irrigation NZ chief executive Andrew Curtis called the BoI decision “a far from practical outcome” and said: “We believe nutrient limits set for the Tukituki system remain unrealistic for what is a productive working agricultural landscape.” He apparently failed to get the ‘all’s well message memo’ from Andrew Newman.

Environmental leaders, while pleased with application of the DIN limit to the scheme and its users, are less sanguine about where this all leads:

Environmental Defense Society chairman Gary Taylor commented:

“…we are concerned as to whether there are gaps remaining in the conditions of consent that would enable on-going degradation through to the target year for compliance with the DIN limit of 2030. New condition 12A which addresses the obligations between now and then relies on the regional council acting if exceedances are found. But the regional council will have invested hundreds of millions into the Dam project and so will be conflicted in its regulation role.

“There are still questions over the viability of the irrigation scheme and we would be dismayed if a scenario unfolds where the dam goes ahead and pressure then comes on to ease the compliance regime to help make it work. Poor water quality should not be an outcome from this project.”

Forest & Bird’s Kevin Hackwell echoed that, saying:

“…any proposals for intensification in the TukiTuki valley are going to have the meet new nitrogen requirements to protect the river. In light of this draft decision it would be irresponsible for the Regional Council to commit ratepayers’ money, or to sign up farmers, to the scheme without having proved to their satisfaction that the formidable reductions in nitrogen pollution were possible.”

Obviously, if the dam proceeds as HBRIC wishes, it will be built and farming will intensify long before anyone – including the conflicted regulator HBRC, who will be panting for a dam dividend – ever sees the adverse environmental impact. The farm environmental management plans needed to reduce on-farm nutrient leaching are not even due until 2018, and will only begin to gain traction after that.

Simple common sense would dictate a different scenario than the one HBRC and HBRIC have driven against all criticism and legal setbacks.

The common sense scenario:

  1. Accept that the Tukituki is already seriously degraded.
  2. Implement Plan Change 6 vigorously and demonstrate that water quality in the Tukituki catchment is actually being improved.
  3. If and when a clearly improving water quality trajectory was confirmed, then consider the viability of any dam.

But contrary to common sense, HBRIC/HBRC has the cart before the horse.

Parties have until 15 May to comment on the new draft BOI decision. And then legal appeals are possible.

Tom Belford

P.S. To get the full flavor of the debate ahead regarding the impact of the BoI decision, here are the initial statements of the Environmental Defense Society, Forest and Bird, and HBRIC.


Addressing HB’s social challenges (no comments yet)

April 30, 2015

Hope you can join what should be a stimulating discussion of HB’s social issues, led by Mayor Lawrence Yule, former Green MP Sue Bradford, and Maori leader Des Ratima.

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 10.49.02 pm

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Meet the authors of a special book (no comments yet)

April 22, 2015

Tangata Whenua is a monumental book.

Meet the authors next Monday …
Tangata Whenua screen

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Let the harvest begin (3 comments)

March 16, 2015

As we endure this dreary, rainy day, take satisfaction in knowing that Hawke’s Bay’s 2015 wine harvest has begun.

From the hand pickers …


To the mechanical harvesters … [click image to view video]

Here’ s hoping for another great Hawke’s Bay vintage.

Tom Belford

P.S. BayBuzz is producing a ‘coffee table’ book, a history telling the fascinating stories of Hawke’s Bay winemaking, written by Mark Sweet (with a ‘vineyard to bottle’ essay by Peter Cowley), photographed by Tim Whittaker, and designed by Max Parks, for publication in November. A project supported by WineWorks. Stay tuned!


Needed: Plan B … Farm the Water (4 comments)

March 13, 2015

Last weekend HB Today ran a ‘Talking Point’ I submitted (less a sentence or two) proposing an initiative to look systematically at alternative proven farming methods that would help the region deal much better — profit-wise and environmentally — with dry climate conditions.

Here is the article.

Needed: Plan B … Farm the Water!

The Hawke’s Bay Regional Council needs a Plan B. A comprehensive plan of action to replace its singular — and all-consuming — focus on building a mega-dam at the top of the Tukituki.

The dam has been presented as a silver bullet for increasing farm productivity in Central Hawke’s Bay while simultaneously improving the environmental condition of the Tukituki river system, despite massive projected farming intensification.

Both outcomes are doubtful.

And whether one accepts that reality yet or not, the dam twists in the wind, its germination costing $250,000+ a month, since sufficient farmer/irrigators are yet to endorse the project with their cheque books.

Nevertheless, HBRC has refused to date to consider or present proven alternatives that might better enable CHB farmers (to say nothing of other farmers in Hawke’s Bay) to optimize the value of their productive land in dry conditions, to improve soil health and mitigate erosion (especially in hill country), and to better capture and store the rainwater that is available.

Moreover, other cutting edge farmers and farm consultants are demonstrating how sharply reduced fertilizer use (and therefore markedly reduced nutrient leaching) and improved farm productivity and profitability can co-exist.

Although approaches to accomplish each of these goals are being proven today in various parts of New Zealand, HBRC has shown zero interest in those approaches or their practitioners.

A miserable failure of leadership. Five members of our Regional Council – you can guess who they are — have twice voted down my resolutions merely proposing a Hawke’s Bay forum to explore these approaches and showcase their advocates.

Advocates like sheep farmer Doug Avery — from drier-than-Hawke’s-Bay-Marlborough – and Lincoln University dryland farming expert Derrick Moot, who have shown conclusively that smart growing practices can yield twice the return to farmers as irrigation. Indeed, Avery thinks of himself as farming water, not farming sheep. Farmers like Avery are making 25% rates of return or better with their dryland systems. Did you hear that CHB farmers?!

The current Listener magazine (‘Going with the Flow’, 26 Feb) profiles the accomplishments of these two (and others). And the farm trade press regularly covers them. Farm consultant Graeme Ogle, who has studied systems like Avery’s around New Zealand, says of Avery: “I think Doug Avery single-handedly has probably brought about the biggest change in farming practice in New Zealand.” Ogle adds: “It’s always an option not to irrigate. And the best option is to drought-proof your farm.” Did you hear that CHB farmers?!

But as I said, don’t expect the Regional Council to take note of the alternatives to irrigation promoted by these achievers. The accomplishments of Avery and his successful band challenge the case for the Ruataniwha dam.

So some of us are not waiting any longer for HBRC leadership, at either the political or staff level … although we hope they will follow.

A working party consisting of experienced farmers, soil experts, farm advisors and farm economists is now taking shape. This ‘hands-on’ group aims to showcase farming practices that can sustainably improve farm productivity here in Hawke’s Bay. And to do so not on some theoretical basis, but by helping design practical farm plans, farm by farm, and demonstration projects that can achieve the complementary and simultaneous goals of increasing profitability and improving the environment.

The first focus of the group will be on Central Hawke’s Bay, because farmers there have been promised much that the dam will simply not deliver. They deserve a Plan B.

That said, the methods and strategy involved will have applicability and relevance throughout Hawke’s Bay, and hopefully farmers throughout the region will want to become informed and involved. But all of this will require financial assistance.

This is the kind of initiative that HBRC should welcome and support. But unfortunately, when it comes to helping farmers raise the bar, HBRC’s ruling group is either remarkably unmotivated, or utterly clueless about successful ‘multiple bottom line’ practices.

A real pity, as some work generated by the $20 million dollars (and rising) spent on preparing for the dam (eg, detailed soil mapping) could be salvaged and used constructively in a Plan B initiative.

Similarly, the requirement now set by Plan Change 6 for 1000+ farmers in CHB to prepare Farm Environmental Management Plans (FEMPs) could be much better conceived and better supported to produce Adaptive Farming Plans. Such plans, designed to achieve both economic and environmental goals, would be of far greater value to farmers and the broader community alike.

The working party is now organising itself, expanding participation, and refining its plan of action. Stay tuned!

Tom Belford

P.S. Here is the Talking Point as it appeared in HB Today.