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Opportunities Lost

Land/Farming Voices

Conspiracy theories abound about why some of us – councillors and the public at large – don’t support the Ruataniwha dam project. One was that it was somehow related to the amalgamation debate – “amalgamation in disguise”. And that our supporters are “Hastings corporate growers and orchardists – all major and thirsty water users.”

Rex Graham05 June 2016

BB29

Well I’m afraid it’s not so intriguing. We simply do not think the project stacks up financially or environmentally, and believe there are much better ways to invest $80 million to achieve our region’s economic development objectives.

I suppose it’s not surprising that some of our adversaries need to invent obscure reasons why we are against this project, but it’s still very frustrating as we try to engage in a rational debate.

It is not sensible to spend 80% of your capital cash reserves on one mega-project that benefits a few farmers in Central HB with relatively small economic benefit to the wider community.

We also don’t think that it’s sensible to put an extra 9,000 hectares of dairying in Central HB, and it’s disturbing that 8,000 hectares of that is projected to be on light soils, more prone to leaching.

A great many of us in Hawke’s Bay think this is environmental and economic madness, especially considering the new information on the environmental impact of intensive dairy farming on light soils in Canterbury.

These light soils are not suited to dairying; it is not dairy farm country and we don’t want or need any more dairy farms on our light soils in Central HB.

Economic claims

And what about the much-celebrated economic impacts?

The new Ruataniwha economic analysis cites the impending growth of an additional 4,000 hectares of horticulture in Central HB, both apples and grapes.

I’m afraid it will be a long time before this happens, if it ever does. This is basically fantasy, just like a lot of claims around this project. The problem is these unrealistic predictions – dreamed up by I’m not sure who – are underpinning the new growth projections, which then of course also become a nonsense. I think the saying is ‘rubbish in, rubbish out’.

The real expansion in horticulture is already occurring in Heretaunga, where growers currently deliver 20,000 containers to our port and expect to double this over the next five years. And this doesn’t include the growth in wine from the same region. Put this against the 9,000 extra containers assumed to go through our port as a result of a total investment of $900 million in the Ruataniwha dam water delivery scheme.

The $900 million is in itself mind boggling; but it is also incredible to think that anyone could have thought that this was the best ‘first up’ investment option for our region.

To add to the injury, many of these Heretaunga growers still don’t have water security and in fact in the 2014 drought our council was cutting water off to some orchards in Heretaunga whilst they were planning this dam in Ruataniwha. It will now be a long time before we sort this issue out and my bet is that before then we will get another bad drought which will threaten the integrity of this growth. This is a very serious opportunity lost.

However, despite tardy regional governance, these Heretaunga growers have just got on with it and invested their own capital in their businesses, underpinning our region’s growth and GDP over the next decade … without getting a huge ratepayer capital subsidy.

Alternatives

The HBRC has a role to play in supporting regional economic development and this rightly includes water storage. But I propose that our capital could be much more wisely applied.

Water storage and irrigation are certainly one of the most important things that the world and our region needs to apply ourselves to. But we should be encouraging private investment in water storage and I would like to see the HBRC promote and assist famers to do their own schemes. We need to to help them develop their farm environmental plans and their water use storage strategies. Look at ways to remove barriers and make it easier for them and especially ways to reduce the absurd compliance costs that are currently in place.

But we also need to think about other capital-hungry challenges that are facing our region now and in the near future. Opportunities to improve our community.

Humanity has spent the last 200 hundred years wrecking our environment. We are all responsible for this and we all need to participate in the restoration. Our ancestors, experts of their time, advised our farmers to grass the steep hill country and let stock graze in the rivers and streams. They also introduced pests such as rabbits, ferrets and possums, believing each time that they were doing a good thing. More recently we have over-consented water takes from our rivers and allowed phosphate and nitrates to leach and overflow into the same lakes and rivers.

It’s a bloody mess and we need a plan and capital to fix it.

This won’t happen over night, but we need to begin the process, make a start and this will take serious commitment and community investment capital. The job is just too big to ask a small bunch of farmers to do it alone and this is simply just not fair.

We need to have a much greater focus and investment into hill country erosion that is eroding the productive value of many of our farms and clogging our streams and estuaries. And whilst we are at it, we are going to need capital to fix the environmental tragedy that we have created at Lake Tutira.

Parts of the upper Tuki in Central HB are choked with gravel that is putting over 1,000 hectares of highly fertile land out of production; we will need capital to fix this.

Parts of Napier have been designated as the “Most at risk regions in NZ to sea level rises” and we need to devise a plan and allocate capital to manage this.

We need to ensure water security for the Heretaunga plains and Gimblet Gravels wineries that are at risk right now.

The issues and challenges are endless and we just can’t afford and should not use 80% of our ratepayer capital reserves on one doubtful mega-project that will benefit so few.

I am really excited about the future of Hawke’s Bay. Sure we have some challenges, but there are huge upsides.

Our economy is strong and growing as our farmers and growers produce highend products for booming Asian markets. I predict that over the next few years our growth rate and GDP will out-achieve all other regions outside Auckland, and with this our people will have bountiful employment opportunities. We have already become an attractive place for visitors and new settlers.

We need to foster and protect this growth, but we also need to ensure that at all times our industry – whether it be farming, horticulture or otherwise – works in harmony with the environment.

There is no point in having a flash new car if your kids can’t swim in our rivers.

Rex Graham05 June 2016

BB29

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