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Clean water, healthy soil ‘strategic assets’

Clean water and healthy soils are strategic assets for the agricultural sector, Environment Waikato Chief Executive Harry Wilson told the launch of a major investigation into intensive farming today in Hamilton.

Mr Wilson said agriculture was important to the Waikato and nationally, but not at any price. Intensive agriculture was having significant effects on the environment and rural soil and water were degrading.

“This is a concern to us and the community, and we believe a concern for industry as well, as clean water and healthy soil are strategic assets for our future well being.

The investigation was completed by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and is called Growing for Good: Intensive farming, sustainability and New Zealand’s environment. It draws on research, trends in Britain and Europe and interviews with New Zealand farmers, agribusiness leaders, researchers, environmentalists, councils and bankers.

Mr Wilson said it was important to get the performance of agriculture right – right for continued agricultural viability and right for environmental performance. The community had had expectations of sustainability and environmental performance in relation to industry and urban centres in the past, and the same expectations were now being asked of the rural community.

“There is an existing box of management tools to support on-farm change, including information and education services, financial incentives and, for the dairy and other sectors of the farming community, voluntary agreements for certain actions. These are beginning to work and industry leadership is required to build on these initiatives.”

He said regulation was coming for land use in the Lake Taupo catchment. Intensifying rural land use and urban growth around Lake Taupo over the past 50 years had increased the amount of nitrogen entering the Lake.

Environment Waikato Chairman Jenni Vernon said it was important that the changes required were worked through with the farming sector.

“It’s a matter of balance. The industry has gone through the development phase and there is a need to manage our land differently into the future.”

She said Environment Waikato was looking forward to working with industry to achieve sustainable agriculture, which was a vital part of the Waikato long term.

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