Saving our land

20 Apr 2018

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Yesterday, the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand released the Our Land 2018 report which provides pertinent data about the state of land in New Zealand. The report highlights the importance of land to New Zealand’s continued economic prosperity, as our two top export earners, primary production and tourism, rely on land. In 2016, half of New Zealand’s total export earnings came from primary production. The report is like a report card and disappointingly,shows our biodiversity, ecosystems and our soil resources continue to decline.

The report substantiates horticulture’s concerns about on-going urban and life style block expansion into prime growing land. It shows that urgent action is required to slow this down. Fruit and vegetables, in particular, are grown close to cities and towns because this is where high quality soils are found and before improvements in transportation, produce was grown close to where it was eaten. But between 1996 and 2012 urban land area increased by 10 percent. Auckland led the urban expansion, followed by the Waikato and Canterbury. Of the high class land in Auckland, 8.3 percent was lost to houses.

Land fragmentation – where large commercial growing areas are subdivided into smaller life style blocks on the fringes of urban areas – is also covered in the report, noting the risk this poses to keeping high quality soils for growing. Of Auckland’s most valuable growing land, 35 percent is in life style blocks. Commercial food growing businesses adjacent to new urban areas and life style blocks are getting constrained by sensitivities which affect their ability to grow. Most alarmingly, in Pukekohe smaller blocks of land, most used for life style, increased by 58 percent between 1998 and 2015. Most of these land parcels were less than eight hectares.

Our question remains - where are we going to grow healthy fruit and vegetables if the high quality soils continue to be lost to urban and life style development? There needs to be a balance between housing and feeding people. If this development is not controlled and constrained, our future ability to feed ourselves and earn valuable export dollars will be lost. Now is the time to act.

Environment Minister David Parker is acting to address the problem. He is quoted as saying: “I was particularly troubled by how much of our urban growth is occurring in our irreplaceable highly productive land. Even in a country as lucky as New Zealand we only have limited quantities of these high-class soils”. This is because only 5.2 percent of all our land is high quality land. Minister Parker is taking steps to address the loss of prime market gardening land around Pukekohe, as Auckland expands, as well as the impact of lifestyle blocks on our most productive land. He has asked his Ministry to start work on a National Policy Statement protecting Versatile Land and High Class Soils. He says: “We have to ensure we have enough land to build the houses people need, but we must protect our most productive areas too”. This is exactly what Horticulture New Zealand has been campaigning for. A National Policy Statement will provide a direction to councils to protect the land we need for growing vegetables and fruit. This is an excellent response and one the Minister is acknowledged for making.

Te toto o te tangata he kai, te oranga o te tangata he whenua

While food provides the blood in our veins, our health is drawn from the land – this is especially true for New Zealand’s fresh vegetables and fruit.

- Mike Chapman, CEO