Let’s not waste precious soil and water

02 Feb 2018


The most telling difference between soil and water is that water is a renewable resource, while the soil we have for growing food is not. What they have in common is that we waste them both. We build houses and factories and create lifestyle blocks on our scarce elite soils that are most suitable for growing fresh food year round, and we use just two percent of the rain that falls each year in New Zealand to irrigate our crops and pastures. In the past 16 years 10,000 hectares that was growing vegetables and fruit is now growing houses, factories and lifestyle blocks. Given that only about five percent of New Zealand land is suited to growing vegetables and fruit and, that we use just two percent of rainfall, it seems like a really good idea to start using these two key resources in a much more logical and sustainable way. It is time to reverse the trend, because if we don’t, it is not improbable that in future we will be importing the vegetables and fruit needed to feed the people that live in New Zealand.

Five percent of land is about 1.4 million hectares and, out of that, today there is about 120,000 hectares growing vegetables and fruit. Provided we plan, at both national and regional levels, to protect those elite soils from urban and industrial development, then protecting the best productive land to grow on deals with smart use of soil. Sustainable access to water to grow our food is equally tricky. We tend to experience rain in large quantities when we don’t want it and get long, dry periods when we need rain. The challenge is how to balance this across the whole year and different growing cycles. The logical answer is water storage: collect water when it rains to use when it is dry. The increasing pattern of adverse weather events and the effects of climate change are going to make all the more important to store water so that we can get maximum production out of elite soils. To successfully grow quality produce the two ingredients of the right soils and a year round supply of water are required. We can also source water from under the ground, but this is also replenished by rainwater and growing urbanisation is reducing that supply – rain cannot seep through concrete into the soil.

Essentially, we think it is time for New Zealand to have a holistic look at food supply and security. Unlike other countries, in New Zealand we don’t have a strategic plan and we don’t have the over-arching Resource Management Act planning standards protecting horticulture. This is not something we can leave to chance. We need to future proof our vegetable and fruit production, save those elite soils and invest in storage for year round supply of water. We have asked Government to work with us to develop a national-level strategic plan to protect our key growing areas around New Zealand so that weather and other disruptive events do not affect supply from areas not primarily affected by that event. It is important to plan now so that we can continue to feed New Zealand healthy fresh produce today and in the future.

- Mike Chapman, CEO